The epigenetic revolution I've been writing about for the past year is slowly but surely making its way into the popular media — witness the recent Time magazine cover story, "Why DNA Isn't Your Destiny". The shame of it is that most of the significance of the current research is still being missed. Judging from much that is being written, one might think the main thing is simply that we're gaining new, more complex insights into how to treat the living organism as a manipulable machine.
After my previous, fairly technical surveys of some of the work going on in genetics and epigenetics, I offer here a more readable and widely accessible summary, including a great deal of new material. Part of my aim is to provide some of the perspective that is missing from the mainstream reports.
The central truth arising from genetic research today, I believe, is that the hope of finding an adequate explanation of life in terms of inanimate, molecular-level machinery was misconceived. There are no such mechanisms in the living organism at any level. Just as we witness the distinctive character of life when we observe the organism as a whole, so, too, we encounter that same living character when we analyze the organism down to the level of molecules and genes. One by one every reliable and predictable "molecular mechanism" has been caught deviating from its program and submitting instead to the fluid life of its larger context. And chief among the deviants is that supposed First Cause, the gen