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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

Benjamin Goldberg
The generation of animals was a difficult phenomenon to explain in the seventeenth century, having long been a problem in natural philosophy, theology, and medicine. In this paper, I explore how generation, understood as epigenesis, was directly related to an idea of rational nature. I examine epigenesis-the idea that the embryo was constructed part-by-part, over time-in the work of two seemingly dissimilar English philosophers: William Harvey, an eclectic Aristotelian, and Margaret Cavendish, a radical materialist...
June 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Max W Dresow
Few of Stephen Jay Gould's accomplishments in evolutionary biology have received more attention than his hierarchical theory of evolution, which postulates a causal discontinuity between micro- and macroevolutionary events. But Gould's hierarchical theory was his second attempt to supply a theoretical framework for macroevolutionary studies-and one he did not inaugurate until the mid-1970s. In this paper, I examine Gould's first attempt: a proposed fusion of theoretical morphology, multivariate biometry and the experimental study of adaptation in fossils...
June 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Helen Anne Curry
This paper charts the history of the Rockefeller Foundation's participation in the collection and long-term preservation of genetic diversity in crop plants from the 1940s through the 1970s. In the decades following the launch of its agricultural program in Mexico in 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation figured prominently in the creation of world collections of key economic crops. Through the efforts of its administrators and staff, the foundation subsequently parlayed this experience into a leadership role in international efforts to conserve so-called plant genetic resources...
June 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Alessandro Becchi
In recent years a certain emphasis has been put by some scholars on Leibniz's concern about empirical sciences and the relations between such concern and the development of his mature metaphysical system. In this paper I focus on Leibniz's interest for the microscope and the astonishing discoveries that such instrument made possible in the field of the life sciences during the last part of the Seventeenth century. The observation of physical bodies carried out by the "magnifying glasses" revealed a matter swarming everywhere with life and activity, contrary to the cartesian and atomistic view of matter as something sterile and passive...
March 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Boris Demarest
In this paper, I argue that Kant adopted, throughout his career, a position that is much more akin to classical accounts of epigenesis, although he does reject the more radical forms of epigenesis proposed in his own time, and does make use of preformationist sounding terms. I argue that this is because Kant (1) thinks of what is pre-formed as a species, not an individual or a part of an individual; (2) has no qualm with the idea of a specific, teleological principle or force underlying generation, and conceives of germs and predispositions as specific constraints on such a principle or force...
March 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Boris Demarest, Charles T Wolfe
In this paper, we reflect on the connection between the notions of organism and organisation, with a specific interest in how this bears upon the issue of the reality of the organism (or in contrast the status of these notions as constructs, whether heuristic or otherwise scientifically useful). We do this by presenting the case of Buffon, who developed complex views about the relation between the notions of "organised" and "organic" matter. We argue that, contrary to what some interpreters have suggested, these notions are not orthogonal in his thought...
March 2017: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Mauro Fois, Alba Cuena-Lombraña, Trevor Fristoe, Giuseppe Fenu, Gianluigi Bacchetta
Scientists are typically responsible for greater greenhouse gas emissions than the general population. These 'extra' emissions are largely due to frequent travel, often by airplane, to professional and academic meetings. In the following commentary, we explore how employing mixed modes of transportation, particularly by prioritizing train travel, can significantly reduce the environmental costs associated with attending conferences. Estimating travel distances for attendants to recent meetings, we demonstrate that the proposed strategy has the potential to decrease emissions, even when considering exotic, remote (and potentially enticing) locations...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Emanuele Coco
In 1975, the English evolutionist William Donald Hamilton (1936-2000) held in Brazil a series of lectures entitled "Population genetics and social behaviour". The unpublished notes of these conferences-written by Hamilton and recently discovered at the British Library-offer an opportunity to reflect on some of the author's ideas about evolution. The year of the conference is particularly significant, as it took place shortly after the applications of the Price equation with which Hamilton was able to build a model that included several levels of selection...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Peter Woodford
This paper examines the points of disagreement between Neo-Darwinian and recent Neo-Aristotelian discussions of the status of purposive language in biology. I discuss recent Neo-Darwinian "evolutionary" treatments and distinguish three ways to deal with the philosophical status of teleological language of purpose: teleological error theory, methodological teleology, and Darwinian teleological realism. I then show how "non-evolutionary" Neo-Aristotelian approaches in the work of Michael Thompson and Philippa Foot differ from these by offering a view of purposiveness grounded in life-cycle patterns, rather than in long-term evolutionary processes or natural selection...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Karola Stotz, Paul Griffiths
Everyone has heard of 'epigenetics', but the term means different things to different researchers. Four important contemporary meanings are outlined in this paper. Epigenetics in its various senses has implications for development, heredity, and evolution, and also for medicine. Concerning development, it cements the vision of a reactive genome strongly coupled to its environment. Concerning heredity, both narrowly epigenetic and broader 'exogenetic' systems of inheritance play important roles in the construction of phenotypes...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
François Duchesneau
When "general physiology" emerged as a basic field of research within biology in the early nineteenth century, Henri Ducrotay de Blainville (1777-1850) on the one hand and Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858) on the other appealed to chemical analysis to account for the properties and operations of organisms that were observed to differ from what was found in inorganic compounds. Their aim was to establish laws of vital organization that would be based on organic chemical processes, but would also be of use to explain morphological and functional differences among life forms...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Neeraja Sankaran
No abstract text is available yet for this article.
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Esha Shah
Evelyn Fox Keller wrote first biography of the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock in which Keller discussed how McClintock felt being rejected by her peers in the 1950s because she questioned the dominant idea of the particulate gene and instead proposed that the genetic material jumped positions on the chromosome which indicated that the gene did not control but was controlled by the cellular environment. Keller's story of McClintock's life is an account of a woman scientist's conception of science and how her unorthodox views isolated her from the main stream science...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Michael Fry
The history of biochemistry and molecular biology is replete with examples of erroneous theories that persisted for considerable lengths of time before they were rejected. This paper examines patterns of dissolution of three such erroneous hypotheses: The idea that nucleic acids are tetrads of the four nucleobases ('the tetranucleotide hypothesis'); the notion that proteins are collinear with their encoding genes in all branches of life; and the hypothesis that proteins are synthesized by reverse action of proteolytic enzymes...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Alvaro Moreno
The transition from chemistry to biology is an extremely complex issue because of the huge phenomenological differences between the two domains and because this transition has many different aspects and dimensions. In this paper, I will try to analyze how chemical systems have developed a cohesive, self-maintaining and functionally differentiated system that recruits its organization to stay far from equilibrium. This organization cannot exist but in an individualized form, and yet, it unfolds both a diachronic-historical and a synchronic collective dimension...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Peter J Richerson
No abstract text is available yet for this article.
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Angela Ferraro
According to a classic periodization in the history of science, biological thought as it emerged in France from the last decades of the seventeenth century to the 1740s was strongly committed to the doctrine of the preexistence of germs. Nicolas Malebranche's role in disseminating this paradigm, particularly in the milieu of the Académie Royale des Sciences during the years when Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle was its secretary, has been studied in detail, especially by Jacques Roger. However, much less has been said about the authors who argued against this doctrine prior to the appearance of the relevant pieces by Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, and Denis Diderot...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Vincent Devictor, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
This paper is a critical assessment of the epistemological impact of the systematic quantification of nature with the accumulation of big datasets on the practice and orientation of ecological science. We examine the contents of big databases and argue that it is not just accumulated information; records are translated into digital data in a process that changes their meanings. In order to better understand what is at stake in the 'datafication' process, we explore the context for the emergence and quantification of biodiversity in the 1980s, along with the concept of the global environment...
December 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
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