Theories, models, and equations in biology: The heuristic search for emergent simplifications in neurobiology

Philosophy of Science 75 (5):1008-1021 (2008)
This article considers claims that biology should seek general theories similar to those found in physics but argues for an alternative framework for biological theories as collections of prototypical interlevel models that can be extrapolated by analogy to different organisms. This position is exemplified in the development of the Hodgkin‐Huxley giant squid model for action potentials, which uses equations in specialized ways. This model is viewed as an “emergent unifier.” Such unifiers, which require various simplifications, involve the types of heuristics discussed in Wimsatt’s writings on reduction, but with a twist. Here, the heuristics are used to generate emergent rather than reductive explanations. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, 1017 Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA 15260; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/594542
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