I’ve been reading some of the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen‘s essays on the relationship between biology and physics and can’t help but compare him to Friedrich Schelling.
[Contemporary physics embodies] a mechanistic approach to biological phenomena, whose only alternative seems to be a discredited, mystical, unscientific vitalism. [It] supposes biology to be a specialization of something inherently more general than biology itself, and the phenomena of life to be nothing but very special embodiments of more universal laws, which in themselves have nothing to do with life and are already independently known. In this view, whatever problems set biology apart from the rest of science arise precisely because organisms are so special.
One prevailing manifestation of such ideas is the naive reductionism that passes today as the prevailing philosophy underlying empirical approaches to organisms. The very word connotes that living things are special cases of something else, and that we learn everything there is to know about them by reducing them, treating them as mere corollaries of what is more general and more universal.
However, organisms, far from being a special case, an embodiment of more general principles or laws we believe we already know, are indications that these laws themselves are profoundly incomplete. The universe described by these laws is an extremely impoverished, nongeneric one, and one in which life cannot exist. In short, far from being a special case of these laws, and reducible to them, biology provides the most spectacular examples of their inadequacy. The alternative is not vitalism, but rather a more generic view of the scientific world itself, in which it is the mechanistic laws that are the special cases.
-(p. 33-34, Essays on Life itself, 2000).
Schelling, considering nature’s fundamental organization, writes:
the particular successions of causes and effects (that delude us with the appearance of mechanism) disappear as infinitely small straight lines in the universal curvature of the organism in which the world itself persists.
-(p. 70, On the World Soul, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant, Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development VI).
- Life After Darwin (another response to Benjamin Cain) (footnotes2plato.com)
- Schelling’s Metaphysical Ungrounding of Natural Science (footnotes2plato.com)
Leave a Reply to Matthew David Segall Cancel reply