It is argued, that theory sf signs, especially in the tradition of the great philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) can inspire the study of central problems in the philosophy of biology. Three such problems are considered: (1) The nature of biology as a science, where a semiotically informed pluralistic approach to the theory of science is introduced. (2) The peculiarity of the general object of biology, where a realistic interpretation of sign- and information-concepts is required to see sign-processes as immanent (...) in nature. (3) The possibility of an artificial construction of life, hereby discussed as a conceptual problem in the present form of the artificial life project and its implied definition of life. (shrink)
Despite numerous and increasing attempts to define what life is, there is no consensus on necessary and sufficient conditions for life. Accordingly, some scholars have questioned the value of definitions of life and encouraged scientists and philosophers alike to discard the project. As an alternative to this pessimistic conclusion, we argue that critically rethinking the nature and uses of definitions can provide new insights into the epistemic roles of definitions of life for different research practices. This (...) paper examines the possible contributions of definitions of life in scientific domains where such definitions are used most (e.g., Synthetic Biology, Origins of Life, Alife, and Astrobiology). Rather than as classificatory tools for demarcation of natural kinds, we highlight the pragmatic utility of what we call operational definitions that serve as theoretical and epistemic tools in scientific practice. In particular, we examine contexts where definitions integrate criteria for life into theoretical models that involve or enable observable operations. We show how these definitions of life play important roles in influencing research agendas and evaluating results, and we argue that to discard the project of defining life is neither sufficiently motivated, nor possible without dismissing important theoretical and practical research. (shrink)
Livings things are so very strange -- The quest for a theory of life -- Understanding 'understanding' -- Stability and instability -- The knotty origin of life problem -- Biology's crisis of identity -- Biology is chemistry -- What is life?
Systems Biology and the Modern Synthesis are recent versions of two classical biological paradigms that are known as structuralism and functionalism, or internalism and externalism. According to functionalism (or externalism), living matter is a fundamentally passive entity that owes its organization to external forces (functions that shape organs) or to an external organizing agent (natural selection). Structuralism (or internalism), is the view that living matter is an intrinsically active entity that is capable of organizing itself from within, with purely internal (...) processes that are based on mathematical principles and physical laws. At the molecular level, the basic mechanism of the Modern Synthesis is molecular copying, the process that leads in the short run to heredity and in the long run to natural selection. The basic mechanism of Systems Biology, instead, is self-assembly, the process by which many supramolecular structures are formed by the spontaneous aggregation of their components. In addition to molecular copying and self-assembly, however, molecular biology has uncovered also a third great mechanism at the heart of life. The existence of the genetic code and of many other organic codes in Nature tells us that molecular coding is a biological reality and we need therefore a framework that accounts for it. This framework is Code biology, the study of the codes of life, a new field of research that brings to light an entirely new dimension of the living world and gives us a completely new understanding of the origin and the evolution of life. (shrink)
The phrase ‘synthetic biology’ is used to describe a set of different scientific and technological disciplines, which share the objective to design and produce new life forms. This essay addresses the following questions: What conception of life stands behind this ambitious objective? In what relation does this conception of life stand to that of traditional biology and biotechnology? And, could such a conception of life raise ethical concerns? Three different observations that provide useful indications for the (...) conception of life in synthetic biology will be discussed in detail: 1. Synthetic biologists focus on different features of living organisms in order to design new life forms, 2. Synthetic biologists want to contribute to the understanding of life, and 3. Synthetic biologists want to modify life through a rational design, which implies the notions of utilising, minimising/optimising, varying and overcoming life. These observations indicate a tight connection between science and technology, a focus on selected aspects of life, a production-oriented approach to life, and a design-oriented understanding of life. It will be argued that through this conception of life synthetic biologists present life in a different light. This conception of life will be illustrated by the metaphor of a toolbox. According to the notion of life as a toolbox, the different features of living organisms are perceived as various rationally designed instruments that can be used for the production of the living organism itself or secondary products made by the organism. According to certain ethical positions this conception of life might raise ethical concerns related to the status of the organism, the motives of the scientists and the role of technology in our society. (shrink)
Most of the reports on synthetic biology include not only familiar topics like biosafety and biosecurity but also a chapter on ‘ethical concerns’; a variety of diffuse topics that are interrelated in some way or another. This article deals with these ‘ethical concerns’. In particular it addresses issues such as the intrinsic value of life and how to deal with ‘artificial life’, and the fear that synthetic biologists are tampering with nature or playing God. Its aim is to (...) analyse what exactly is the nature of the concerns and what rationale may lie behind them. The analysis concludes that the above-mentioned worries do not give genuine cause for serious concern. In the best possible way they are interpreted as slippery slope arguments, yet arguments of this type need to be handled with care. It is argued that although we are urged to be especially vigilant we do not have sufficiently cogent reasons to assume that synthetic biology will cause such fundamental hazards as to warrant restricting or refraining from research in this field. (shrink)
Synthetic biology is a new biotechnology that is developing at an impressive pace and attracting a considerable amount of attention from outside the scientific community as well. In this article, two main philosophically and ethically relevant characteristics of this field of research will be laid bare, namely its reliance on mechanistic metaphors to denominate simple forms of life and its appeal to the semantic field of creativity. It is argued that given these characteristics synthetic biology can be understood as (...) a prime example of a kind of human interference with reality that German philosopher Hannah Arendt called “fabrication.” This kind of self-world-relation contrasts to “action,” a relation that introduces, among other things, the idea of an inherent value of the object acted upon. Taking up this latter perspective, one scientific and two ethical challenges to synthetic biology’s take on the realm of life are identified. (shrink)
I discuss the moral significance of artificial life within synthetic biology via a discussion of Douglas, Powell and Savulescu's paper 'Is the creation of artificial life morally significant’. I argue that the definitions of 'artificial life’ and of 'moral significance’ are too narrow. Douglas, Powell and Savulescu's definition of artificial life does not capture all core projects of synthetic biology or the ethical concerns that have been voiced, and their definition of moral significance fails to take (...) into account the possibility that creating artificial life is conditionally acceptable. Finally, I show how several important objections to synthetic biology are plausibly understood as arguing that creating artificial life in a wide sense is only conditionally acceptable. (shrink)
Comments and reports on synthetic biology often focus on the idea that this field may lead to synthetic life or life forms. Such claims attract general attention because “life” is a basic concept that is understood, interpreted and explained in multiple ways. While these different understandings of life may influence the ethical assessment of synthetic biology by experts and the public, this field might, in turn, influence how academics or the public view life. We suggest (...) in this paper that synthetic biology provides an opportunity to discuss and compare different views and explanations of the world, starting from the concept of life. We argue that a narrow focus on just one interpretation of this concept may be harmful and that people will benefit from being aware of a diversity of understandings of life because they provide answers to different questions. Moreover, the confrontation among views is important for the development of reasoning abilities, and a nuanced view on our world will be useful for integrating scientific findings and their implications into a wider context. At the same time, we should not only consider other understandings of life for our own benefit but also because a moral attitude of respect for and toleration toward others implies permission to express and maintain their views. For these reasons, we suggest that a diversity of views on life should be included in public education and in public engagement events on synthetic biology. Moreover, they should be on the research agenda of technology assessment studies within the ELSA or RRI frameworks. (shrink)
Despite holding to the essential distinction between mind and body, Descartes did not adopt a life-body dualism. Though humans are the only creatures which can reason, as they are the only creatures whose body is in an intimate union with a soul, they are not the only finite beings who are alive. In the present note, I attempt to determine Descartes'' criteria for something to be ''living.'' Though certain passages associate such a principle with the presence of a properly (...) functioning heart, I show that there are important reasons for also understanding life in terms of a degree of complexity of design. (shrink)
Thompson, Evan. Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s10743-009-9057-7 Authors Dan Zahavi, University of Copenhagen Center for Subjectivity Research Njalsgade 140-142 2300 Copenhagen Denmark Journal Husserl Studies Online ISSN 1572-8501 Print ISSN 0167-9848 Journal Volume Volume 25 Journal Issue Volume 25, Number 2.
[Précis of Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind] The theme of this book is the deep continuity of life and mind. Where there is life there is mind, and mind in its most articulated forms belongs to life. Life and mind share a core set of formal or organizational properties, and the formal or organizational properties distinctive of mind are an enriched version of those fundamental to life.
In Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Evan Thompson defends the thesis of a “deep continuity of life and mind” according to which “life and mind share a set of basic organizational properties . . . . Mind is life-like and life is mind-like” . On the one hand, Thompson uncovers mind in life, by considering life and explaining how living organisms are organized in a way that involves the (...) biological implementation of properties that are usually attributed to mental states. On the other hand, he roots mind in life by considering the mind and explaining how mental states are anchored to biological processes. Following the lead of Merleau–Ponty and his notion of “comportment” , Thompson argues that the notion of autonomous dynamic system can integrate the orders of life and mind, and account for the originality of each order, allowing the understanding that “on the one hand, nature is not pure exteriority, but rather in the case of life has its own interiority and thus resembles mind. On the other hand, mind is not pure interiority, but rather a form of structure of engagement with the world and thus resembles life”. (shrink)
What is Life? To answer this question, Denis Noble argues that we must look beyond the gene's eye view. For modern 'systems biology' considers life on a variety of levels, as an intricate web of feedback between gene, cell, organ, body, and environment. He shows how it is both a biologically rigorous and richly rewarding way of understanding life.
What is Life? This is the question asked by Denis Noble in this very personal and at times deeply lyrical book. Noble is a renowned physiologist and systems biologist, and he argues that the genome is not life itself: to understand what life is, we must view it at a variety of different levels, all interacting with each other in a complex web. It is that emergent web, full of feedback between levels, from the gene to the (...) wider environment, that is life. (shrink)
John Dupr explores recent revolutionary developments in biology and considers their relevance for our understanding of human nature and society. He reveals how the advance of genetic science is changing our view of the constituents of life, and shows how an understanding of microbiology will overturn standard assumptions about the living world.
Pluralism is popular among philosophers of biology. This essay argues that negative judgments about universal biology, while understandable, are very premature. Familiar life on Earth represents a single example of life and, most importantly, there are empirical as well as theoretical reasons for suspecting that it may be unrepresentative. Scientifically compelling generalizations about the unity of life must await the discovery of forms of life descended from an alternative origin, the most promising candidate being the discovery (...) of extraterrestrial life. Nonetheless, in the absence of additional examples of life, we are best off exploring the microbial world for promising explanatory concepts, principles, and mechanisms rather than prematurely giving up on universal biology. Unicellular microbes are by far the oldest, metabolically most diverse, and environmentally tolerant form of life on our planet. Yet somewhat ironically, much of our theorizing about life still implicitly privileges complex multicellular eukaryotes, which are now understood to be highly specialized, fragile latecomers to Earth. The problem with pursuing a pluralist approach to understanding life is that it is likely to blind us to the significance of just those entities and causal processes most likely to shed light on the underlying nature of life. (shrink)
Ernst Mayr’s influence on philosophy of biology has given the field a particular perspective on evolution, phylogeny and life in general. Using debates about the tree of life as a guide, I show how Mayrian evolutionary biology excludes numerous forms of life and many important evolutionary processes. Hybridization and lateral gene transfer are two of these processes, and they occur frequently, with important outcomes in all domains of life. Eukaryotes appear to have a more tree-like history (...) because successful lateral events tend to occur among more closely related species, or at a lower frequency, than in prokaryotes, but this is a difference of degree rather than kind. Although the tree of life is especially problematic as a representation of the evolutionary history of prokaryotes, it can function more generally as an illustration of the limitations of a standard evolutionary perspective. Moreover, for philosophers, questions about the tree of life can be applied to the Mayrian inheritance in philosophy of biology. These questions make clear that the dichotomy of life Mayr suggested is based on too narrow a perspective. An alternative to this dichotomy is a multidimensional continuum in which different strategies of genetic exchange bestow greater adaptiveness and evolvability on prokaryotes and eukaryotes. (shrink)
This is a wide ranging and deeply learned examination of evolutionary developmental biology, and the foundations of life from the perspective of information theory. Hermeneutics was a method developed in the humanities to achieve understanding, in a given context, of texts, history, and artwork. In Readers of the Book of Life, the author shows that living beings are also hermeneutical interpreters of genetics texts saved in DNA; an interpretation based on the past experience of the cell (cell lineage, (...) species), confronted with and incorporating present environmental clues. This approach stresses the history, not only of the digital record saved in the DNA, but also of the flesh - the cellular organization which has a direct time-continuity with the very origins of life. This book is aimed at reconciling two opposite approaches to life. The first strictly sticking to a belief that all phenomena observed in the realm of the living can be explained from laws of physics. The opposite stressing the importance of features characteristic for a given level of description. To bring both views into a common understanding, the first part gives a comparison of the two problem solving strategies. The second part surveys the development of 20th century biology, bringing to light branches that never became part of the research mainstream. The third section of the book reviews a large body of recent evidence that can be interpreted in favor of the hermeneutic arguments. (shrink)
What is artificial life? Much has been said about this interesting collection of efforts to artificially simulate and synthesize lifelike behavior and processes, yet we are far from having a robust philosophical understanding of just what Alifers are doing and why it ought to interest philosophers of science, and philosophers of biology in particular. In this paper, I first provide three introductory examples from the particular subset of artificial life I focus on, known as ‘soft Alife’ (s-Alife), and (...) follow up with a more in-depth review of the Avida program, which serves as my case study of s-Alife. Next, I review three well-known accounts of thought experiments, and then offer my own synthesized account, to make the argument that s-Alife functions as thought experimentation in biology. I draw a comparison between the methodology of the thought-experimental world that yields real-world results, and the s-Alife research that informs our understanding of natural life. I conclude that the insights provided by s-Alife research have the potential to fundamentally alter our understanding of the nature of organic life and thus deserve the attention of both philosophers and natural scientists. (shrink)
Despite the transformation in biological practice and theory brought about by discoveries in molecular biology, until recently philosophy of biology continued to focus on evolutionary biology. When the Human Genome Project got underway in the late 1980s and early 1990s, philosophers of biology -- unlike historians and social scientists -- had little to add to the debate. In this landmark collection of essays, Sahotra Sarkar broadens the scope of current discussions of the philosophy of biology, viewing molecular biology as a (...) unifying perspective on life that complements that of evolutionary biology. His focus is on molecular biology, but the overriding question behind these papers is what molecular biology contributes to all traditional areas of biological research.Molecular biology -- described with some foresight in a 1938 Rockefeller Foundation report as a branch of science in which "delicate modern techniques are being used to investigate ever more minute details" -- and its modeling strategies apparently argue in favor of physical reductionism. Sarkar's first three chapters explore reductionism -- defending it, but cautioning that reduction to molecular interactions is not necessarily a reduction to genetics. The next sections of the book discuss function, exploring how functional explanations pose a problem for reductionism; the informational interpretation of biology and how it interacts with reductionism; and the tension between the unifying framework of molecular biology and the received framework of evolutionary theory. The concluding chapter is an essay in the emerging field of developmental evolution, exploring what molecular biology may contribute to the transformation of evolutionary theory as evolutionary theory takes into account morphogenetic development. (shrink)
The emergent new science of synthetic biology is challenging entrenched distinctions between, amongst others, life and non-life, the natural and the artificial, the evolved and the designed, and even the material and the informational. Whenever such culturally sanctioned boundaries are breached, researchers are inevitably accused of playing God or treading in Frankenstein’s footsteps. Bioethicists, theologians and editors of scientific journals feel obliged to provide an authoritative answer to the ambiguous question of the ‘meaning’ of life, both as (...) a scientific definition and as an explication with wider existential connotations. This article analyses the arguments mooted in the emerging societal debates on synthetic biology and the way its practitioners respond to criticism, mostly by assuming a defiant posture or professing humility. It explores the relationship between the ‘playing God’ theme and the Frankenstein motif and examines the doctrinal status of the ‘playing God’ argument. One particularly interesting finding is that liberal theologians generally deny the religious character of the ‘playing God’ argument—a response which fits in with the curious fact that this argument is used mainly by secular organizations. Synthetic biology, it is therefore maintained, does not offend so much the God of the Bible as a deified Nature. While syntheses of artificial life forms cause some vague uneasiness that life may lose its special meaning, most concerns turn out to be narrowly anthropocentric. As long as synthetic biology creates only new microbial life and does not directly affect human life, it will in all likelihood be considered acceptable. (shrink)
The INBIOSA project brings together a group of experts across many disciplines who believe that science requires a revolutionary transformative step in order to address many of the vexing challenges presented by the world. It is INBIOSA’s purpose to enable the focused collaboration of an interdisciplinary community of original thinkers. This paper sets out the case for support for this effort. The focus of the transformative research program proposal is biology-centric. We admit that biology to date has been more fact-oriented (...) and less theoretical than physics. However, the key leverageable idea is that careful extension of the science of living systems can be more effectively applied to some of our most vexing modern problems than the prevailing scheme, derived from abstractions in physics. While these have some universal application and demonstrate computational advantages, they are not theoretically mandated for the living. A new set of mathematical abstractions derived from biology can now be similarly extended. This is made possible by leveraging new formal tools to understand abstraction and enable computability. [The latter has a much expanded meaning in our context from the one known and used in computer science and biology today, that is "by rote algorithmic means", since it is not known if a living system is computable in this sense (Mossio et al., 2009).] Two major challenges constitute the effort. The first challenge is to design an original general system of abstractions within the biological domain. The initial issue is descriptive leading to the explanatory. There has not yet been a serious formal examination of the abstractions of the biological domain. What is used today is an amalgam; much is inherited from physics (via the bridging abstractions of chemistry) and there are many new abstractions from advances in mathematics (incentivized by the need for more capable computational analyses). Interspersed are abstractions, concepts and underlying assumptions “native” to biology and distinct from the mechanical language of physics and computation as we know them. A pressing agenda should be to single out the most concrete and at the same time the most fundamental process-units in biology and to recruit them into the descriptive domain. Therefore, the first challenge is to build a coherent formal system of abstractions and operations that is truly native to living systems. Nothing will be thrown away, but many common methods will be philosophically recast, just as in physics relativity subsumed and reinterpreted Newtonian mechanics. -/- This step is required because we need a comprehensible, formal system to apply in many domains. Emphasis should be placed on the distinction between multi-perspective analysis and synthesis and on what could be the basic terms or tools needed. The second challenge is relatively simple: the actual application of this set of biology-centric ways and means to cross-disciplinary problems. In its early stages, this will seem to be a “new science”. This White Paper sets out the case of continuing support of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for transformative research in biology and information processing centered on paradigm changes in the epistemological, ontological, mathematical and computational bases of the science of living systems. Today, curiously, living systems cannot be said to be anything more than dissipative structures organized internally by genetic information. There is not anything substantially different from abiotic systems other than the empirical nature of their robustness. We believe that there are other new and unique properties and patterns comprehensible at this bio-logical level. The report lays out a fundamental set of approaches to articulate these properties and patterns, and is composed as follows. -/- Sections 1 through 4 (preamble, introduction, motivation and major biomathematical problems) are incipient. Section 5 describes the issues affecting Integral Biomathics and Section 6 -- the aspects of the Grand Challenge we face with this project. Section 7 contemplates the effort to formalize a General Theory of Living Systems (GTLS) from what we have today. The goal is to have a formal system, equivalent to that which exists in the physics community. Here we define how to perceive the role of time in biology. Section 8 describes the initial efforts to apply this general theory of living systems in many domains, with special emphasis on crossdisciplinary problems and multiple domains spanning both “hard” and “soft” sciences. The expected result is a coherent collection of integrated mathematical techniques. Section 9 discusses the first two test cases, project proposals, of our approach. They are designed to demonstrate the ability of our approach to address “wicked problems” which span across physics, chemistry, biology, societies and societal dynamics. The solutions require integrated measurable results at multiple levels known as “grand challenges” to existing methods. Finally, Section 10 adheres to an appeal for action, advocating the necessity for further long-term support of the INBIOSA program. -/- The report is concluded with preliminary non-exclusive list of challenging research themes to address, as well as required administrative actions. The efforts described in the ten sections of this White Paper will proceed concurrently. Collectively, they describe a program that can be managed and measured as it progresses. (shrink)
The theme of this book is the deep continuity of life and mind. Where there is lifethere is mind, and mind in its most articulated forms belongs to life. Life and mindshare a core set of formal or organizational properties, and the formal ororganizational properties distinctive of mind are an enriched version of thosefundamental to life.
In this short contribution we explore the historical roots of recent synthetic approaches in biology and try to assess their real potential, as well as identify future hurdles or the reasons behind some of the main difficulties they currently face. We suggest that part of these difficulties might not be just the result of our present lack of adequate technical skills or understanding, but could spring directly from the nature of the biological phenomenon itself. In particular, if life is (...) conceived as autonomy in open-ended evolution, which would help to explain the highly complex and dynamic organization of the simplest known organisms (i.e., genetically-instructed cellular metabolisms), external synthetic implementations of such systems, or interventions on them, are bound to interfere with some of their characteristic transformation processes, both at the ontogenetic and phylogenetic scales. In any case, this will prove very revealing and productive, technologically and scientifically speaking, since the knowledge gathered from those implementations/interventions will be extremely valuable in establishing our capacities and limitations to fully comprehend, utilize, and expand the living domain as we know it today. (shrink)
Van den Belt recently examined the notion that synthetic biology and the creation of ‘artificial’ organisms are examples of scientists ‘playing God’. Here I respond to some of the issues he raises, including some of his comments on my previous discussions of the value of the term ‘life’ as a scientific concept.
We review and discuss A. H. Louie’s book “More than Life Itself: A Reflexion on Formal Systems and Biology” from an interdisciplinary viewpoint, involving both biology and mathematics, taking into account new developments and related theories.
Seemingly distant practices of molecular biology and indigenous Xhosa healing have commonalities that I would like to bring into conversation in this article. The preclinical trial of an indigenous medicine brings them together in a research consortium. In this instance, both sets of experts are meant to collaborate in preparing a wild bush for it to pass the tests of the randomized clinical trial (RCT) and to potentially become a biopharmaceutical to counter the tuberculosis pandemic. I aim to tease out (...) how the two sets of actors and their respective practices converge and diverge in their healing hopes and ways of managing uncertainty. Ultimately, I am interested in understanding how the preferred process of making medicine “work” by each set of actors relies upon particular ways of knowing and not knowing life, bringing some ontologies into being, letting others wither away. The shared ways of knowing life as a movement of opening at the edges of the RCT are proposed as paths of recognition between one and the other practice. (shrink)
Genes and the Agents of Life undertakes to rethink 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. The (...) book is a companion to the author's Boundaries of the Mind, also available from Cambridge, where the focus is the cognitive sciences. The book will appeal to a broad range of professionals and students in philosophy, biology, and the history of science. (shrink)
A high profile context in which physics and biology meet today is in the new field of systems biology. Systems biology is a fascinating subject for sociological investigation because the demands of interdisciplinary collaboration have brought epistemological issues and debates front and centre in discussions amongst systems biologists in conference settings, in publications, and in laboratory coffee rooms. One could argue that systems biologists are conducting their own philosophy of science. This paper explores the epistemic aspirations of the field by (...) drawing on interviews with scientists working in systems biology, attendance at systems biology conferences and workshops, and visits to systems biology laboratories. It examines the discourses of systems biologists, looking at how they position their work in relation to previous types of biological inquiry, particularly molecular biology. For example, they raise the issue of reductionism to distinguish systems biology from molecular biology. This comparison with molecular biology leads to discussions about the goals and aspirations of systems biology, including epistemic commitments to quantification, rigor and predictability. Some systems biologists aspire to make biology more similar to physics and engineering by making living systems calculable, modelable and ultimately predictable—a research programme that is perhaps taken to its most extreme form in systems biology’s sister discipline: synthetic biology. Other systems biologists, however, do not think that the standards of the physical sciences are the standards by which we should measure the achievements of systems biology, and doubt whether such standards will ever be applicable to ‘dirty, unruly living systems’. This paper explores these epistemic tensions and reflects on their sociological dimensions and their consequences for future work in the life sciences. (shrink)
Hans Jonas’ “philosophical biology,” although developed several decades ago, is still fundamental to the contemporary reflection upon the meaning of life in a systems thinking perspective. Jonas, in fact, closely examines the reasons of modern science, and especially of Wiener’s Cybernetics and Bertalanffy’s General System Theory, and at the same time points out their basic limits, such as their having a reductionistic attitude to knowledge and ontology. In particular, the philosopher highlights the problematic consequences of scientific reductionism for human (...) nature. As the final result of an overall process of naturalization, the essence of the human being is reduced to its quantitative features only, while the “meaning” of life as such becomes no different from the “fact” of its material consistency. However, the problem is that by such a process, the human being is deprived of his specificity. (shrink)
This paper explicates secular psychodynamic growth through the life time and meditation as routes to the transpersonal from the perspective of evolutionary developmental biology, based around a multi-line model of growth. A multi-line model raises many significant points for a transpersonal audience. Such models have been pioneered by Hunt. When set on the footing of evolutionary developmental biology and nonlinear dynamics these kind of models become all the more cogent, penetrating and far reaching, validating plurality and diversity in both (...) the process and final form of transpersonal development. The "anecdotal" accounts which Hunt reports, and which this paper adds to, can thus be amalgamated with an established and sophisticated research program . Such developments are symptomatic of a general movement in the sciences towards a non-linear paradigm, to which the transpersonal movement might have been slow to respond. (shrink)
In the present paper, I shall argue that quantum theory can contribute to reconciling evolutionary biology with the creation hypothesis. After giving a careful definition of the theological problem, I will, in a first step, formulate necessary conditions for the compatibility of evolutionary theory and the creation hypothesis. In a second step, I will show how quantum theory can contribute to fulfilling these conditions. More precisely, I claim that (1) quantum probabilities are best understood in terms of ontological indeterminism, but (...) (2) reflect nevertheless causal openness rather than divine indifference or arbitrariness, and (3) such a genuinely creative universe can be considered as the work of a loving Creator. I ask subsequently whether these necessary conditions are also sufficient for the compatibility of evolutionary theory and the creation hypothesis. Finally, I will show that relating evolutionary biology with theology via quantum theory could also shed some light on the nature of life. (shrink)
This paper surveys recent philosophy of biology. It aims to introduce outsiders to the field to the recent literature (which is reviewed in the footnotes) and the main recent debates. I concentrate on three of these: recent critiques of the replicator/vehicle distinction and its application to the idea of the gene as the unit of section; the recent defences of group selection and the idea that standard alternatives to group selection are in fact no more than a disguised form of (...) group selection; and recent ideas on the role of selection in evolution, especially the role of selection in structuring the large-scale history of life. The paper connects philosophy of biology to some more general problems in the philosophy of science, and concludes with a few suggestions about unfinished business. (shrink)
It is a most commonly accepted hypothesis that life originated from inanimate matter, somehow being a synthetic product of organic aggregates, and as such, a result of some sort of prebiotic synthetic biology. In the past decades, the newly formed scientific discipline of synthetic biology has set ambitious goals by pursuing the complete design and production of genetic circuits, entire genomes or even whole organisms. In this paper, I argue that synthetic biology might also shed some novel and interesting (...) perspectives on the question of the origin of life, and that, in addition, it might challenge our most commonly accepted definitions of life, thereby changing the ways we might think about life and its origin. (shrink)
The artificial creation of life arises both strong fascination by scientists and strong concerns, if not abhorrence, by critics of science. What appears to be the crowning achievement of synthetic biology is at the same time considered a major evil. That conflict, which perhaps epitomizes many of the cultural conflicts about science in Western societies, calls for a deeper analysis. Standard ethical analyses, which would try to relate such conflicts to a difference in fundamental values, are difficult to apply (...) here, because it is unclear what the underlying values of such emotions as fascination and abhorrence are. These emotions or affects, rather than just referring to what is morally right or wrong, seem to be rooted in our cultural heritage of desires and taboos of transgression. My analysis in this paper is primarily of historical nature. By investigating ideas about the creation of life from the earliest times to the present, I aim to clarify the cultural origins of those emotions. I argue that both the fascination and the abhorrence regarding the creation of life have a common religious basis. Moreover, unlike many commentators of 19th-century mad-scientist classics, from Mary Shelley to H.G. Wells, I argue that this basis has no ancient model in religious or mythological traditions but emerged only in the 19th century from an exchange between science and religion. As long as these emotions dominate public debates, ethical deliberations about synthetic biology are likely to be neglected. (shrink)
By now, the story of T. D. Lysenko's phantasmagoric career in the Soviet life sciences is widely familiar. While Lysenko's attempts to identify I. V. Michurin, the horticulturist, as the source of his own inductionist ideas about heredity are recognized as a gambit calculated to enhance his legitimacy, the real roots of those ideas are still shrouded in mystery. This paper suggests those roots may be found in a tradition in Russian biology that stretches back to the 1840s—a tradition (...) inspired by the doctrines of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Etienne and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. The enthusiastic reception of those doctrines in Russia and of their practical application—acclimatization of exotic life forms—gave rise to the durable scientific preoccupation with transforming nature which now seems implicated in creating the context for Lysenko's successful bid to become an arbiter of the biological sciences. (shrink)
Scott Carson - Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology: Studies in the Origins of Life Science - Journal of the History of Philosophy 40:3 Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.3 391-392 Book Review Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology: Studies in the Origins of Life Science James G. Lennox. Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology: Studies in the Origins of Life Science. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xxiii + 321. Cloth, $64.95. This excellent book is a collection of Lennox's papers, (...) published in the last twenty years, on the structure and methodology of Aristotle's philosophy of biology. In spite of the fact that the papers have had little, if any, re-editing for inclusion in the present volume, the book presents a remarkably seamless and impressively argued interpretation not only of Aristotle's philosophy.. (shrink)
It is a most commonly accepted hypothesis that life originated from inanimate matter, somehow being a synthetic product of organic aggregates, and as such a result of some sort of prebiotic synthetic biology. In the past decades, the newly formed scientific discipline of synthetic biology has set ambitious goals by pursuing the complete design and production of genetic circuits, entire genomes, or even whole organisms. I argue that synthetic biology might also shed some novel and interesting perspectives on the (...) question of the origins of life, and that, in addition, it might challenge our most commonly accepted definitions of life, thereby changing the ways we might think about life and its origins. (shrink)