Re: Me against the meme

From: Derek Gatherer (
Date: Fri 04 Nov 2005 - 09:41:14 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Me against a meme"

    At 08:57 04/11/2005, Dace wrote:

    > What I'm
    > > saying is that it has been proven in the laboratory, many thousands
    > > of times over the last 50 years, that biological processes are
    > > mediated by molecules in collision, contact and interaction.
    >*Some* biological processes or *all*? The first is fact, the second

    "God of the gaps" argument again. No matter how far science advances, you'll always jump in and say "but you can't explain X". 20 years later, when X has been explained, it'll be Y and so on ad nauseam.

       Isn't "life" precisely that element of the organism
    >that can't be reduced to deterministic mechanics?

    No, that's a frank statement of vitalist philosophy, a la Henri Bergson.

    >If life is to be studied
    >physically, we must first concede the field-like nature of cell, tissue,
    >organism and species. The ordered activity of a cell takes place at the
    >large-scale, in stark contrast to the pandemonium of its molecular
    >constituents. So reductionism is out. Causation is primarily at the level
    >of the whole and only secondarily a matter of contact mechanics.

    Ah, I see I'm getting somewhere with you, Ted. A couple of weeks ago, you would have said contact mechanics has nothing to do with it at all.

       The only sense of
    >reductionism Rothman accepts is the reduction of a phenomenon to causative
    >factors, whatever they may be, including holistic and probabilistic
    >mechanisms. As to the usual meaning of the term-- that the whole has no
    >properties unattributable to its parts-- Rothman flat-out rejects this.

    But that was rejected in the 1950s by the majority of biologists (if indeed it was every seriously entertained at all). Nothing new there.

    >As long as you're looking for explanations along the lines of contact
    >mechanics, that's all you're going to see. Then, when you find nothing but
    >contact-based mechanisms, you conclude that your initial assumption was
    >right after all. This is begging the question, a very proficient means of
    >propagating irrational beliefs. One might even call it a memetic mechanism.

    If you see something hit something else, bind to it, and change the shape of its target, and that target then performs some consequent mechanism on another target etc, then that isn't irrational, that's hard evidence. I initially assumed that a train was going to take me in to work today. One arrived and it did. I look for no other explanation of how I got here. It's the same in the test tube.

    >The great embryologist Paul Weiss made much use of left-right polarity in
    >his demolition of genetic reductionism (See *The Science of Life* 1973).

    Ahem, 1973? One of your repeated problems, Ted, is you tendency to read old accounts of dev. biol.

    > He
    >pointed out that the ability to reverse the orientation of an organ by
    >simply tweaking a gene demonstrates that the gene functions only in the
    >context of a developmental field. The gene flips the field, so to speak, so
    >the organ emerges in one conformation instead of its mirror opposite. It's
    >all about *influencing* development rather than programming it. Nothing
    >you've ever witnessed in a laboratory can establish the latter as opposed to
    >the former. Your view is based on assumption, not observation.

    No, again it's more fundamental. The genes controlling left-right are expressed very early on, and the pathways are now fairly well understood, at the mechanical level.

    >A biology that takes life on its own terms must begin with the whole and its
    >purpose, not mechanisms and their reactions.

    Yes, it does begin with the whole, and then we deduce the mechanisms and reactions (pleased to see you now agree there are mechanisms and reactions).

    >In his August, 2001 article for Scientific American, "Cybernetic Cells," by
    >W. Wayt Gibbs noted that "three centures of reductionism in biology" was
    >giving way to another approach known as whole-cell simulation. According to
    >James E. Bailey at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the
    >confused state of microbiology is much like astronomy prior to Kepler, when
    >a great mass of data was available on planetary orbits, but nothing could be
    >predicted. Researchers such as Bailey are generating useful predictions by
    >modeling whole processes in cells rather than the effects of individual
    >components, including genes. No one's accusing Bailey of abandoning

    Of course, not. I'll bet he doesn't believe in spooky fields or dinosaurs signalling to us. And don't try to misrepresent systems biology as anti-mechanistic. I was on the scientific advisory board for a systems biology conference recently. I'm in the picture on the left. Can you guess which one's me?

    >With or without a steel plate, termites don't rely on hearing to build their
    >arches. This possibility has already been ruled out

    By hearing I mean sensistivity to vibration.

    > > >More recently, Miroslav Hill demonstrated field effects among bacteria
    > > >tested for resistance to a carcinogenic substance. He found that
    > > >the exposed bacteria, related bacteria in physically isolated containers
    > > >also developed resistance. After repeating the experiment numerous
    > > >ensuring absolute separation of the bacterial colonies, he got the same
    > > >results. He concluded that the exposed bacteria shared information at a
    > > >distance with the unexposed bacteria. Interestingly, Hill chose to
    > > >interpret the results in terms of quantum entanglement or nonlocality
    > > >than the more traditional field theory.
    > >
    > > That one is almost certainly contamination.
    >Deny the evidence all you want. Eppur si muove.

    No, one dodgy paper in a fringe journal does not constitute evidence. Many thousands of scientists who have done cell culture over the last century will tell you that resistance to compunds added to flasks does not spring into the other flasks. I personally have done many hundreds of similar experiments (in the mid-90s). What Hill proposes is just absurd.

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