Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 663–678 | Cite as

Observation and biological systems

  • Robert Rosen


A number of apparently different lines of inquiry into fundamental biological processes point to the central role played by the notion of observation in the theory of biological systems. Not only do we use the results of our own observations to obtain the system descriptions which are the starting-points for an understanding of biological processes, but it is a basic postulate of physics that the interactions between biological systems themselves can be regarded as observations. On this basis, it is clear that we cannot properly understand biological interactions unless the observables we employ for system description are the same as those involved in the interactions we are describing. To do this requires a general theory of observables and system description, establishing the relationship between different modes of description. A sketch of such a theory is developed in the present paper, using only two postulates: (a) that all interactions are determined by the values of observables of a system evaluated on specific states, and (b) that real-valued observables suffice. As an application, a specific test is proposed whereby it can be determined whether the observables employed to describe interacting systems are sufficient to specify the observables involved in the interaction itself.


Bifurcation Point System Description Rate Equation Particle Mechanic Relational Biology 
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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Rosen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physiology and BiophysicsDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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