Genetics is the scientific discipline to which many people look for a fundamental understanding of who they are. However, during the past few years this discipline has changed almost beyond recognition compared to the viewpoints that have long informed (and still largely inform) the public consciousness. By almost all accounts we are in the midst of a true revolution in biology. And while the fact of this revolution has been signaled to us in countless articles about the "epigenome" and in special sections of newspapers and scientific journals — and in many altogether new technical journals dealing with the substance of the ongoing revolution — the weight and significance of what is going on has hardly begun to sink in for most people. Far too much of the public conversation about genes, inheritance, genetic engineering, reductionism, the nature of life, and many related topics proceeds with little apparent awareness that the entire foundation of the conversation has been radically disrupted.
The series of articles I am now beginning is my attempt to play some small role in remedying the situation. This first installment is the heaviest; it will make difficult reading for many because