David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Published for the Johns Hopkins Dept. Of Earth and Planetary Sciences by the Johns Hopkins University Press (1987)
Are living organisms--as Descartes argued--just machines? Or is the nature of life such that it can never be fully explained by mechanistic models? In this thought-provoking and controversial book, eminent geophysicist Walter M. Elsasser argues that the behavior of living organisms cannot be reduced to physico-chemical causality. Suggesting that molecular biology today is at the same point as Newtonian physics on the eve of the quantum revolution, Elsasser lays the foundation for a theoretical biology that points the way toward a natural philosophy of organic life. Explicitly repudiating "vitalism" (the notion that the laws of nature need to be modified when applied to living organisms), Elsasser argues instead that the structural complexity of even a single living cell is "transcomputational"--that is, beyond the power of any imaginable system to compute. Beginning from this insight, Elsasser leads the reader through a step-by-step process that ultimately arrives at the conclusion that living and non-living matter are separated by "a no-man's land of irrationality." Trained in Germany as a physicist, Elsasser first pondered the implications of quantum mechanics for biology as early as 1951. The more closely he studied the inherent complexity of life, the more skeptical he became of the reductionist view of organisms as tiny machines. "An organism," he concluded, "is a source of causal chains which cannot be traced beyond a terminal point because they are lost in the unfathomable complexity of the organism." Like the physicist who works within the bounds of an unfathomable universe, Elsasser argues, the biologist must seek answers within a system that is no less unfathomable.
|Keywords||Biology Philosophy Quantum theory Holism|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
|Buy the book||$13.00 used (24% off) $14.27 new (16% off) $16.10 direct from Amazon (6% off) Amazon page|
|Call number||QH331.E54 1998|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
No references found.
Citations of this work BETA
Adam S. Wilkins (2006). On Biological Science's Distinctiveness: Final Statement From an Old Master. What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. (2004). Ernst Mayr. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (Xiv + 232 Pp.) ISBN: 0‐521‐84114‐3. [REVIEW] Bioessays 28 (9):954-956.
Similar books and articles
Alfred Driessen (forthcoming). Life and Quantum Biology, an Interdisciplinary Approach. Acta Philosophica.
Walter M. Elsasser (1975). The Chief Abstractions of Biology. American Elsevier Pub. Co..
Paul S. Agutter & Denys N. Wheatley (1999). Foundations of Biology: On the Problem of “Purpose” in Biology in Relation to Our Acceptance of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection. [REVIEW] Foundations of Science 4 (1):3-23.
Walter M. Elsasser (1966). Atom and Organism. Princeton, N.J.,Princeton University Press.
Steven P. R. Rose (2003). Lifelines: Life Beyond the Gene. Oxford University Press.
Charles T. Wolfe (2011). Why Was There No Controversy Over Life in the Scientific Revolution? In Victor Boantza Marcelo Dascal (ed.), Controversies in the Scientific Revolution. John Benjamins.
Walter M. Elsasser (1951). Quantum Mechanics, Amplifying Processes, and Living Matter. Philosophy of Science 18 (4):300-326.
Michael J. Denton, Govindasamy Kumaramanickavel & Michael Legge (2013). Cells as Irreducible Wholes: The Failure of Mechanism and the Possibility of an Organicist Revival. Biology and Philosophy 28 (1):31-52.
Walter M. Elsasser (1958). The Physical Foundation of Biology. New York, Pergamon Press.
Added to index2009-01-28
Total downloads2,594 ( #11 of 1,101,585 )
Recent downloads (6 months)1,850 ( #7 of 1,101,585 )
How can I increase my downloads?