When I kill a fly, I don’t think and must not think which organization is destroyed (Goethe (1959 , 802), translation UD).
Every living thing is not single, but multiple; even insofar as it appears to us as an individual it remains nonetheless an association of living self-sufficient beings, which though alike in idea or plan, can in their manifestations be identical or similar, unlike or dissimilar. The less developed the creature is, the more alike or similar are these parts and the more they resemble the whole. The more highly developed the creature becomes, the more dissimilar become the parts. The more alike the parts are, the less they are subordinated. Subordination of parts points to a more highly developed creature (Goethe , English translation quoted from Reynolds (2008), 126).
The concepts of hierarchical organization, genetic determinism and biological specificity (for example of species, biologically relevant macromolecules, or genes) have played a crucial role in biology as a modern experimental science since its beginnings in the nineteenth century. The idea of genetic information (specificity) and genetic determination was at the basis of molecular biology that developed in the 1940s with macromolecules, viruses and prokaryotes as major objects of research often labelled “reductionist”. However, the concepts have been marginalized or rejected in some of the research that in the late 1960s began to focus additionally on the molecularization of complex biological structures and functions using systems approaches. This paper challenges the view that ‘molecular reductionism’ has been successfully replaced by holism and a focus on the collective behaviour of cellular entities. It argues instead that there are more fertile replacements for molecular ‘reductionism’, in which genomics, embryology, biochemistry, and computer science intertwine and result in research that is as exact and causally predictive as earlier molecular biology.
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Deichmann, U. Hierarchy, determinism, and specificity in theories of development and evolution. HPLS 39, 33 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-017-0160-3