Biology deals with living organisms: their structure, activity, distribution in space and time, and participation in evolutionary and evolutionary history. Many of these organizations carry out activities that are better understood in terms of processing or displaying information. This includes perception, cognition, signaling, and language use. Let’s not worry too much about the role of the concepts of information and representation in these cognitive contexts. In the second half of the 20th century, information concepts about biology (and its relatives) were applied much more widely. For many biologists, the most basic processes characteristic of living organisms must now be understood in terms of the expression of information: responding to signals, executing programs, and interpreting codes. Although traditional contemporary biology is an overtly materialistic field, it has used concepts that appear to be intentional or semantic. They have a long history of material problems for materialists (and, to some extent, for everyone).
The acceptance of information concepts and other semantic concepts is especially pronounced in genetics and other fields – theory of evolution and biology of evolution – with a strong connection to genetics. But the language of information doesn’t just exist: hormones, for example, are often seen as far-reaching signals that allow one organ system to coordinate with another. That said, the usage that has generated the most debate describes the relationships between genes and the various structures and processes to which genes contribute. For many biologists, the causal role of genes must be understood through the transport of information about their various products; and perhaps even the environments in which these products improve your fitness (Lorenz 1965; Shea 2013). The expression of this information may depend on the presence of various environmental factors, but the same can be said for other types of messages. Dividing things further, we can recognize two causal roles for genes in biology and therefore two possible explanatory roles for genetic information. Genes are essential to explain the evolution of individual organisms and to explain the inheritance of traits across generations. Information was invoked in both explanatory contexts.