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

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Strategies of Explanatory Abstraction in Molecular Systems Biology

I consider three explanatory strategies from recent systems biology that are driven by mathematics as much as mechanistic detail. Analysis of differential equations drives the first strategy; topological analysis of network motifs drives the second; mathematical theorems from control engineering drive the third. I also distinguish three abstraction types: aggregates, being elements grouped into single composites; generalizations, being classes formed from instances; and structures, akin to positions held by occupants. Using a common explanandum as reference point—namely, the robust perfect adaptation of chemotaxis in Escherichia coli—I argue that each strategy invokes a different combination of abstraction types.

Author Information:

Nicholaos Jones    
University of Alabama in Huntsville


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