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  1. How should we think scientifically about biological objects?

    • M Montévil
      .
    • en
    • Recording available
    • Seminar of the history, philosophy and biology teaching lab
    • History, Philosophy and Biology Teaching Lab, Universidade Federal da Bahia

    Scholars used Aristotelian reasoning in combination with theology to understand living beings, leading to natural theology, where god was the guarantee of biological norms. Transformism, notably Darwin, provided an alternative to this view; however, this alternative had to be acknowledged by scientists when the model of science was classical mechanics. It followed that thinking about biological objects remained similar to physics thinking, where norms are laws, or at least invariants and symmetries. The recurring analogies with technological objects, recently computers, as viewed by engineers (and not users or anthropology) also contributed to this theoretical and epistemological bias and confusion. On the opposite, we can think about biological objects differently, on renewed theoretical bases, by starting from theoretical principles that are sound in this field. Then, instead of fast analogies, numerous new questions, methods, and reasoning have to be fleshed out.

  2. Organization, historicity and causality


    Two models dominate reflection on causality, namely mechanisms and physics. The former focuses on very local processes, while the latter focuses on ahistorical systems. We argue that neither is a sufficient framework for biology. Instead, in biology, parts of a system collectively maintain each other, which enables us to understand how biological systems maintain themselves. This perspective corresponds notably to autopoiesis and closure of constraints, and is sometimes called organization. In this view, the part maintain each other, leading to circularities. It implies that a systemic mode of thinking is critical to understand these phenomena. However, they are also historical: the organization they maintain is the singular result of evolution, and they change over time. It follows that causality in biology has two distinct features. First, it has a circular dimension: how do singular organizations maintain themselves? Second, it has to include historical changes: how do we understand the appearance of novelty?

  3. Theoretical biology: Some strategic perspectives


    There is a lack of theoretical elaboration in biology, particularly in the study of organisms' life cycles. The underlying problem is the emergence of an episteme that structurally neglects these questions. In the case of biology, certain issues need to be addressed with precision, notably the articulation between systemic (physicalist or organicist) and historical (evolutionary but also developmental) reasoning. As an example of application, we will present the question of what disruption means in theoretical biology.

  4. Intermittence, rythmes et anti-entropie dans le vivant


    Le vivant comporte bon nombre de rythmes, des rythmes ayant une origine externe, comme les rythmes circadiens ou circannuels, et des rythmes internes comme les cycles cardiaques ou respiratoires. Quel est le lien entre ces rythmes, le maintien des organisations biologiques face à la croissance tendancielle de l'entropie, mais aussi leur rôle dans des changements d'organisation. Plus précisément, l'anti-entropie correspond aux organisations biologique, prises comme résultat singulier de l'histoire biologique, évolutive et développementale, et parvenant à durer du fait même de cette singularité, par le maintient actif des composants d'un organisme. La production d'anti-entropie, elle, correspond à l'approfondissement de cette singularité, par l'apparition de nouveautés fonctionnelle. Nous discuterons en particulier le cas du sommeil, typiquement associé à un rythme externe et du développement correspondant à un rythme interne au prisme de la question de l'anti-entropie et de la production d'anti-entropie.

  5. Historical origins and the theoretical definition of objects in biology


    In the structure of the main theories of physics, origins play a limited role. For example, the Noether theorem, the fundamental theorem to understand the connection between conservative quantities (for example, energy) and symmetries (for example, time translations), requires a starting point, but we can choose the latter arbitrarily. Symmetry breaking represents a kind of origin, the appearance of a new pattern; however, it remains limited to the choice of a pattern among predefined ones. In less technical terms, the objects described by physics (except maybe cosmology) are generic: their interactions and transformations are described by abstract mathematical structures that apply identically to classes of concrete objects. For example, the speed of light in the vacuum is the same irrespective of the origin of the observed beam of light. In biology, the situation is strikingly different. Even though mathematical modeling often builds on the reasoning of physics, these models are limited to very limited aspects of the intended organisms. By contrast, the phylogenetic classification of living beings introduced a very original rationale. Instead of defining objects by invariants relations, it defines objects by their historical origin, their last common ancestor. This perspective provides accuracy to biological definitions, provided that biological objects generate novelties over time. This approach has limitations when we want to understand the physiology or the development of organisms and how they last over time. Then, we argue that biology requires a perspective that integrates relational, systemic perspectives and historical definitions, i.e., definitions based on the common origin of a class of objects. Integrating these distinct epistemological stances requires significant epistemological and formal innovations. It implies that the definition of biological objects is not just about the relationship between their parts at a given time; it also requires the reference to their past.

  6. Science in the storm: GMOs, agnotology, theory


    Private interests sometimes indulge in disrupting scientific knowledge. The study of these strategies with human sciences’ methods is called agnotology. In today’s event, we will discuss this matter from the perspective of scientists who were directly confronted with this kind of practice. We will also explore the notion that increasing theoretical accuracy in fields such as biology, especially molecular biology, would increase the resilience of the scientific endeavor when facing such disruptions.

  7. Non-monotonicity of BPA


    In their presentation, the scientists provide background on CLARITY-BPA, the setup of their mammary gland study, and a detailed discussion of the analytical and statistical methods applied. They explain that their study shows clear statistical evidence of non-monotonic dose-response curves (NMDRC) of developmental exposure to BPA for multiple measurements, that such responses occurred at all ages of the animals studied, and argue that additional “mechanistic studies are not needed to accept that a NMDRC reflects a causal link to the exposure when the statistical methods of analysis are pertinent and rigorous.”

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