In the past century, nearly all of the biological sciences have been directly affected by discoveries and developments in genetics, a fast-evolving subject with important theoretical dimensions. In this rich and accessible book, Paul Griffiths and KarolaStotz show how the concept of the gene has evolved and diversified across the many fields that make up modern biology. By examining the molecular biology of the 'environment', they situate genetics in the developmental biology of whole organisms, and reveal how (...) the molecular biosciences have undermined the nature/nurture distinction. Their discussion gives full weight to the revolutionary impacts of molecular biology, while rejecting 'genocentrism' and 'reductionism', and brings the topic right up to date with the philosophical implications of the most recent developments in genetics. Their book will be invaluable for those studying the philosophy of biology, genetics and other life sciences. (shrink)
Creatures of the world Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9539-z Authors KarolaStotz, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Griffiths and Russell D. Gray (1994, 1997, 2001) have argued that the fundamental unit of analysis in developmental systems theory should be a process – the life cycle – and not a set of developmental resources and interactions between those resources. The key concepts of developmental systems theory, epigenesis and developmental dynamics, both also suggest a process view of the units of development. This chapter explores in more depth the features of developmental systems theory that favour treating processes as fundamental (...) in biology and examines the continuity between developmental systems theory and ideas about process in the work of several major figures in early 20th century biology, most notable C.H Waddington. (shrink)
Recent theories in cognitive science have begun to focus on the active role of organisms in shaping their own environment, and the role of these environmental resources for cognition. Approaches such as situated, embedded, ecological, distributed and particularly extended cognition look beyond ‘what is inside your head’ to the old Gibsonian question of ‘what your head is inside of’ and with which it forms a wider whole—its internal and external cognitive niche. Since these views have been treated as a radical (...) departure from the received view of cognition, their proponents have looked for support to similar extended views within (the philosophy of) biology, most notably the theory of niche construction. This paper argues that there is an even closer and more fruitful parallel with developmental systems theory and developmental niche construction. These ask not ‘what is inside the genes you inherited’, but ‘what the inherited genes are inside of’ and with which they form a wider whole—their internal and external ontogenetic niche, understood as the set of epigenetic, social, ecological, epistemic and symbolic legacies inherited by the organism as necessary developmental resources. To the cognizing agent, the epistemic niche presents itself not just as a partially self-engineered selective niche, as the niche construction paradigm will have it, but even more so as a partially self-engineered ontogenetic niche, a problem-solving resource and scaffold for individual development and learning. This move should be beneficial for coming to grips with our own (including cognitive) nature: what is most distinctive about humans is their developmentally plastic brains immersed into a well-engineered, cumulatively constructed cognitive–developmental niche. (shrink)
We outline three very different concepts of the gene—instrumental, nominal, and postgenomic. The instrumental gene has a critical role in the construction and interpretation of experiments in which the relationship between genotype and phenotype is explored via hybridization between organisms or directly between nucleic acid molecules. It also plays an important theoretical role in the foundations of disciplines such as quantitative genetics and population genetics. The nominal gene is a critical practical tool, allowing stable communication between bioscientists in a wide (...) range of fields grounded in well-defined sequences of nucleotides, but this concept does not embody major theoretical insights into genome structure or function. The post-genomic gene embodies the continuing project of understanding how genome structure supports genome function, but with a deflationary picture of the gene as a structural unit. This final concept of the gene poses a significant challenge to conventional assumptions about the relationship between genome structure and function, and between genotype and phenotype. (shrink)
Philosophers and historians of biology have argued that genes are conceptualized differently in different fields of biology and that these differences influence both the conduct of research and the interpretation of research by audiences outside the field in which the research was conducted. In this paper we report the results of a questionnaire study of how genes are conceptualized by biological scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia. The results provide tentative support for some hypotheses about conceptual differences between different (...) fields of biological research. (shrink)
It is now widely accepted that a scientifically credible conception of human nature must reject the folkbiological idea of a fixed, inner essence that makes us human. We argue here that to understand human nature is to understand the plastic process of human development and the diversity it produces. Drawing on the framework of developmental systems theory and the idea of developmental niche construction we argue that human nature is not embodied in only one input to development, such as the (...) genome, and that it should not be confined to universal or typical human characteristics. Both similarities and certain classes of differences are explained by a human developmental system that reaches well out into the 'environment'. We point to a significant overlap between our account and the ‘Life History Trait Cluster’ account of Grant Ramsey, and defend the developmental systems account against the accusation that trying to encompass developmental plasticity and human diversity leads to an unmanageably complex account of human nature. (shrink)
The linear sequence specification of a gene product is not provided by the target DNA sequence alone but by the mechanisms of gene expressions. The main actors of these mechanisms, proteins and functional RNAs, relay environmental information to the genome with important consequences to sequence selection and processing. This `postgenomic' reality has implications for our understandings of development not as predetermined by genes but as an epigenetic process. Critics of genetic determinism have long argued that the activity of `genes' and (...) hence their contribution to the phenotype depends on intra- and extraorganismal `environmental' elements. As will be shown here, even the mere physical existence of a `gene' is dependent on its phenotypic context. (shrink)
Several authors have argued that causes differ in the degree to which they are ‘specific’ to their effects. Woodward has used this idea to enrich his influential interventionist theory of causal explanation. Here we propose a way to measure causal specificity using tools from information theory. We show that the specificity of a causal variable is not well defined without a probability distribution over the states of that variable. We demonstrate the tractability and interest of our proposed measure by measuring (...) the specificity of coding DNA and other factors in a simple model of the production of mRNA. (shrink)
This paper describes one complete and one ongoing empirical study in which philosophical analyses of the concept of the gene were operationalized and tested against questionnaire data obtained from working biologists to determine whether and when biologists conceive genes in the ways suggested. These studies throw light on how different gene concepts contribute to biological research. Their aim is not to arrive at one or more correct 'definitions' of the gene, but rather to map out the variation in the gene (...) concept and to explore its causes and its effects. (shrink)
Experimental philosophy of science gathers empirical data on how key scientific concepts are understood by particular scientific communities. In this paper we briefly describe two recent studies in experimental philosophy of biology, one investigating the concept of the gene, the other the concept of innateness. The use of experimental methods reveals facts about these concepts that would not be accessible using the traditional method of intuitions about possible cases. It also contributes to the study of conceptual change in science, which (...) we understand as the result of a form of conceptual ecology, in which concepts become adapted to specific epistemic niches. (shrink)
The paper argues against the central dogma and its interpretation by C. Kenneth Waters and Alex Rosenberg. I argue that certain phenomena in the regulation of gene expression provide a break with the central dogma, according to which sequence specificity for a gene product must be template derived. My thesis of 'molecular epigenesis' with its three classes of phenomena, sequence 'activation', 'selection', and 'creation', is exemplified by processes such as transcriptional activation, alternative cis- and trans-splicing, and RNA editing. It argues (...) that other molecular resources share the causal role of genes; the sequence specificity for the linear sequence of any gene product is distributed between the coding sequence, cis-acting sequences, trans-acting factors, environmental signals, and the contingent history of the cell (thesis of distributed causal specificity). I conclude that the central dogma has unnecessarily restricted genetic research to the sequencing of protein-coding genes, unilinear pathway analyses, and the focus on exclusive specificity. (shrink)
The historian Raphael Falk has described the gene as a ‘concept in tension’ (Falk 2000) – an idea pulled this way and that by the differing demands of different kinds of biological work. Several authors have suggested that in the light of contemporary molecular biology ‘gene’ is no more than a handy term which acquires a specific meaning only in a specific scientific context in which it occurs. Hence the best way to answer the question ‘what is a gene’, and (...) the only way to provide a truly philosophical answer to that question is to outline the diversity of conceptions of the gene and the reasons for this diversity. In this essay we draw on the extensive literature in the history of biology to explain how the concept has changed over time in response to the changing demands of the biosciences . Finally, we outline some of the conceptions of the gene current today. The seeds of change are implicit in many of those current conceptions and the future of the gene concept looks set to be at as turbulent as the past. (shrink)
Obesity is the focus of multiple lines of inquiry that have -- together and separately -- produced many deep insights into the physiology of weight gain and maintenance. We examine three such streams of research and show how they are oriented to obesity intervention through multilevel integrated approaches. The first research programme is concerned with the genetics and biochemistry of fat production, and it links metabolism, physiology, endocrinology and neurochemistry. The second account of obesity is developmental and draws together epigenetic (...) and environmental explanations that can be embedded in an evolutionary framework. The third line of research focuses on the role of gut microbes in the production of obesity, and how microbial activities interact with host genetics, development and metabolism. These interwoven explanatory strategies are driven by an orientation to intervention, both for experimental and therapeutic outcomes. We connect the integrative and intervention-oriented aspects of obesity research through a discussion of translation, broadening the concept to capture the dynamic, iterative processes of scientific practice and therapy development. This system-oriented analysis of obesity research expands the philosophical scrutiny of contemporary developments in the biosciences and biomedicine, and has the potential to enrich philosophy of science and medicine. (shrink)
This paper serves as an introduction to the special issue on “Reconciling Nature and Nurture in Behavior and Cognition Research” and sets its agenda to resolve the 'interactionist' dichotomy of nature as the genetic, and stable, factors of development, and nurture as the environmental, and plastic influences. In contrast to this received view it promotes the idea that all traits, no matter how developmentally fixed or universal they seem, contingently develop out of a single-cell state through the interaction of a (...) multitude of developmental resources that defies any easy, dichotomous separation. It goes on to analyze the necessary ingredients for such a radical, epigenetic account of development, heredity and evolution: 1. A detailed understanding of the epigenetic nature of the regulatory mechanisms of gene expression; 2. The systematical questioning of preconceptions of 'explanatory' categories of behavior, such as 'innate' or 'programmed'; 3. Especially in psychological research the integration of the concepts of 'development' and 'learning', and a richer classification of the concept of 'environment' in the production of behavior; 4. A fuller understanding of the nature of inheritance that transcends the restriction to the genetic material as the sole hereditary unit, and the study of the process of developmental niche construction; and last 5. Taking serious the role of ecology in development and evolution. I hope that an accomplishment of the above task will then lead to a 'postgenomic' synthesis of nature and nurture that conceptualizes 'nature' as the natural phenotypic outcome 'nurtured' by the natural developmental process leading to it. (shrink)
Current knowledge about the variety and complexity of the processes that allow regulated gene expression in living organisms calls for a new understanding of genes. A ‘postgenomic’ understanding of genes as entities constituted during genome expression is outlined and illustrated with specific examples that formed part of a survey research instrument developed by two of the authors for an ongoing empirical study of conceptual change in contemporary biology.
Keller explains the persistence of the nature/nurture debate by a chronic ambiguity in language derived from classical and behavioral genetics. She suggests that the more precise vocabulary of modern molecular genetics may be used to rephrase the underlying questions and hence provide a way out of this controversy. I show that her proposal fits into a long tradition in which other authors have wrestled with the same problem and come to similar conclusions. - Review of 'The mirage of a space (...) between nature and nurture' by Evelyn Fox Keller, Duke University Press, 2010, ISBN 9780822347316. (shrink)
I use a recent 'experimental philosophy' study of the concept of the gene conducted by myself and collaborators to discuss the broader epistemological framework within which that research was conducted, and to reflect on the relationship between science, history and philosophy of science, and society.
In the last decade it has become en vogue for cognitive comparative psychologists to study animal behavior in an ‘integrated’ fashion to account for both the ‘innate’ and the ‘acquired’. We will argue that these studies, instead of really integrating the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, rather cement this old dichotomy. They combine empty nativist interpretation of behavior systems with blatantly environmentalist explanations of learning. We identify the main culprit as the failure to take development seriously. While in some areas (...) of biology interest in the relationship between behavior and development has surged through topics such as extragenetic inheritance, niche construction, and phenotypic plasticity, this has gone almost completely unnoticed in the study of animal behavior in comparative psychology, and is frequently ignored in ethology too. The main aims of this paper are to clarify the relationship between the concepts of learning, experience, and development, and to investigate whether and how all three concepts can be usefully deployed in the study of animal behavior. This will require the full integration of the psychological study of behavior into biology, and of the idea of learning into a wider concept of experience. We lay out how, in a systems view of development, learning may just appear as one among many processes in which experience influences behavior. This new synthesis should help to overcome the age-old dualism between innate and acquired. It thereby opens up the possibility of developing scientifically more fruitful distinctions. (shrink)
Recent years have seen the development of an approach both to general philosophy and philosophy of science often referred to as ‘experimental philosophy’ or just ‘X-Phi’. Philosophers often make or presuppose empirical claims about how people would react to hypothetical cases, but their evidence for claims about what ‘we’ would say is usually very limited indeed. Philosophers of science have largely relied on their more or less intimate knowledge of their field of study to draw hypothetical conclusions about the state (...) of scientific concepts and the nature of conceptual change in science. What they are lacking is some more objective quantitative data supporting their hypotheses. A growing number of philosophers , along with a few psychologists and anthropologists, have tried to remedy this situation by designing experiments aimed at systematically exploring people’s reactions to philosophically important thought experiments or scientists’ use of their scientific concepts. Many of the results have been surprising and some of the conclusions drawn from them have been more than a bit provocative. This symposium attempts to provide a window into this new field of philosophical inquiry and to show how experimental philosophy provides crucial tools for the philosopher and encourages two-way interactions between scientists and philosophers.Keywords: Experimental philosophy; Naturalism; Continuity thesis; Philosophy of science; Quantitative data. (shrink)
This paper understands reductionism as a relation between explanations, not theories. It argues that knowledge of the micro-level behavior of the components of systems is necessary, but only combined with a full specification of the contingent context sufficient for a full explanation of systems phenomena. The paper takes seriously fundamental principles independent and transcendent of the laws of quantum mechanics that govern most of real-world phenomena. It will conclude in showing how the recent postgenomic revolution, taking seriously the physical principle (...) of organization and collective behavior, can be understood as attempting to complement a reductionist investigative strategy with an antireductionist explanatory strategy. (shrink)
Review symposium of Alexander Rosenberg’s Darwinian Reductionism: Or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology . -/- Worry carries with it a connotation of false concern, as in ‘your mother is always worried about you’. And yet some worrying, including that of your mother, turns out to be justified. Alexander Rosenberg’s new book is an extended argument intended to assuage false concerns about reductionism and molecular biology while encouraging a loving embrace of the two.
In their considered reviews both Thomas Pradeu and Lindell Bromham introduce important topics not sufficiently covered in our book. Pradeu asks us to enlarge on the epigenetic and ecological context of genes, particularly in the form of symbioses. We use the relationship between eukaryotes and their symbiotic organisms as a welcome opportunity to clarify our concept of the developmental niche, and its relationship to the developmental system. Bromham’s comments reveal that she is primarily interested in identifying macroevolutionary patterns. From her (...) vantage point eco-evo-devo, the study of phenotypic plasticity, epigenetic and exogenetic inheritance, have not yet demonstrated the need for any revolutionary change in evolutionary thought. For us they highlight the extent to which proximate developmental mechanisms can inform ultimate biology. (shrink)
The paper describes the change from molecular genetics to postgenomic biology. It focuses on phenomena in the regulation of gene expression that provide a break with the central dogma, according to which sequence specificity for a gene product must be template derived. In its place we find what is called here ‘constitutive molecular epigenesis’. Its three classes of phenomena, which I call sequence ‘activation’, ‘selection’ and ‘creation’, are exemplified by processes such as transcriptional activation, alternative cis- and trans-splicing, and RNA (...) editing. These phenomena support the following main theses of the paper: 1. Other molecular resources share the causal role of ‘genes’: the ‘causal specificity’ for the linear sequence of any gene product is distributed between the coding sequence, cis-acting sequences, trans-acting factors, environmental signals, and the contingent history of the cell (the cellular code) (thesis of distributed causal specificity). 2. These multiple and overlapping processing and targeting mechanisms amplify the repertoire of RNA and protein products specified through the eukaryotic genome, expanding the possibilities specified by the literal code of DNA (thesis of genetic underdeterminism). 3. These mechanisms of gene expression change the focus of postgenomic research from single molecules and their molecular, biochemical and intrinsic function to their cellular, constituent, component or contextual function due to their recruitment and organization in complex cellular networks. In other words, all agents involved in the regulation of gene expression, including DNA, must interact with other agents to achieve full specificity, which is imposed by regulated recruitment and combinatorial control (theses of regulated recruitment and of system analysis). I conclude from these three main theses that the complexity of higher organisms lies not in its number of genes but in the flexibility, versatility and reactivity of its whole genome. (shrink)
What kind mechanisms one deems central for the evolutionary process deeply influences one's understanding of the nature of organisms, including cognition. Reversely, adopting a certain approach to the nature of life and cognition and the relationship between them or between the organism and its environment should affect one's view of evolutionary theory. This paper explores this reciprocal relationship in more detail. In particular it argues that the view of living and cognitive systems, especially humans, as deeply integrated beings embedded in (...) and transformed by their genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, ecological, socio-cultural and cognitive-symbolic legacies calls for an extended evolutionary synthesis that goes beyond either a theory of genes juxtaposed against a theory of cultural evolution and or even more sophisticated theories of gene-culture coevolution and niche construction. Environments, particularly in the form of developmental environments, do not just select for variation, they also create new variation by influencing development through the reliable transmission of non-genetic but heritable information. This paper stresses particularly views of embodied, embedded, enacted and extended cognition, and their relationship to those aspects of extended inheritance that lie between genetic and cultural inheritance, the still gray area of epigenetic and behavioral inheritance systems that play a role in parental effect. These are the processes that can be regarded as transgenerational developmental plasticity and that I think can most fruitfully contribute to, and be investigated by, developmental psychology. (shrink)
Integrating the study of human diversity into the human evolutionary sciences requires substantial revision of traditional conceptions of a shared human nature. This process may be made more difficult by entrenched, 'folkbiological' modes of thought. Earlier work by the authors suggests that biologically naive subjects hold an implicit theory according to which some traits are expressions of an animal's inner nature while others are imposed by its environment. In this paper, we report further studies that extend and refine our account (...) of this aspect of folkbiology. We examine biologically naive subjects' judgments about whether traits of an animal are 'innate', 'in its DNA' or 'part of its nature'. Subjects do not understand these three descriptions to be equivalent. Both innate and in its DNA have the connotation that the trait is species-typical. This poses an obstacle to the assimilation of the biology of polymorphic and plastic traits by biologically naive audiences. Researchers themselves may not be immune to the continuing pull of folkbiological modes of thought. (shrink)
I use a recent ‘experimental philosophy’ study of the concept of the gene conducted by myself and collaborators to discuss the broader epistemological framework within which that research was conducted, and to reflect on the relationship between science, history and philosophy of science, and society.Keywords: Experimental philosophy; Biohumanities; Representing Genes Project; Gene concept; Science criticism; Conceptual ecology.
Recent years have seen the development of an approach both to general philosophy and philosophy of science often referred to as ‘experimental philosophy’ or just ‘X-Phi’. Philosophers often make or presuppose empirical claims about how people would react to hypothetical cases, but their evidence for claims about what ‘we’ would say is usually very limited indeed. Philosophers of science have largely relied on their more or less intimate knowledge of their field of study to draw hypothetical conclusions about the state (...) of scientific concepts and the nature of conceptual change in science. What they are lacking is some more objective quantitative data supporting their hypotheses. A growing number of philosophers, along with a few psychologists and anthropologists, have tried to remedy this situation by designing experiments aimed at systematically exploring people’s reactions to philosophically important thought experiments or scientists’ use of their scientific concepts. Many of the results have been surprising and some of the conclusions drawn from them have been more than a bit provocative. This symposium attempts to provide a window into this new field of philosophical inquiry and to show how experimental philosophy provides crucial tools for the philosopher and encourages two-way interactions between scientists and philosophers.Keywords: Experimental philosophy; Naturalism; Continuity thesis; Philosophy of science; Quantitative data. (shrink)
The 'developmental systems' perspective in biology is intended to replace the idea of a genetic program. This new perspective is strongly convergent with recent work in psychology on situated/embodied cognition and on the role of external 'scaffolding' in cognitive development. Cognitive processes, including those which can be explained in evolutionary terms, are not 'inherited' or produced in accordance with an inherited program. Instead, they are constructed in each generation through the interaction of a range of developmental resources. The attractors which (...) emerge during development and explain robust and/or widespread outcomes are themselves constructed during the process. At no stage is there an explanatory stopping point where some resources control or program the rest of the developmental cascade. 'Human nature' is a description of how things generally turn out, not an explanation of why they turn out that way. Finally, we suggest that what is distinctive about human development is its degree of reliance on external scaffolding. (shrink)