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.