Historical Observations Concerning the Relationship Between Biology and Mathematics

  • René Taton


As early as in the remotest antiquity, a certain number of the thinkers who have reflected on the problems of the philosophy of nature posed questions concerning the interactions existing between the various domains of scientific knowledge and, in particular, concerning the role that mathematics might play in the explanation of diverse types of natural phenomena, comprising those touching on the life sciences. Thus the various doctrines of ancient China or Greece bring into play concepts of a numerical or geometric order in the interpretation of certain biological phenomena. But, as a matter of fact, these apparent intrusions of mathematics into the domain of facts concerning life have hardly more than symbolic value and are related to the neo-platonic speculations which enjoyed such a great vogue during the Renaissance. Without wishing to deny the considerable importance of these conceptions for the history of ideas and without forgetting that such speculations still flourish today in certain apparently inaccurate scientific publications, I will limit myself in this exposé to the study of currents of a more specifically scientific inspiration which have attempted, more or less successfully, to apply the resources of mathematics to the study of the phenomena of life.


Typhoid Fever Royal Academy Historical Observation Smallpox Inoculation Geometric Order 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • René Taton
    • 1
  1. 1.École Pratique des Hautes ÉtudeParisFrance

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