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  1. Computational empiricism : the reigning épistémè of the sciences

    Computational empiricism : the reigning épistémè of the sciences

    Philosophy World Democracy


    What do mainstream scientists acknowledge as original scientific contributions, that is, what is the current épistémè in natural sciences?

    Abstract

    What do mainstream scientists acknowledge as original scientific contributions? In other words, what is the current épistémè in natural sciences? This essay attempts to characterize this épistémè as computational empiricism. Scientific works are primarily empirical, generating data and computational, to analyze them and reproduce them with models. This épistémè values primarily the investigation of specific phenomena and thus leads to the fragmentation of sciences. It also promotes attention-catching results showing limits of earlier theories. However, it consumes these theories since it does not renew them, leading more and more fields to be in a state of theory disruption.

    Keywords: theory, statistical tests, empiricism, models, computation

  2. Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    AI and society


    Entropy is a transversal notion to understand the Anthropocene, from physics to biology and social organizations. For the living, it requires a counterpart: anti-entropy.

    Abstract

    The Anthropocene crisis is frequently described as the rarefaction of resources or resources per capita. However, both energy and minerals correspond to fundamentally conserved quantities from the perspective of physics. A specific concept is required to understand the rarefaction of available resources. This concept, entropy, pertains to energy and matter configurations and not just to their sheer amount.
    However, the physics concept of entropy is insufficient to understand biological and social organizations. Biological phenomena display both historicity and systemic properties. A biological organization, the ability of a specific living being to last over time, results from history, expresses itself by systemic properties, and may require generating novelties The concept of anti-entropy stems from the combination of these features. We propose that Anthropocene changes disrupt biological organizations by randomizing them, that is, decreasing anti-entropy. Moreover, second-order disruptions correspond to the decline of the ability to produce functional novelties, that is, to produce anti-entropy.

    Keywords: entropy, anti-entropy, resources, organization, disruption, Anthropocene

  3. Disruption of biological processes in the Anthropocene: the case of phenological mismatch


    Biologists increasingly report anthropogenic disruptions of both organisms and ecosystems, suggesting that these processes are a fundamental, qualitative component of the Anthropocene crisis, seemingly generating disorder. Nonetheless, the notion of disruption has not yet been theorized as such in...

    Abstract

    Biologists increasingly report anthropogenic disruptions of both organisms and ecosystems, suggesting that these processes are a fundamental, qualitative component of the Anthropocene crisis, seemingly generating disorder. Nonetheless, the notion of disruption has not yet been theorized as such in biology. To progress on this matter, we build on a specific case. Relatively minor temperature changes disrupt plant-pollinator synchrony, tearing apart the web of life. Understanding this phenomenon requires a specific rationale since models describing them use both historical and systemic reasoning. Specifically, history justifies that the system is initially in a narrow part of the possibility space where it is viable, and the disruption randomizes this configuration. Building on this rationale, we develop a formal framework inspired by Boltzmann’s entropy. This framework defines the randomization of the system and leads to analyze its consequences systematically. Notably, maximum randomization does not lead to the complete collapse of the ecosystem. Moreover, pollinators’ robustness mostly increases viability for low randomizations, while resilience enhances viability after high randomizations. Applying this framework to empirical networks, we show historical trends depending on latitude, providing further evidence of climate change’s impact on ecosystems via phenology changes. These results lead to an initial definition of disruption in ecology. When a specific historical outcome contributes to a system’s viability, disruption is the randomization of this outcome, decreasing this viability.

  4. Vaccines, Germs, and Knowledge

    Vaccines, Germs, and Knowledge

    Philosophy World Democracy


    To provide a rational assessment of COVID-19 vaccines, we take a step back on both the history of this practice and the current theories in immunology.

    Abstract

    Vaccines for COVID-19 have led to questions, debates, and polemics on both their safety and the political and geopolitical dimension of their use. We propose to take a step back on both the history of this practice and how current theories in immunology understand it. Both can contribute to providing a rational assessment of COVID-19 vaccines. This assessment cannot consider vaccine as an isolated procedure, and we discuss its intergradation with the broader question of knowledge and politics in the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Keywords: epistemology, immunology, politics

  5. Sciences et entropocène. Autour de Qu’appelle-t-on panser ? de Bernard Stiegler

    Sciences et entropocène. Autour de Qu’appelle-t-on panser ? de Bernard Stiegler

    EcoRev’


    Bernard Stiegler soulignait l’importance de la question de l’entropie, conduisant au concept d’entropocène. L’auteur introduit et illustre ce concept pour montrer sa pertinence d’un point de vue physique, biologique et social.

    Abstract

    En examinant le second tome de Qu’appelle-t-on panser (1), le théoricien de la biologie et épistémologue Maël Montévil, qui a collaboré avec Bernard Stiegler à la fois sur des questions théoriques et sur des expérimentations territoriales, s’arrête sur le rôle des sciences dans l’Anthropocène pour souligner leur difficulté à penser cette ère et, ce faisant, à prendre soin des vivants, humains et non-humains, des techniques et des sciences elles-mêmes. Stiegler soulignait l’importance de la question de l’entropie, conduisant au concept d’entropocène. L’auteur introduit et illustre ce concept pour montrer sa pertinence d’un point de vue physique, biologique et social. Ce faisant, il insiste sur la parenté mais aussi sur les différences entre ces phénomènes. Dans le cas des humains, les savoirs jouent un rôle central pour lutter contre l’entropie, et les sciences pourraient retrouver leur compte en contribuant au développement – urgent – de savoirs territoriaux.

  6. From physics to biology by extending criticality and symmetry breakings: An update

    From physics to biology by extending criticality and symmetry breakings: An update

    Acta Europeana Systemica


    We show that symmetries play a radically different role in biology by comparison with physics. This article is an updated version of the 2011 paper.

    Abstract

    Symmetries play a major role in physics, in particular since the work by E. Noether and H. Weyl in the first half of last century. Herein, we briefly review their role by recalling how symmetry changes allow to conceptually move from classical to relativistic and quantum physics. We then introduce our ongoing theoretical analysis in biology and show that symmetries play a radically different role in this discipline, when compared to those in current physics. By this comparison, we stress that symmetries must be understood in relation to conservation and stability properties, as represented in the theories. We posit that the dynamics of biological organisms, in their various levels of organization, are not “just” processes, but permanent (extended, in our terminology) critical transitions and, thus, symmetry changes. Within the limits of a relative structural stability (or interval of viability), qualitative variability is at the core of these transitions.

    Keywords: Coherent structures, Critical transitions, downward causation, Hidden variables, Levels of organization, Symmetries, Systems biology

  7. Historicity at the heart of biology

    Historicity at the heart of biology

    Theory in Biosciences


    Most mathematical modeling in biology rely on the epistemology of physics. By contrast, we argue that historicity comes first in biology.

    Abstract

    Most mathematical modeling in biology relies either implicitly or explicitly on the epistemology of physics. The underlying conception is that the historicity of biological objects would not matter to understand a situation here and now, or, at least, historicity would not impact the method of modeling. We analyze that it is not the case with concrete examples. Historicity forces a conceptual reconfiguration where equations no longer play a central role. We argue that all observations depend on objects defined by their historical origin instead of their relations as in physics. Therefore, we propose that biological variations and historicity come first, and regularities are constraints with limited validity in biology. Their proper theoretical and empirical use requires specific rationales.

    Keywords: Historicity, Organization, Epistemology, Mathematical modeling, Constraints

  8. The Identity of Organisms in Scientific Practice: Integrating Historical and Relational Conceptions

    The Identity of Organisms in Scientific Practice: Integrating Historical and Relational Conceptions

    Frontiers in Physiology


    We address the identity of biological organisms in scientific practices by combining relational and historical conceptions, and introduce a new symbol for that.

    Abstract

    We address the identity of biological organisms at play in experimental and modeling practices. We first examine the central tenets of two general conceptions, and we assess their respective strengths and weaknesses. The historical conception, on the one hand, characterizes organisms’ identity by looking at their past, and specifically at their genealogical connection with a common ancestor. The relational conception, on the other hand, interprets organisms’ identity by referring to a set of distinctive relations between their parts, and between the organism and its environment. While the historical and relational conceptions are understood as opposed and conflicting, we submit that they are also fundamentally complementary. Accordingly, we put forward a hybrid conception, in which historical and relational (and more specifically, organizational) aspects of organisms’ identity sustain and justify each other. Moreover, we argue that organisms’ identity is not only hybrid but also bounded, insofar as the compliance with specific identity criteria tends to vanish as time passes, especially across generations. We spell out the core conceptual framework of this conception, and we outline an original formal representation. We contend that the hybrid and bounded conception of organisms’ identity suits the epistemological needs of biological practices, particularly with regards to the generalization and reproducibility of experimental results, and the integration of mathematical models with experiments.

  9. De l’œuvre de Turing aux défis contemporains pour la compréhension mathématique du vivant

    De l’œuvre de Turing aux défis contemporains pour la compréhension mathématique du vivant

    Intellectica


    Turing distingue l’imitation d’un phénomène de sa modélisation. En biologie, il n'y a cependant pas encore de cadre théorique pour encadrer la pratique de modélisation.

    Abstract

    Turing distingue soigneusement l’imitation de la modélisation d’un phénomène. Cette dernière vise à saisir la structure causale du phénomène étudié. En biologie, il n’y a cependant pas de cadre théorique bien établi pour encadrer la pratique de modélisation. Nous partons de l’articulation entre la compréhension du vivant et la thermodynamique, en particulier le second principe. Ceci nous conduira à expliciter les défis théoriques et épistémologiques pour la compréhension mathématique du vivant. En particulier, l’historicité du vivant est un défi rarement abordé explicitement dans ce domaine. Nous pensons que ce défi nécessite un renversement complet de l’épistémologie de la physique afin d’aborder de manière théoriquement précise les organismes vivants. Ce changement épistémologique est pertinent tant pour la pratique théorique que pour l’interprétation des protocoles et résultats expérimentaux.

    Keywords: anti-entropie, entropie, épistémologie, historicité, morphogenèse, Turing

  10. A combined morphometric and statistical approach to assess non-monotonicity in the developing mammary gland of rats in the CLARITY-BPA study

    A combined morphometric and statistical approach to assess non-monotonicity in the developing mammary gland of rats in the CLARITY-BPA study

    Environmental Health Perspectives


    We can and should take advantage of nonmonotonic properties to perform statistical analysis rigorously by new statistical and morphometric methods.

    Abstract

    We aimed to a) determine whether BPA showed effects on the developing rat mammary gland using new quantitative and established semiquantitative methods in two laboratories, b) develop a software tool for automatic evaluation of quantifiable aspects of the mammary ductal tree, and c) compare those methods. Conclusions: Both the semiquantitative and the quantitative methods revealed nonmonotonic effects of BPA. The quantitative unsupervised analysis used 91 measurements and produced the most striking nonmonotonic dose–response curves. At all time points, lower doses resulted in larger effects, consistent with the core study, which revealed a significant increase of mammary adenocarcinoma incidence in the stop-dose animals at the lowest BPA dose tested.

    Citation
    Montévil, Maël, Nicole Acevedo, Cheryl M. Schaeberle, Manushree Bharadwaj, Suzanne E. Fenton, and Ana M. Soto. 2020. “A Combined Morphometric and Statistical Approach to Assess Non-Monotonicity in the Developing Mammary Gland of Rats in the CLARITY-BPA Study.” Environmental Health Perspectives 128 (5): 057001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP6301
    Manuscript Supplementary Citation Publisher Full text

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