Foundations of Science

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 31–46 | Cite as

On Gene’s Action and Reciprocal Causation

Article

Abstract

Advancing the reductionist conviction that biology must be in agreement with the assumptions of reductive physicalism (the upward hierarchy of causal powers, the upward fixing of facts concerning biological levels) A. Rosenberg argues that downward causation is ontologically incoherent and that it comes into play only when we are ignorant of the details of biological phenomena. Moreover, in his view, a careful look at relevant details of biological explanations will reveal the basic molecular level that characterizes biological systems, defined by wholly physical properties, e.g., geometrical structures of molecular aggregates (cells). In response, we argue that contrary to his expectations one cannot infer reductionist assumptions even from detailed biological explanations that invoke the molecular level, as interlevel causal reciprocity is essential to these explanations. Recent very detailed explanations that concern the structure and function of chromatin—the intricacies of supposedly basic molecular level—demonstrate this. They show that what seem to be basic physical parameters extend into a more general biological context, thus rendering elusive the concepts of the basic level and causal hierarchy postulated by the reductionists. In fact, relevant phenomena are defined across levels by entangled, extended parameters. Nor can the biological context be explained away by basic physical parameters defining molecular level shaped by evolution as a physical process. Reductionists claim otherwise only because they overlook the evolutionary significance of initial conditions best defined in terms of extended biological parameters. Perhaps the reductionist assumptions (as well as assumptions that postulate any particular levels as causally fundamental) cannot be inferred from biological explanations because biology aims at manipulating organisms rather than producing explanations that meet the coherence requirements of general ontological models. Or possibly the assumptions of an ontology not based on the concept of causal powers stratified across levels can be inferred from biological explanations. The incoherence of downward causation is inevitable, given reductionist assumptions, but an ontological alternative might avoid this. We outline desiderata for the treatment of levels and properties that realize interlevel causation in such an ontology.

Keywords

Philosophy of biology Causation Ontology Reductionism Anti-Reductionism Molecular biology Cell biology 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Bailly F., Longo G. (2006) La singularité physique du vivant. Hermann, ParisGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailly F., Longo G. (2008) Extended critical situations. Journal of Biological Systems 6(2): 309–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bailly F., Longo G. (2009) Biological organisation and anti-entropy. Journal of Biological Systems 17(1): 1–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boogerd F. et al (2005) Emergence and its place in nature: A case study of biochemical networks. Synthese 145(2): 131–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bunge M. (2003) Emergence and convergence. Toronto University Press, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  6. Counillon L., Pouyssegur J. (2000) The expanding family of eukaryotic Na+/H+ exchangers. Journal of Biological Chemistry 275: 1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Darwin, C. H. (1868). The variation of animals and plants under domestication. (Vol. 2). London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  8. Dennett, D. (1996). Darwin’s dangerous idea. Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  9. Frankel J. (1989) Pattern formation: Ciliate studies and models. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  10. Frankel, J. (2000). Cell polarity in ciliates. In D. Drubin (Ed.), Cell polarity (pp. 78–105).Google Scholar
  11. Hattiangadi J. (2005) The mind as an object of scientific study. In: Erneling E.C., Johnson D.M. (eds) Mind as a scientific object. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  12. Jablonka E., Lamb M. J. (2008) The epigenome in evolution: Beyond the Modern Synthesis. Vogis Herald 12: 242–254Google Scholar
  13. Kim J. (1993) Supervenience and mind. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kim J. (1998) Philosophy of mind. Westview Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  15. Kim J. (1999) Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies 95: 3–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kim J. (2005) Physicalism, or something near enough. Princeton University Press, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  17. Kitcher P. (1984) 1953 and all that. A tale of two sciences. Philosophical Review 93: 335–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Krick, F. (1958). Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology, 12, 138–63.Google Scholar
  19. Lesne A. (1998) Renormalization methods. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Lesne A., Victor J. M. (2006) Chromatin fiber functional organization: Some plausible models. The European Physical Journal E 19: 279–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lesne A. (2008) Robustness: Confronting lessons from physics and biology. Biological Reviews 83: 509–532Google Scholar
  22. Lewis, D. (2000). Causation as influence. The Journal of Philosophy, 182–197Google Scholar
  23. Monod J. (1970) Le hasard et la nécessité. Seuil, ParisGoogle Scholar
  24. Morange M. (2003) La vie expliquée?. O. Jacob, ParisGoogle Scholar
  25. Morgan L. (1923) Emergent evolution. Williams and Norgate, LondonGoogle Scholar
  26. Mossio M., Longo G., Stewart J. (2009) Computability of closure to efficient causation. Journal of Theoretical Biology 257(3): 489–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Noble D. (2006) The music of life. Biology beyond the genome. Hardback, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Prigogine I. (1969) Symmetry breaking instabilities in biological systems. Nature 223: 913–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Prigogine I., Stengers I. (1979) La Nouvelle alliance. Gallimard, ParisGoogle Scholar
  30. Rosenberg A., Kaplan D. M. (2005) How to reconcile Physicalism and Antireductionism about Biology. Philosophy of Science 72: 43–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rosenberg A. (2006) Is epigenetic inheritance a counterexample to the central dogma?. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28: 549–566Google Scholar
  32. Simondon G. (1964) L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique. Puf, ParisGoogle Scholar
  33. Tost, J. (2009). DNA methylation: An introduction to the biology and the disease-associated changes of a promising biomarker. In J. Tost (Ed.), DNA methylation: Methods and protocols (Vol. 507). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  34. Varela F., Maturana H., Uribe R. (1974) Autopoiesis: The organization of living systems, its characterization and a model. Biosystems 5: 187–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Waters, C. K. (2008). Beyond theoretical reduction and layer-cake anti-reduction. PhilSci Archive. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/3834//.
  36. Wimsatt W. (2000) Emergence as non-aggregativity and the biases of reductionism. Foundations of Science 3(5): 269–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wimsatt W. (2007) Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Université de NiceNiceFrance

Personalised recommendations