Thinking Dynamically About Biological Mechanisms: Networks of Coupled Oscillators [Book Review]

Foundations of Science 18 (4):707-723 (2013)
Explaining the complex dynamics exhibited in many biological mechanisms requires extending the recent philosophical treatment of mechanisms that emphasizes sequences of operations. To understand how nonsequentially organized mechanisms will behave, scientists often advance what we call dynamic mechanistic explanations. These begin with a decomposition of the mechanism into component parts and operations, using a variety of laboratory-based strategies. Crucially, the mechanism is then recomposed by means of computational models in which variables or terms in differential equations correspond to properties of its parts and operations. We provide two illustrations drawn from research on circadian rhythms. Once biologists identified some of the components of the molecular mechanism thought to be responsible for circadian rhythms, computational models were used to determine whether the proposed mechanisms could generate sustained oscillations. Modeling has become even more important as researchers have recognized that the oscillations generated in individual neurons are synchronized within networks; we describe models being employed to assess how different possible network architectures could produce the observed synchronized activity
Keywords Dynamic mechanistic explanation  Circadian rhythms  Computational modeling  Endogenously active mechanisms  Mechanistic explanation  Oscillatory mechanisms  Recomposing mechanisms
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DOI 10.1007/s10699-012-9301-z
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References found in this work BETA
William Bechtel (2005). Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.

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Citations of this work BETA
William Bechtel (forthcoming). Can Mechanistic Explanation Be Reconciled with Scale-Free Constitution and Dynamics? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
Annamaria Carusi (2014). Validation and Variability: Dual Challenges on the Path From Systems Biology to Systems Medicine. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 48:28-37.

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