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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
S Fattorini
One of the purposes of the research program referred to as "systematic biogeography" is the use of species distributions to identify regions and reconstruct biotic area relationships. The reverse, i.e. to group species according to the areas that they live in, leads to the recognition of chorological categories. Biogeographers, working under these two different approaches, have proposed several terms to refer to groups of species that have similar distributions, such as "element", "chorotype" and "component"...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Evelyn Fox Keller
Historically, living was divided from dead, inert matter by its autonomous activity. Today, a number of materials not themselves alive are characterized as having inherent activity, and this activity has become the subject of a hot new field of physics, "Active Matter", or "Soft matter become alive." For active matter scientists, the relation of physics to biology is guaranteed in one direction by the assertion that the cell is a material, and hence its study can be considered a branch of material science, and in the other direction, by the claim that the physical dynamics of this material IS what brings the cell to life, and therefore its study is a proper branch of biology...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
János Podani, András Szilágyi
In Philosophia Botanica (1751), Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) presented a calculation of the number of plant genera that may be distinguished based on his taxonomic concepts. In order to derive that number, he relied upon the organs of fructification, which represent the flower and the fruit, by selecting over 30 elements from them, and then assuming that each could vary by four dimensions. However, while Linnaeus was good in counting stamens and pistils, he and many of his followers who edited or translated Philosophia Botanica were less careful, basing their calculations of the number of possible genera on flawed assumptions, or even introducing basic arithmetic errors...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Santiago Ginnobili
The concept of fitness has generated a lot of discussion in philosophy of biology. There is, however, relative agreement about the need to distinguish at least two uses of the term: ecological fitness on the one hand, and population genetics fitness on the other. The goal of this paper is to give an explication of the concept of ecological fitness by providing a reconstruction of the theory of natural selection in which this concept was framed, that is, based on the way the theory was put to use in Darwin's main texts...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Samantha K Muka
This paper seeks to contribute to understandings of practice and place in the history of early American neurophysiology by exploring research with jellyfish at marine stations. Jellyfish became a particularly important research tool to experimental physiologists studying neurological subjects at the turn of the twentieth century. But their enthusiasm for the potential of this organism was constrained by its delicacy in captivity. The discovery of hardier species made experimentation at the shore possible and resulted in two epicenters of neurophysiological research on the American East Coast: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution's Dry Tortugas Laboratory...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Vanessa Triviño, Laura Nuño de la Rosa
The notion of fitness is usually equated to reproductive success. However, this actualist approach presents some difficulties, mainly the explanatory circularity problem, which have lead philosophers of biology to offer alternative definitions in which fitness and reproductive success are distinguished. In this paper, we argue  that none of these alternatives is satisfactory and, inspired by Mumford and Anjum's dispositional theory of causation, we offer a definition of fitness as a causal dispositional property...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Pavel Paleček
At almost 90 years of age, we have lost the author of the founding historical works on Johann Gregor Mendel. Vítězslav Orel served for almost 30 years as the editor of the journal Folia Mendeliana. His work was beset by the wider problems associated with Mendel's recognition in the Communist Bloc, and by the way in which narratives of the history of science could be co-opted into the service of Cold War and post-Cold War political agendas. Orel played a key role in the organization of the Mendel symposium of 1965 in Brno, and has made a strong contribution to the rehabilitation of genetics generally, and to championing the work of Johann Gregor Mendel in particular...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Alexandre Klein
No abstract text is available yet for this article.
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Philipp Haueis
The concept of the cortical column refers to vertical cell bands with similar response properties, which were initially observed by Vernon Mountcastle's mapping of single cell recordings in the cat somatic cortex. It has subsequently guided over 50 years of neuroscientific research, in which fundamental questions about the modularity of the cortex and basic principles of sensory information processing were empirically investigated. Nevertheless, the status of the column remains controversial today, as skeptical commentators proclaim that the vertical cell bands are a functionally insignificant by-product of ontogenetic development...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Bernadette Bensaude Vincent
While self-organization has been an integral part of academic discussions about the distinctive features of living organisms, at least since Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement, the term 'self-assembly' has only been used for a few decades as it became a hot research topic with the emergence of nanotechnology. Could it be considered as an attempt at reducing vital organization to a sort of assembly line of molecules? Considering the context of research on self-assembly I argue that the shift of attention from self-organization to self-assembly does not really challenge the boundary between chemistry and biology...
September 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Sahotra Sarkar
The discussion with Rao and Nanjundiah about the history of interactions between J. B. S. Haldane and Ernst Mayr is further extended in this note. The nature of the dispute about beanbag genetics is explicated as consisting of two separate issues, one about the role of mathematical analysis in evolutionary biology, and the other about the value of single-locus genic models.
April 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Berend Verhoeff
Autism research is facing profound difficulties. The lack of clinically valuable translations from the biomedical and neurosciences, the variability and heterogeneity of the diagnostic category, and the lack of control over the 'autism epidemic,' are among the most urgent problems facing autism today. Instead of encouraging the prevailing tendency to intensify neurobiological research on the nature of autism, I argue for an exploration of alternative disease concepts. One conceivable alternative framework for understanding disease and those we have come to call autistic, can be found in the work of neurologist Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965)...
April 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Veena Rao, Vidyanand Nanjundiah
Ernst Mayr and J. B. S. Haldane, major contributors to the 'modern synthesis' in evolutionary theory, set an example of how scientific disagreements need not come in the way of friendship. After getting acquainted, they kept discussing issues related to evolution until just before Haldane's death in 1964. Their dissimilar backgrounds meant that they adopted different approaches. A major disagreement emerged regarding the right way to look at the role of genes in evolution. Mayr felt that the elementary models of population genetics were oversimplifications and therefore inadequate for representing evolutionary processes, though he was not consistent in his attitude...
April 2016: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
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