Sydney Brenner, the Nobel laureate well-known for his work on the nematode worm, C. Elegans, once famously remarked, ‘There is no theory of biology and medicine.’ To those schooled in the taxonomy of organisms according to their structure, and the Watson-Crick solution to the problem of how the genome reproduces itself precisely, and encodes all the enzymes needed to construct a cell’s metabolic pathways, Brenner’s dictum may come as a rude shock. However, it is not difficult to see what he means. A vast amount may be understood about structures in biology – genome, epigenome, and metabolome (even microbiome where appropriate) – but little is understood about what drives them to keep functioning. What makes a cell decide to undergo mitosis and reproduce? How can an amoeba construct a complete, water-proof shell around itself to retain moisture during a dry spell? How does a Paramecium decide whether to fuse with a partner and undergo sexual-type reproduction or not?

Equally, how can it be that senior English biologist Rupert Sheldrake is able to identify so many inexplicable properties of higher organisms (communication between animals, animals and humans, and humans and humans, ‘the sense of being started at’ and ‘telephone telepathy’, which Fellows of the Royal Society and other senior scientists refuse to discuss in public, because they seem so embarrassing to those convinced of ordinary biochemical models of life. How can there be such a gap between what is recognized by normal people, and what scientists can explain?

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