Extended Organism

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Overview


Can the structures that animals build--from the humble burrows of earthworms to towering termite mounds to the Great Barrier Reef--be said to live? However counterintuitive the idea might first seem, physiological ecologist Scott Turner demonstrates in this book that many animals construct and use structures to harness and control the flow of energy from their environment to their own advantage. Building on Richard Dawkins's classic, The Extended Phenotype, Turner shows why drawing the boundary of an organism's physiology at the skin of the animal is arbitrary. Since the structures animals build undoubtedly do physiological work, capturing and channeling chemical and physical energy, Turner argues that such structures are more properly regarded not as frozen behaviors but as external organs of physiology and even extensions of the animal's phenotype. By challenging dearly held assumptions, a fascinating new view of the living world is opened to us, with implications for our understanding of physiology, the environment, and the remarkable structures animals build.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

With his audacious new book, J. Scott Turner shoots an impressive salvo across the bows of narrow thinking. He...[seeks] to dispense with...the distinction between phenotype and environment...As he painstakingly builds his argument, one progresses from head-scratching to head-nodding. To work this metamorphosis, Turner brings to bear scientific incisiveness, humor, and a prose style that makes scientific minutiae fun to read...[The Extended Organism] stands apart as a remarkably synthetic piece of scholarship.
— Kurt Schwenk

Nature

With case upon case [Turner] shows how the sharp, traditional line between organism and external world often proves at least a nuisance and how, almost as often, we tacitly ignore it. And he concludes that our outlook on how organisms function would be empowered by drawing a more encompassing line...Few readers of this book will fail to be fascinated by his examples. Turner's tales of the subtle ways organisms capitalize on the opportunities afforded them by their physical and chemical surroundings provide more than ample reason to read the book.
— Steven Vogel

Science News
While surveying the edifices that animals engineer, Turner argues that such structures, though external to the organisms' bodies, should be regarded as physiological parts of those animals. This argument develops around a functional analysis of how animals build tunnels, mounds, webs, coral reefs, and other such structures and the ways that they work.
American Scientist

[Turner's] thesis is that many of the external structures that organisms build represent the same kind of physiological machinery we typically associate with kidneys, lungs and other squishy bits. He demonstrates his view with verve and enthusiasm in fascinating chapters on how organisms manipulate the external environment to their advantage...Stories like this form the heart of this book, presenting a novel set of environmental mysteries and revealing their solutions. But Turner does not merely explain the answers—he dissects them and makes us see why they are the answers. Each chapter is, in fact, a hidden lesson in physiology, biomechanics and environmental chemistry...The Extended Organism can be read and enjoyed without taking a position on the Gaia question. It is a clever dissection of environmental physiology from a persistent and clever teacher. Like most good teachers, Turner manages to slip a huge range of new information into your head along the way—information that helps change your view of organisms in their world.
— Stephen R. Palumbi

Biologist

When a gene determines a physical or behavioural characteristic of an animal, there is little doubt that the end result of the gene's activity is a function of the animal's genome...But what about structures that animals build? They fulfill the same criteria although they are separated from the individual; but then so are eggs. Is there a fundamental difference between the way that eggs and the nest in which they are laid are encoded in the genome?...[This] concept is elaborated...in this masterful book by J. Scott Turner.
— Dennis Cotton

New York Times Book Review - Kurt Schwenk
With his audacious new book, J. Scott Turner shoots an impressive salvo across the bows of narrow thinking. He...[seeks] to dispense with...the distinction between phenotype and environment...As he painstakingly builds his argument, one progresses from head-scratching to head-nodding. To work this metamorphosis, Turner brings to bear scientific incisiveness, humor, and a prose style that makes scientific minutiae fun to read...[The Extended Organism] stands apart as a remarkably synthetic piece of scholarship.
Nature - Steven Vogel
With case upon case [Turner] shows how the sharp, traditional line between organism and external world often proves at least a nuisance and how, almost as often, we tacitly ignore it. And he concludes that our outlook on how organisms function would be empowered by drawing a more encompassing line...Few readers of this book will fail to be fascinated by his examples. Turner's tales of the subtle ways organisms capitalize on the opportunities afforded them by their physical and chemical surroundings provide more than ample reason to read the book.
American Scientist - Stephen R. Palumbi
[Turner's] thesis is that many of the external structures that organisms build represent the same kind of physiological machinery we typically associate with kidneys, lungs and other squishy bits. He demonstrates his view with verve and enthusiasm in fascinating chapters on how organisms manipulate the external environment to their advantage...Stories like this form the heart of this book, presenting a novel set of environmental mysteries and revealing their solutions. But Turner does not merely explain the answers--he dissects them and makes us see why they are the answers. Each chapter is, in fact, a hidden lesson in physiology, biomechanics and environmental chemistry...The Extended Organism can be read and enjoyed without taking a position on the Gaia question. It is a clever dissection of environmental physiology from a persistent and clever teacher. Like most good teachers, Turner manages to slip a huge range of new information into your head along the way--information that helps change your view of organisms in their world.
Biologist - Dennis Cotton
When a gene determines a physical or behavioural characteristic of an animal, there is little doubt that the end result of the gene's activity is a function of the animal's genome...But what about structures that animals build? They fulfill the same criteria although they are separated from the individual; but then so are eggs. Is there a fundamental difference between the way that eggs and the nest in which they are laid are encoded in the genome?...[This] concept is elaborated...in this masterful book by J. Scott Turner.
Nature
With case upon case [Turner] shows how the sharp, traditional line between organism and external world often proves at least a nuisance and how, almost as often, we tacitly ignore it. And he concludes that our outlook on how organisms function would be empowered by drawing a more encompassing line...Few readers of this book will fail to be fascinated by his examples. Turner's tales of the subtle ways organisms capitalize on the opportunities afforded them by their physical and chemical surroundings provide more than ample reason to read the book.
— Steven Vogel
New York Times Book Review
With his audacious new book, J. Scott Turner shoots an impressive salvo across the bows of narrow thinking. He...[seeks] to dispense with...the distinction between phenotype and environment...As he painstakingly builds his argument, one progresses from head-scratching to head-nodding. To work this metamorphosis, Turner brings to bear scientific incisiveness, humor, and a prose style that makes scientific minutiae fun to read...[The Extended Organism] stands apart as a remarkably synthetic piece of scholarship.
— Kurt Schwenk
American Scientist
[Turner's] thesis is that many of the external structures that organisms build represent the same kind of physiological machinery we typically associate with kidneys, lungs and other squishy bits. He demonstrates his view with verve and enthusiasm in fascinating chapters on how organisms manipulate the external environment to their advantage...Stories like this form the heart of this book, presenting a novel set of environmental mysteries and revealing their solutions. But Turner does not merely explain the answers--he dissects them and makes us see why they are the answers. Each chapter is, in fact, a hidden lesson in physiology, biomechanics and environmental chemistry...The Extended Organism can be read and enjoyed without taking a position on the Gaia question. It is a clever dissection of environmental physiology from a persistent and clever teacher. Like most good teachers, Turner manages to slip a huge range of new information into your head along the way--information that helps change your view of organisms in their world.
— Stephen R. Palumbi
Biologist
When a gene determines a physical or behavioural characteristic of an animal, there is little doubt that the end result of the gene's activity is a function of the animal's genome...But what about structures that animals build? They fulfill the same criteria although they are separated from the individual; but then so are eggs. Is there a fundamental difference between the way that eggs and the nest in which they are laid are encoded in the genome?...[This] concept is elaborated...in this masterful book by J. Scott Turner.
— Dennis Cotton
Booknews
Arguing that they should be considered external organs rather than frozen behaviors, Turner (physiological ecology, State U. of New York-Syracuse) shows how structures ranging from earthworm burrows to towering termite mounds and the Great Barrier Reef do physiological work, capturing and channeling chemical and physical energy. He builds on Richard Dawkin's . Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kurt Schwenk
With his audacious new book, Turner shoots an impressive salvo across the bows of narrow thinking. . . . Turner brings to bear scientific incisiveness, humor and a prose style that makes scientific minutiae fun to read . . . A remarkably synthetic piece of scholarship.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674009851
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 0.51 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 9.25 (d)

Meet the Author

J. Scott Turner is Associate Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse.
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Table of Contents

Preface

1. The Organism's Fuzzy Boundary

2. Physiology Beyond the Organism

3. Living Architecture

4. Broth and Taxis

5. Then a Miracle Occurs

6. Mud Power

7. As the Worm Turns

8. Arachne's Aqualungs

9. Manipulative Midges and Mites

10. Twist and Shout!

11. The Soul of the Superorganism

12. Love Your Mother

Epilogue

Readings

Credits

Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Must Read for Animal Biologists

    Turner's book is excellently written with well developed and supported arguments and examples. He actually makes physics fun and pertinent to a biologist and brings ecology and physiology together in important ways. This book is a joy to read. I highly recommend the book for students of animal biology, evolution, and ecology but also for those of us who teach this material.

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