This chapter attempts to illuminate the dynamic stability of the organism and the robustness of its developmental pathway by considering the biology of cancer. Healthy development and stable functioning of a multicellular organism require an exquisitely regulated balance between processes of cell division, differentiation, and death (apoptosis). Cancer involves a disruption of this balance, which results in unregulated cell proliferation. The thesis defended in this chapter is that the coupling between proliferation and differentiation, whether normal or pathological (as in cancer), is best understood within a process-ontological framework. This framework emphasizes the interactions and mutual stabilizations between processes at different levels and this, in turn, explains the difficulty in allocating the neoplastic process to any particular level (genetic, epigenetic, cellular, or histological). Understanding these interactions is likely to be a precondition of a proper understanding of how these mutual regulations are disrupted in the processes we call cancerous.
In this paper, we develop an organizational account that defines biological functions as causal relations subject to closure in living systems, interpreted as the most typical example of organizationally closed and differentiated self-maintaining systems. We argue that this account adequately grounds the teleological and normative dimensions of functions in the current organization of a system, insofar as it provides an explanation for the existence of the function bearer and, at the same time, identifies in a non-arbitrary way the norms that functions are supposed to obey. Accordingly, we suggest that the organizational account combines the etiological and dispositional perspectives in an integrated theoretical framework.
At the heart of informal logic is its concern to detect fallacious structures of reasoning in natural language discourse. The normal procedure is: where we are able to identify a flaw in premise, inference, relevance or the like in any route of reasoning, we hold that a fallacy has been committed and we seek to demonstrate it. Otherwise put, logical analysis is directed at what is argued, and fallacies are found in this or that particular way of arriving at a conclusion.
This method of analysis is indispensable to sound logical construction of individual arguments, but misses the overall pattern of assertion and non-assertion for the particular claims within it. What has been so far overlooked is that reasoning can be misled not only in its steps of making a case, but by what is ruled out from being made a case: not only by what is wrong within this or that route of assertion, but by what is wrong with the structure of these routes of assertion taken together. We have, that is, missed the forest for the trees, or more accurately, for the logical landscape within which the forest and trees are located.
I will argue that there is a deeper, more comprehensive structure of subverting reason that misleads our thinking across propositional routes, and not through any fallacy of any such route. And I will show that this disorder obstructs and deforms our thinking and our reasoning by a general system of deception which has so far operated underneath the reach of our tools of logical detection and correction.
Theories organize knowledge and construct objectivity by framing observations and experiments. The elaboration of theoretical principles is examined in the light of the rich interactions between physics and mathematics. These two disciplines share common principles of construction of concepts and of the proper objects of inquiry. Theory construction in physics relies on mathematical symmetries that preserve the key invariants observed and proposed by such theory; these invariants buttress the idea that the objects of physics are generic and thus interchangeable and they move along specific trajectories which are uniquely determined, in classical and relativistic physics.
In contrast to physics, biology is a historical science that centers on the changes that organisms experience while undergoing ontogenesis and phylogenesis. Biological objects, namely organisms, are not generic but specific; they are individuals. The incessant changes they undergo represent the breaking of symmetries, and thus the opposite of symmetry conservation, a central component of physical theories. This instability corresponds to the changes of the environment and the phenotypes.
Inspired by Galileo’s principle of inertia, the “default state” of inert matter, we propose a “default state” for biological dynamics following Darwin’s first principle, “descent with modification” that we transform into “proliferation with variation and motility” as a property that spans life, including cells in an organism. These dissimilarities between theories of the inert and of biology also apply to causality: biological causality is to be understood in relation to the distinctive role that constraints assume in this discipline. Consequently, the notion of cause will be reframed in a context where constraints to activity are seen as the core component of biological analyses.
Finally, we assert that the radical materiality of life rules out distinctions such as “software vs. hardware.”
Keywords Default state; Mathematical symmetries; Phase space; Biological organization
Our most prestigious universities continue to teach economics principles now known to be driving humanity to self-extinction.
An economics for the 21st century will guide us from an economy that empowers corporations in the service of money to an economy that empowers people in the service of life.
The principle of inertia is central to the modern scientific revolution. By postulating this principle Galileo at once identified a pertinent physical observable (momentum) and a conservation law (momentum conservation). He then could scientifically analyze what modifies inertial movement: gravitation and friction. Inertia, the default state in mechanics, represented a major theoretical commitment: there is no need to explain uniform rectilinear motion, rather, there is a need to explain departures from it. By analogy, we propose a biological default state of proliferation with variation and motility. From this theoretical commitment, what requires explanation is proliferative quiescence, lack of variation, lack of movement. That proliferation is the default state is axiomatic for biologists studying unicellular organisms. Moreover, it is implied in Darwin’s “descent with modification”. Although a “default state” is a theoretical construct and a limit case that does not need to be instantiated, conditions that closely resemble unrestrained cell proliferation are readily obtained experimentally. We will illustrate theoretical and experimental consequences of applying and of ignoring this principle.
Organisms, be they uni- or multi-cellular, are agents capable of creating their own norms; they are continuously harmonizing their ability to create novelty and stability, that is, they combine plasticity with robustness. Here we articulate the three principles for a theory of organisms proposed in this issue, namely: the default state of proliferation with variation and motility, the principle of variation and the principle of organization. These principles profoundly change both biological observables and their determination with respect to the theoretical framework of physical theories. This radical change opens up the possibility of anchoring mathematical modeling in biologically proper principles.
This article addresses the following problems: What is a mechanism, how can it be discovered, and what is the role of the knowledge of mechanisms in scientific explanation and technological control? The proposed answers are these. A mechanism is one of the processes in a concrete system that makes it what it is — for example, metabolism in cells, interneuronal connections in brains, work in factories and offices, research in laboratories, and litigation in courts of law. Because mechanisms are largely or totally imperceptible, they must be conjectured. Once hypothesized they help explain, because a deep scientific explanation is an answer to a question of the form, “How does it work, that is, what makes it tick — what are its mechanisms?” Thus, by contrast with the subsumption of particulars under a generalization, an explanation proper consists in unveiling some lawful mechanism, as when political stability is explained by either coercion, public opinion manipulation, or democratic participation. Finding mechanisms satisfies not only the yearning for understanding, but also the need for control.
Keywords: explanation; function; mechanism; process; system; systemism
Some theories of health behavior focus on proximal cognitive predictors of behavior, some focus on expectancy-value formulations, some focus on social support and bonding processes, some focus on social learning processes, and some point toward personality and intrapersonal processes. Very few extant theories of health behavior incorporate several of these viewpoints, and those that do are limited in various ways. We propose a new comprehensive theory that integrates constructs from all previous theories. Triadic influence theory includes seven “tiers” of “causes” of behavior that range from very proximal to distal to ultimate, and three “streams of influence” that flow through the seven “tiers”: (I) cultural- environmental influences on knowledge and values, influencing attitudes, (2) social situation-context influences on social bonding and social learning, influencing social normative beliefs, and (3) intrapersonal influences on self determination / control and social skills, leading to self-efficacy. In addition to the direct influences of these streams, there are important inter-stream effects and influences that flow between tiers. The theory is intended to account for factors that have direct effecls as well as indirect effects on behavior. It is also intended to account for both new behaviors and regular behavior. Experiences with related behaviors and early experiences with a new behavior lead to feedback loops through all three steams adding to the prior influences of these streams. Our integration of existing theories leads to a meta-theoretical view that suggests higher order descriptions and explanations of health behavior, leads to a new and comprehensive view of health behavior change, and suggests new approaches for health promotion and disease prevention.
Interview with Humberto Maturana and Ximena Davila, of Matriztica School in Santiago, Chile.
Humberto Maturana is a renowned biologist and philosopher from Chile. He invented a theory of autopoiesis, about the nature of reflexive feedback control in living systems. Ximena Davila is a Professor from Chile who collaborates with Maturana, together they developed the dynamic vision that entangled the Biology of Knowledge and the Biology of Love that conform the basis for the Biological Matrix of Human Existence. Together they co-founded “la Escuela Matriztica de Santiago”.
In this interview, done by Cristina Moreno together with the staff members of the Methodist University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Humberto Maturana and his colleague Ximena Davila offer their insights and reflections about the meaning of the Earth Charter and its relevance for today’s challenges.