Determinism and Total Explanation in the Biological and Behavioral Sciences

Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (2014)

Rasmus Winther
University of California, Santa Cruz
Should we think of our universe as law-governed and “clockwork”-like or as disorderly and “soup”-like? Alternatively, should we consciously and intentionally synthesize these two extreme pictures? More concretely, how deterministic are the postulated causes and how rigid are the modeled properties of the best statistical methodologies used in the biological and behavioral sciences? The charge of this entry is to explore thinking about causation in the temporal evolution of biological and behavioral systems. Regression analysis and path analysis are simply explicated with reference to a thought experiment of painting three universes (clockwork, soup, and conscious) useful for imagining our actual universe. Attention to historical, structural, and mechanistic explanatory perspectives broadens the palette of methodologies available for analyzing determinism in, and explanation of, biological and behavioral systems. Each justified methodology provides a partial perspective on complex reality. Is a total explanation of any system ever possible, and what would it require?
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