, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 31-42
Date: 24 Mar 2009

Self-Assembly, Self-Organization: Nanotechnology and Vitalism

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Abstract

Over the past decades, self-assembly has attracted a lot of research attention and transformed the relations between chemistry, materials science and biology. The paper explores the impact of the current interest in self-assembly techniques on the traditional debate over the nature of life. The first section describes three different research programs of self-assembly in nanotechnology in order to characterize their metaphysical implications: (1) Hybridization (using the building blocks of living systems for making devices and machines) ; (2) Biomimetics (making artifacts mimicking nature); (3) Integration (a composite of the two previous strategies). The second section focused on the elusive boundary between self-assembly and self-organization tries to map out the various positions adopted by the promoters of self-assembly on the issue of vitalism.

An earlier and longer version of this paper has been presented as position paper at the France/Stanford Meeting organized by Jean-Pierre Dupuy in Avignon, December 2006. I am grateful for the comments of participants.