The Ontogeny of Information

Developmental Systems and Evolution

The Ontogeny of Information

Science and Cultural Theory

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: March 2000

Author: Susan Oyama

Contributor: Richard Lewontin

Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

The Ontogeny of Information is a critical intervention into the ongoing and perpetually troubling nature-nurture debates surrounding human development. Originally published in 1985, this was a foundational text in what is now the substantial field of developmental systems theory. In this revised edition Susan Oyama argues compellingly that nature and nurture are not alternative influences on human development but, rather, developmental products and the developmental processes that produce them.
Information, says Oyama, is thought to reside in molecules, cells, tissues, and the environment. When something wondrous occurs in the world, we tend to question whether the information guiding the transformation was pre-encoded in the organism or installed through experience or instruction. Oyama looks beyond this either-or question to focus on the history of such developments. She shows that what developmental “information” does depends on what is already in place and what alternatives are available. She terms this process “constructive interactionism,” whereby each combination of genes and environmental influences simultaneously interacts to produce a unique result. Ontogeny, then, is the result of dynamic and complex interactions in multileveled developmental systems.
The Ontogeny of Information challenges specialists in the fields of developmental biology, philosophy of biology, psychology, and sociology, and even nonspecialists, to reexamine the existing nature-nurture dichotomy as it relates to the history and formation of organisms.


“[A]n exciting and engaging work that is still timely 15 years after its initial publication . . . .[T]he re-release of her book will ensure that another generation has access to her important arguments.” — Stephen M. Downes , Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

“For new readers interested in a provocative and novel view of behavioral ontogeny and evolution, the new Ontogeny is required reading. . . . Perhaps the greatest value of Oyama’s work is that it so thoroughly questions the most basic ideas under which the vast majority of us operate. . . . Oyama’s Ontogeny is perhaps the foundational text of the developmental systems view, and provides a wealth of theoretical issues that hopefully will generate both fruitful debate and research programs to aid us in better elucidating the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of behavior.” — T. M. Freeberg , Ethology

"In this revised edition, Oyama argues compellingly that nature and nurture are not alternative influences on human development but, rather, developmental products and developmental processes that produce them." — International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology Newsletter

“In the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, the small boy’s genius lay in his naive recognition of the great man’s nudity. Oyama has a similar, if more sophisticated genius: she recognizes the subtle manner in which molecular biologists have allowed metaphors to replace explanations. It is no exaggeration to claim that she has resolved the nature-nurture dispute and provided an altogether new vision of the processes of development and evolution.” — Peter Klopfer, Duke University

“The publication of this revised edition of The Ontogeny of Information is timely and welcome, especially given the current dominance of simplistic views about genetic causation, aided by constant misuse of the ideas of information, coding and programming. Oyama’s classic discussion of these concepts combines patient, subtle dissection with bold and novel moves. The Ontogeny of Information is a work of brilliant originality and enduring relevance.” — Peter Godfrey-Smith, Stanford University

“This is among the most important books on developmental theory published in the last several decades. It continues to be cited regularly in work from several different disciplines, including developmental biology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology.” — Robert Lickliter, Virginia Polytechnic Institute


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Oyama is Professor of Psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as in the Subprogram in Developmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Richard Lewontin

Preface to Second Edition



The Origin and Transmission of Form: The Gene as the Vehicle of Constancy

The Problem of Change

Variability and Ontogenetic Differentiation

Variations on a Theme: Cognitive Metaphors and the Homunculoid Gene

The Ghosts in the Ghost-in-the-Machine Machine

The Ontogeny of Information



Afterword to Second Edition



Index of Names

Index of Subject
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2466-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2431-7
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