We need to renew our scientific lexicon, argues Evelyn Fox Keller, if we are to meet the challenges set by emerging fields like systems biology. Current scientific “ways of knowing”1 are built around nouns and committed to entity realism, Keller argues. They are thus unsuited to encompassing the dynamic interactivity of living systems that has become the chief object of investigation in a growing range of scientific fields, notably ecology and epigenetics as well as systems biology. Keller suggests that other linguistic traditions, perhaps those that are verb- rather than noun-oriented, might offer resources for developing a better-adapted scientific lexicon.

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But perhaps Indo-European grammatical categories like noun and verb are in themselves an obstacle, an ingrained element of a supposedly “universal” but in fact inherently anglophone scientific expression whose limits we need to recognize. As her argument unfolds, we realize...

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