Science and Mechanism

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Wed 11 Jun 2003 - 13:51:57 GMT

  • Next message: Reed Konsler: "Morphogenic Fields"

    >The mechanics of protein-formation are still not known, and it's not at all
    >clear that protein-formation, particularly at the quaternary level, is
    >forced into place by purely chemical and mechanical factors.

    Biochemistry is based on the premise that macroscopic events as simple as crystallization and as complex as embryonic development are a result of microscopic structure. It is a mechanistic way of viewing the world.

    A scientific theory requires several things. This is more or less in order from primary to peripheral

    Mechanism: A theory must relate causes and effects.

    Elegance: A theory must be understandable and teachable.

    Significance: Theories are only created to understand important things. There is an opportunity cost associated with unlearning the intuitive and learning the foreign. If the benefit doesn't outweigh this cost, a new theory will not be adopted.

    Empirical Falsifiable: A theory must engender experiments or directed observations. This isn't so much to confirm or refute the theory itself
    (despite arguments, no single experiment has ever lead a person to chuck an otherwise useful theory). Rather, falsifiable experiments allow a theory to be developed and refined. Without empirical restriction a theory will either remain amorphous or develop in an idiosyncratic way unlikely to be useful.

    Fecundity: A theory must lead to more specific questions and hypotheses. The more researchers and students that believe there is a niche for their work under the umbrella of the theory, the more will adopt it. Offer a place at the table, and they will come.

    Application: A theory that doesn't do something for the community at large will struggle and wither as resources are directed towards more useful endeavors. Actually, application often comes first: something useful is discovered by accident (like an antibiotic) and then scientists work to understand it.

    Truth is not a factor. Exactly how a protein folds...indeed, if they even exist at all...isn't relevant. The question is: if we believe and act on that theory, what are the consequences? The explosion of biochemistry and biotechnology is a result of the fact that I can teach the basics of the theory in high school, thousands of people can find work within the field, and insulin can be manufactured cheaply in massive quantities.

    Proteins might not fold according to a "mechanical" mechanism. But, it's pointless to argue that they fold according to no mechanism at all.

    Which theory is most useful, of all that have ever been proposed? I would argue, at present, it is the biochemical model.



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