PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Symposium: Post Mechanism: Explanation in 21st Century Biology

Saturday, 5 November 2016
09:00 - 11:45

Chastain D (6th Floor)

Chair: Lindley Darden, University of Maryland, College Park

21st century biologists are pursuing a host of new research strategies that depart from more traditional mechanistic approaches. This presents a challenge: to articulate the explanatory expectations of present-day biology and to determine which investigative practices suffice to meet them. This session will make a start on answering this challenge. 

The session will consist of four talks, three from philosophers of biology and one from a biologist, targeting different explanatory strategies in 21st century biology. Brigandt discusses explanations that highlight global dynamic processes that operate independently of intra-mechanistic structure and organization. Serban and Green’s paper dovetails with Brigandt, discussing so-called design principles in systems biology and related engineering-inspired approaches. They argue that these approaches emphasize the epistemic value of how-possibly explanations relative to how-actually explanations .

Drawing on his lab’s work on patterning in flies and midges, Jaeger seeks to diffuse apparent tensions between mechanistic and systems-level analyses while showing that the latter may require rethinking the concept of convergent evolution. Lastly, Levy and Bechtel focus on research in neurobiology and development that challenges the assumption of stable parts constituting single mechanisms but instead recognizes multiple processes operating over multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Explanatory understanding without tracking mechanism operation
Ingo Brigandt, University of Alberta,
From design principles to biological explanation
Maria Serban, University of Copenhagen,
Sara Green, University of Copenhagen,
The best of both worlds? Reverse-engineering regulatory systems
Johannes Jaeger, Konrad Lorenz Institute (KLI), Klosterneuburg, AT,
Tackling complexity in a non-mechanistic fashion: spatiotemporal aspects
Arnon Levy, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
William Bechtel, UCSD,


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