Science and Mechanism

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Mon 16 Jun 2003 - 13:09:16 GMT

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    > To say that biochemists can't predict anything is an overstatement.

    "The statement is that of a Noble Prize-winning biochemist. And he's right. Biochemistry is a descriptive science, not an explanatory or predictive science."

    If I inject plasmids for human insulin production into a yeast cell I can predict the generation of insulin and explain the process, at least at some level of detail. My prediction and explanation is limited by current knowledge, yes. My argument is that "biochemists can't predict anything" is an overstatement. I don't believe any biochemist would agree with such an extreme view.

    "Ultimately a holistic, systems approach will be required to get beyond mere description."

    That is a prediction, not a fact. My stance is that one cannot know if a model is useful until it is used. If it works, good; if not, then one tries again. The future is obviously uncertain, save for the dogmatic.

    "Somehow, despite the chaos and the general lack of mechanical or chemical determinism..."

    I don't know what you mean by that.

    "The point is that life is essentially holistic..."

    That is one belief. I might agree with you, but I'm not certain what you put under the envelope of "holistic".

    "...and this is why researchers are moving toward holistic modeling of cells."

    Only *some* researchers. The majority continue, fruitfully I might add, to operate under the present paradigm.

    "How could a theory mechanistically relate causes and effects in living cells when they don't behave according to simple, mechanistic determinism until they die?"

    I believe that they do behave according to laws, to the extent that anything in the universe does. I wouldn't call it simple, though.

    Biochemistry is not only "mechanistic determinism" and is anything but
    "simple". Using these words might make present theories seem less palatable to you. I'm not so easily manipulated. In the future, I would appreciate you sticking to the issues and avoiding specious adjectives.

    However they actually are, a theory must propose some relationship between causes and effects. Even a "holistic theory" must establish some kind of mechanism. Otherwise, what is it saying?

    "Right. The article went on to point out that in order to produce useful models, researchers must abandon the notion that organic forms are caused by genes. This is why researchers are questioning the "central dogma." It just doesn't work in the creation of accurate, mathematical models."

    I don't think that this is what the article said.

    "...Needless to say, lack of imagination is not the most reliable foundation for a theory."

    Agreed. I would say the utility of a theory is it's foundation.

    "Field theory is absolutely not reductionistic. Fields are spatial, not material. A field cannot be regarded as a fancy way of saying "a collection of particles." The field is simply the spatial aspect of the particle, which is the material aspect of the field. They are one and the same and therefore mutually irreducible."

    This doesn't make sense to me.

    "...there seems to be no other explanation than "holistic memory." Rabbit embryos develop into rabbits, and not turtles, because the information that regulates their development is transferred to them from past rabbit embryos."

    Sure, we call that genetic information.

    "In other words, current embryos "resonate" with past embryos on the basis of "morphic" similarity. This hypothesis is highly testable, and Rupert Sheldrake has had a great deal of success in demonstrating the effect."

    If that theory allowed one to DO anything, it would be more widely accepted.

    > How do you prove something to be true?

    "Hey, who said science is easy? Nonetheless, science has uncovered many truths, such as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun while rotating on its axis. I'd say this has been satisfactorily proven."

    You're mistaken. Present evidence is consistent with that theory. Nothing in science is ever proven.

    > That is your impression. My impression is that you are confusing science
    > with philosophy.

    "There's no definitive dividing line between philosophy and science. We may describe philosophy as generalized science and science as particularized philosophy."

    There is a pretty dramatic difference in *practice*. Scientists are more pragmatic.

    "Not at all. But biochemistry alone can't tell us what life is."

    Well of course not. We have art, religion, and other aspects of culture that are vastly more important to answer the question: "What is life?". Biochemistry is confined to explaining how biological systems function.

    "We've been led to believe that DNA is the secret or essence of life."

    Straw man.

    > But that recognition won't ever happen if there isn't a material reason to
    > make it.

    "The material reason is that a holistic theory must be compatible with evolution. As long as they're based on inherent memory rather than timeless equations, fields can evolve right along with the organisms they both reflect and regulate."

    Whatever. I mean "material reason" as in useful application. When it DOES something, then it will be worth adopting.

    > His statement appears self-interested; designed to sell people on his
    > and research.

    "Now this is a fallacy, as it's directed at the person rather than the argument."

    You were asserting that I was being unreasonable in discounting the statement. I was pointing out that there are valid reasons for me to be suspicious, particularly given that this was a statement of opinion, not the results of peer reviewed scientific investigation.



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