The last century saw two great revolutions in genetics the development of classic Mendelian theory and the discovery and investigation of DNA. Each fundamental scientific discovery in turn generated its own distinctive technology. These two case studies, examined in this text, enable the author to conduct a philosophical exploration of the relationship between fundamental scientific discoveries on the one hand, and the technologies that spring from them on the other. As such it is also an exercise in the (...) class='Hi'>philosophy of technology. (shrink)
Scientific anomalies are observations and facts that contradict current scientific theories and they are instrumental in scientific theory change. Philosophers of science have approached scientific theory change from different perspectives as Darden (Theory change in science: Strategies from Mendelian genetics, 1991) observes: Lakatos (In: Lakatos, Musgrave (eds) Criticism and the growth of knowledge, 1970) approaches it as a progressive “research programmes” consisting of incremental improvements (“monster barring” in Lakatos, Proofs and refutations: The logic of mathematical discovery, 1976), Kuhn (The (...) structure of scientific revolutions, 1996) observes that changes in “paradigms” are instigated by a crisis from some anomaly, and Hanson (In: Feigl, Maxwell (eds) Current issues in the philosophy of science, 1961) proposes that discovery does not begin with hypothesis but with some “problematic phenomena requiring explanation”. Even though anomalies are important in all of these approaches to scientific theory change, there have been only few investigations into the specific role anomalies play in scientific theory change. Furthermore, much of these approaches focus on the theories themselves and not on how the scientists and their experiments bring about scientific change (Gooding, Experiment and the making of meaning: Human agency in scientific observation and experiment, 1990). To address these issues, this paper approaches scientific anomaly resolution from a meaning construction point of view. Conceptual integration theory (Fauconnier and Turner, Cogn Sci 22:133–187, 1996; The way we think: Conceptual blending and mind’s hidden complexities, 2002) from cognitive linguistics describes how one constructs meaning from various stimuli, such as text and diagrams, through conceptual integration or blending. The conceptual integration networks that describe the conceptual integration process characterize cognition that occurs unconsciously during meaning construction. These same networks are used to describe some of the cognition while resolving an anomaly in moleculargenetics called RNA interference (RNAi) in a case study. The RNAi case study is a cognitive-historical reconstruction (Nersessian, In: Giere (ed) Cognitive models of science, 1992) that reconstructs how the RNAi anomaly was resolved. This reconstruction traces four relevant moleculargenetics publications in describing the cognition necessary in accounting for how RNAi was resolved through strategies (Darden 1991), abductive reasoning (Peirce, In: Hartshorne, Weiss (eds) Collected papers, 1958), and experimental reasoning (Gooding 1990). The results of the case study show that experiments play a crucial role in formulating an explanation of the RNAi anomaly and the integration networks describe the experiments’ role. Furthermore, these results suggest that RNAi anomaly resolution is embodied. It is embodied in a sense that cognition described in the cognitive-historical reconstruction is experientially based. (shrink)
In this paper, I will reread the history of moleculargenetics from a psychoanalytical angle, analysing it as a case history. Building on the developmental theories of Freud and his followers, I will distinguish four stages, namely: (1) oedipal childhood, notably the epoch of model building (1943–1953); (2) the latency period, with a focus on the development of basic skills (1953–1989); (3) adolescence, exemplified by the Human Genome Project, with its fierce conflicts, great expectations and grandiose claims (1989–2003) (...) and (4) adulthood (2003–present) during which revolutionary research areas such as molecular biology and genomics have achieved a certain level of normalcy—have evolved into a normal science. I will indicate how a psychoanalytical assessment conducted in this manner may help us to interpret and address some of the key normative issues that have been raised with regard to moleculargenetics over the years, such as ‘relevance’, ‘responsible innovation’ and ‘promise management’. (shrink)
A recent literature review of commentaries and ‘state of the art’ articles from researchers in psychiatric genetics (PMG) offers a consensus about progress in the science of genetics, disappointments in the discovery of new and effective treatments, and a general optimism about the future of the field. I argue that optimism for the field of psychiatric moleculargenetics (PMG) is overwrought, and consider progress in the field in reference to a sample estimate of US National Institute (...) of Mental Health funding for this paradigm for the years 2008 and 2009. I conclude that the amounts of financial investment in PMG is questionable from an ethical perspective, given other research and clinical needs in the USA. (shrink)
Understanding how scientific activities use naming stories to achieve disciplinary status is important not only for insight into the past, but for evaluating current claims that new disciplines are emerging. In order to gain a historical understanding of how new disciplines develop in relation to these baptismal narratives, we compare two recently formed disciplines, systems biology and genomics, with two earlier related life sciences, genetics and molecular biology. These four disciplines span the twentieth century, a period in which (...) the processes of disciplinary demarcation fundamentally changed from those characteristic of the nineteenth century. We outline how the establishment of each discipline relies upon an interplay of factors that include paradigmatic achievements, technological innovation, and social formations. Our focus, however, is the baptism stories that give the new discipline a founding narrative and articulate core problems, general approaches and constitutive methods. The highly plastic process of achieving disciplinary identity is further marked by the openness of disciplinary definition, tension between technological possibilities and the ways in which scientific issues are conceived and approached, synthesis of reductive and integrative strategies, and complex social interactions. The importance – albeit highly variable – of naming stories in these four cases indicates the scope for future studies that focus on failed disciplines or competing names. Further attention to disciplinary histories could, we suggest, give us richer insight into scientific development. (shrink)
The study of mental illness by the methods of moleculargenetics is still in its infancy, but the use of genetic markers in psychiatry may potentially lead to a Virchowian revolution in the conception of mental illness. Genetic markers may define novel clusters of patients having diverse clinical presentations but sharing a common genetic and mechanistic basis. Such clusters may differ radically from the conventional classification schemes of psychiatric illness. However, the reduction of even relatively simple Mendelian phenomena (...) to moleculargenetics has been shown to be a surprisingly complex and problematic enterprise. Mental illnesses exist at many levels of including social, environmental, and developmental interactions. Reductionistic shifts in the classification of such a disease entity will have to address the interlevel dynamics that take place within the structure of theories of mental illness. The question of how molecular analysis of psychiatric disease will impact on the structure of existing theories and classification systems is the central topic of this paper. Keywords: disease, philosophy of biology, psychiatry, reductionism CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
A political discourse of peace marked the distribution and use of radioisotopes in biomedical research and in medical diagnosis and therapy in the post-World War II period. This occurred during the era of expansion and strengthening of the United States' influence on the promotion of sciences and technologies in Europe as a collaborative effort, initially encouraged by the policies and budgetary distribution of the Marshall Plan. This article follows the importation of radioisotopes by two Spanish research groups, one in experimental (...) endocrinology and one in molecular biology. For both groups foreign funds were instrumental in the early establishment of their laboratories. The combination of funding and access to previously scarce radioisotopes helped position these groups at the forefront of research in Spain. (shrink)
Current accounts of the relationship between classical genetics and molecular biology favor the ‘explanatory extension’ thesis, according to which molecular biology elucidates aspects of inheritance unexplained by classical genetics. I identify however an unresolved tension between the ‘explanatory extension’ account and examples of ‘explanatory interference’ (cases when the accommodation of data from molecular biology results in a more precise genotyping and more adequate classical explanations). This paper provides a new way of analyzing the relationship between (...) classical genetics and molecular biology capable of resolving this tension. The proposed solution makes use of the properties of mechanism schemas and sketches, which can be completed by elucidating some or all of their remaining ‘black boxes’ and instantiated via the filling-in of phenomenon-specific details. This result has implications for the reductionism -antireductionism debate since it shows that molecular elucidations have a positive impact on classical explanations without entailing the reduction of classical genetics to molecular biology. (shrink)
Philosophical discussion of molecular and developmental biology began in the late 1960s with the use of genetics as a test case for models of theory reduction. With this exception, the theory of natural selection remained the main focus of philosophy of biology until the late 1970s. It was controversies in evolutionary theory over punctuated equilibrium and adaptationism that first led philosophers to examine the concept of developmental constraint. Developmental biology also gained in prominence in the 1980s as (...) part of a broader interest in the new sciences of self-organization and complexity. The current literature in the philosophy of molecular and developmental biology has grown out of these earlier discussions under the influence of twenty years of rapid and exciting growth of empirical knowledge. Philosophers have examined the concepts of genetic information and genetic program, competing definitions of the gene itself and competing accounts of the role of the gene as a developmental cause. The debate over the relationship between development and evolution has been enriched by theories and results from the new field of 'evolutionary developmental biology'. Future developments seem likely to include an exchange of ideas with the philosophy of psychology, where debates over the concept of innateness have created an interest in genetics and development. (shrink)
Comprised of essays by top scholars in the field, this volume offers concise overviews of philosophical issues raised by biology. Brings together a team of eminent scholars to explore the philosophical issues raised by biology Addresses traditional and emerging topics, spanning molecular biology and genetics, evolution, developmental biology, immunology, ecology, mind and behaviour, neuroscience, and experimentation Begins with a thorough introduction to the field Goes beyond previous treatments that focused only on evolution to give equal attention to other (...) areas, such as molecular and developmental biology Represents both an authoritative guide to philosophy of biology, and an accessible reference work for anyone seeking to learn about this rapidly-changing field. (shrink)
Taking reduction in the traditional deductive sense, the programmatic claim that most of genetics can be reduced by moleculargenetics is defended as feasible and significant. Arguments by Ruse and Hull that either the relationship is replacement or at best a weaker form of reduction are shown to rest on a mixture of historical and logical confusions about the nature of the theories involved.
The present paper has two aims. First, we reconstruct the core of moleculargenetics (MOLGEN) i.e. the array of theoretical assumptions which underly all or most applications of moleculargenetics. Second, we define a reduction relation p reducing character-factor genetics (CFG) to MOLGEN. That p is a reduction relation is proved by establishing that p satisfies the two major conditions which are discussed in the literature as necessary or ‘essential’ for reduction. This substantiates the claim (...) that moleculargenetics is ‘better than’ or ‘more progressive-than’ character-factor genetics-which is commonly held true today. The paper continues, and relies heavily on the definitions given in part 1 (Balzer and Dawe ). The enumeration of the definitions and sections in the present paper continues that of part 1. References to definitions with numbers smaller than 8 and to sections number I-4 always refer to part 1. (shrink)
A general case about the insights and oversights of moleculargenetics is argued for by considering two specific cases: the first concerns the bearing of moleculargenetics on Mendelian genetics, and the second concerns the bearing of moleculargenetics on the replicability of the genetic material. As in the first case, it is argued that Mendel's law of segregation cannot be explained wholly in terms of moleculargenetics--the law demands evolutionary scrutiny (...) as well. In the second case, it is argued that an account of the replicability of the genetic material in terms of moleculargenetics is not entirely independent of evolutionary considerations, in the sense that it raises further evolutionary questions. The limitations of the molecular-genetic approach in these cases point to the limitations of that approach in general. (shrink)
Contrary to Mendel, who introduced hybridization as a methodology for the study of selected discrete traits, de Vries conceived of organisms to be composed of discrete traits. This introduced into genetic research the dialectics of reductive analysis of genes as instrumental variables versus that of genes as the material atoms of heredity. The latter conception gained support with the analysis of mutations and eventually with high resolution analysis at the genetic and biochemical levels, as achieved in fungi and later in (...) bacteria and their viruses. Attempts to reduce "classical" genetics to "molecular" genetics turned out to be futile. However, this did not necessarily imply that these were two distinct theoretical approaches. On the contrary, it is argued that moleculargenetics is an extension of phenomenological deduction, rather than being induction from molecular (DNA) causes to effects. Although conceptually systems direct development, methodologically individual inputs must be studied. (shrink)
The study of mental illness by the methods of moleculargenetics is still in its infancy, but the use of genetic markers in psychiatry may potentially lead to a Virchowian revolution in the conception of mental illness. Genetic markers may define novel clusters of patients having diverse clinical presentations but sharing a common genetic and mechanistic basis. Such clusters may differ radically from the conventional classification schemes of psychiatric illness. However, the reduction of even relatively simple Mendelian phenomena (...) to moleculargenetics has been shown to be a surprisingly complex and problematic enterprise. Mental illnesses exist at many levels of including social, environmental, and developmental interactions. Reductionistic shifts in the classification of such a disease entity will have to address the interlevel dynamics that take place within the structure of theories of mental illness. The question of how molecular analysis of psychiatric disease will impact on the structure of existing theories and classification systems is the central topic of this paper. (shrink)
Advances in molecular biological research in the last forty years have made the story of the gene vastly complicated: the more we learn about genes, the less sure we are of what a gene really is. Knowledge about the structure and functioning of genes abounds, but the gene has also become curiously intangible. This collection of essays renews the question: what are genes? Philosophers, historians, and working scientists re-evaluate the question in this volume, treating the gene as a focal (...) point of interdisciplinary and international research. This book is unique in that it is the first interdisciplinary volume solely devoted to the quest for the gene. It will be of interest to professionals and students in the philosophy and history of science, genetics, and molecular biology. (shrink)
A belief common among philosophers and biologists alike is that Mendelian genetics has been or is in the process of being reduced to moleculargenetics, in the sense of formal theory reduction current in the literature. The purpose of this paper is to show that there are numerous empirical and conceptual difficulties which stand in the way of establishing a systematic inferential relation between Mendelian and moleculargenetics. These difficulties, however, have little to do with (...) the traditional objections which have been raised to reduction. (shrink)
The applicability of Nagel's concept of theory reduction, and related concepts of reduction, to the reduction of genetics to molecular biology is examined using the lactose operon in Escherichia coli as an example. Geneticists have produced the complete nucleotide sequence of two of the genes which compose this operon. If any example of reduction in genetics should fit Nagel's analysis, the lactose operon should. Nevertheless, Nagel's formal conditions of theory reduction are inapplicable in this case. Instead, it (...) is argued that genetics has been partially reduced to molecular biology in the sense of token-token reduction. (shrink)
An assessment is offered of the recent debate on information in the philosophy of biology, and an analysis is provided of the notion of information as applied in scientific practice in moleculargenetics. In particular, this paper deals with the dependence of basic generalizations of molecular biology, above all the ‘central dogma’, on the so-called ‘informational talk’ (Maynard Smith [2000a]). It is argued that talk of information in the ‘central dogma’ can be reduced to causal claims. (...) In that respect, the primary aim of the paper is to consider a solution to the major difficulty of the causal interpretation of genetic information: how to distinguish the privileged causal role assigned to nucleic acids, DNA in particular, in the processes of replication and protein production. A close reading is proposed of Francis H. C. Crick's On Protein Synthesis (1958) and related works, to which we owe the first explicit definition of information within the scientific practice of molecular biology. Introduction 1.1 The basic questions of the information debate 1.2 The causal interpretation (CI) of biological information and Crick's ‘central dogma’ Crick's definitions of genetic information The main requirement for (CI) Types of causation in molecular biology 4.1 Structural causation in molecular biology 4.2 Nucleic acids as correlative causal factors The ‘central dogma’ without the notion of information Concluding remarks This is a new version of this article as there were errors in the abstract and full text in the previous version. (shrink)
An assessment is offered of the recent debate on information in the philosophy of biology, and an analysis is provided of the notion of information as applied in scientific practice in moleculargenetics. In particular, this paper deals with the dependence of basic generalizations of molecular biology, above all the 'central dogma', on the socalled 'informational talk' (Maynard Smith [2000a]). It is argued that talk of information in the 'central dogma' can be reduced to causal claims. (...) In that respect, the primary aim of the paper is to consider a solution to the major difficulty of the causal interpretation of genetic information: how to distinguish the privileged causal role assigned to nucleic acids, DNA in particular, in the processes of replication and protein production. A close reading is proposed of Francis H. C. Crick's On Protein Synthesis () and related works, to which we owe the first explicit definition of information within the scientific practice of molecular biology. (shrink)
Certain correspondences appear between the classifications and between the classes of various entities at molecular genetic level: types of fundamental correspondences between classifications and between classes of normal entities, on the one hand, and of mutant entities on the other hand; ranks of correspondences between classifications and between classes of entities. The concept of universality of the genetic code was reformulated on the basis of the above correspondences.
In the 1960s molecular population geneticists used Monte Carlo experiments to evaluate particular diffusion equation models. In this paper I examine the nature of this comparative evaluation and argue for three claims: first, Monte Carlo experiments are genuine experiments: second, Monte Carlo experiments can provide an important meansfor evaluating the adequacy of highly idealized theoretical models; and, third, the evaluation of the computational adequacy of a diffusion model with Monte Carlo experiments is significantlydifferent from the evaluation of the emperical (...) adequacy of the same diffusion model. (shrink)
Sewall Wright first encountered the complex systems characteristic of gene combinations while a graduate student at Harvard's Bussey Institute from 1912 to 1915. In Mendelian breeding experiments, Wright observed a hierarchical dependence of the organism's phenotype on dynamic networks of genetic interaction and organization. An animal's physical traits, and thus its autonomy from surrounding environmental constraints, depended greatly on how genes behaved in certain combinations. Wright recognized that while genes are the material determinants of the animal phenotype, operating with great (...) regularity, the special nature of genetic systems contributes to the animal phenotype a degree of spontaneity and novelty, creating unpredictable trait variations by virtue of gene interactions. As a result of his experimentation, as well as his keen interest in the philosophical literature of his day, Wright was inspired to see genetic systems as conscious, living organisms in their own right. Moreover, he decided that since genetic systems maintain ordered stability and cause unpredictable novelty in their organic wholes (the animal phenotype), it would be necessary for biologists to integrate techniques for studying causally ordered phenomena (experimental method) and chance phenomena (correlation method). From 1914 to 1921 Wright developed his "method of path coefficient" (or "path analysis"), a new procedure drawing from both laboratory experimentation and statistical correlation in order to analyze the relative influence of specific genetic interactions on phenotype variation. In this paper I aim to show how Wright's philosophy for understanding complex genetic systems (panpsychic organicism) logically motivated his 1914-1921 design of path analysis. (shrink)
In biology proteins are uniquely important. They are not to be classed with polysaccharides, for example, which by comparison play a very minor role. Their nearest rivals are the nucleic acids....The main function of proteins is to act as enzymes....In the protein molecule Nature has devised a unique instrument in which an underlying simplicity is used to express great subtlety and versatility; it is impossible to see molecular biology in proper perspective until this peculiar combination of virtues has been (...) clearly grasped. (shrink)
In the advertising discourse of human genetic database projects, of genetic ancestry tracing companies, and in popular books on anthropological genetics, what I refer to as the anthropological gene and genome appear as documents of human history, by far surpassing the written record and oral history in scope and accuracy as archives of our past. How did macromolecules become "documents of human evolutionary history"? Historically, molecular anthropology, a term introduced by Emile Zuckerkandl in 1962 to characterize the study (...) of primate phylogeny and human evolution on the molecular level, asserted its claim to the privilege of interpretation regarding hominoid, hominid, and human phylogeny and evolution vis-à-vis other historical sciences such as evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and paleoanthropology. This process will be discussed on the basis of three key conferences on primate classification and evolution that brought together exponents of the respective fields and that were held in approximately ten-years intervals between the early 1960s and the 1980s. I show how the anthropological gene and genome gained their status as the most fundamental, clean, and direct records of historical information, and how the prioritizing of these epistemic objects was part of a complex involving the objectivity of numbers, logic, and mathematics, the objectivity of machines and instruments, and the objectivity seen to reside in the epistemic objects themselves. (shrink)
For elite athletes seeking a winning advantage, manipulation of their own genetic code has become a realistic possibility. In Genetic Technology and Sport, experts from sports science, genetics, philosophy, ethics, and international sports administration describe the potential applications of the new technology and debate the questions surrounding its use.
The philosophy of biology has existed as a distinct sub-discipline within the philosophy of science for about thirty years. The rapid growth of the field has mirrored that of the biological sciences in the same period. Today the discipline is well represented in the leading journals in philosophy of science, as well as in several specialist journals. There have been two generations of textbooks (see conclusion) and the subject is regularly taught at undergraduate as well as graduate (...) level. The current high profile of the biological sciences and the obvious philosophical issues that arise in fields as diverse as moleculargenetics and conservation biology suggest that the philosophy of biology will remain an exciting field of enquiry for the foreseeable future. (shrink)
After the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, scientists working in molecular biology embraced reductionism—the theory that all complex systems can be understood in terms of their components. Reductionism, however, has been widely resisted by both nonmolecular biologists and scientists working outside the field of biology. Many of these antireductionists, nevertheless, embrace the notion of physicalism—the idea that all biological processes are physical in nature. How, Alexander Rosenberg asks, can these self-proclaimed physicalists also be antireductionists? With clarity (...) and wit, Darwinian Reductionism navigates this difficult and seemingly intractable dualism with convincing analysis and timely evidence. In the spirit of the few distinguished biologists who accept reductionism—E. O. Wilson, Francis Crick, Jacques Monod, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins—Rosenberg provides a philosophically sophisticated defense of reductionism and applies it to molecular developmental biology and the theory of natural selection, ultimately proving that the physicalist must also be a reductionist. (shrink)
Advances in genetic technology in general and medical genetics in particular will enable us to intervene in the process of human biological development which extends from zygotes and embryos to people. This will allow us to control to a great extent the identities and the length and quality of the lives of people who already exist, as well as those we bring into existence in the near and distant future. Genes and Future People explores two general philosophical questions, one (...) metaphysical, the other moral: (1) How do genes, and different forms of genetic intervention (gene therapy, genetic enhancement, presymptomatic genetic testing of adults, genetic testing of preimplantation embryos), affect the identities of the people who already exist and those we bring into existence? and (2) How do these interventions benefit or harm the people we cause to exist in the near future and those who will exist in the distant future by satisfying or defeating their interest in having reasonably long and disease-free lives? Genes and Future People begins by explaining the connection between genes and disease, placing genetic within a framework of evolutionary biology. It then discusses such topics as how genes and genetic intervention influence personal identity, what genetic testing of individuals and the knowledge resulting from it entails about responsibility to others who may be at risk, as well as how gene therapy and genetic enhancement can affect the identities of people and benefit or harm them. Furthermore, it discusses various moral aspects of cloning human beings and body parts. Finally, it explores the metaphysical and moral implications of genetic manipulation of the mechanisms of aging to extend the human life span.The aim Genes and Future People is to move philosophers, bioethicists, and readers in general to reflect on the extent to which genes determine whether we are healthy or diseased, our identities as persons, the quality of our lives, and our moral obligations to future generations of people. (shrink)
What are the agents of life? Central to our conception of the biological world is the idea that it contains various kinds of individuals, including genes, organisms, and species. How we conceive of these agents of life is central to our understanding of the relationship between life and mind, the place of hierarchical thinking in the biological sciences, and pluralistic views of biological agency. Genes and the Agents of Life rethinks the place of the individual in the biological sciences, drawing (...) parallels with the cognitive and social sciences. Genes, organisms, and species are all agents of life, but how are each of these conceptualized within genetics, developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and systematics? The book includes highly accessible discussions of genetic encoding, species and natural kinds, and pluralism above the levels of selection, drawing on work from across the biological sciences. A companion to Boundaries of the Mind, (Cambridge, 2004) where the focus is on the cognitive sciences, this volume will appeal to professionals and students in philosophy, biology, and the history of science. Robert A. Wilson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. He is the author of Cartesian Psychology and Physical Minds (Cambridge, 1995). (shrink)
The essays in this collection examine developments in three fundamental biological disciplines--embryology, evolutionary biology, and genetics--in conflict with each other for much of the twentieth century. They consider key methodological problems and the difficulty of overcoming them. Richard Burian interweaves historical appreciation of the settings within which scientists work, substantial knowledge of the biological problems at stake and the methodological and philosophical issues faced in integrating biological knowledge drawn from disparate sources.