From Gregor Mendel to Eric Davidson: Models in experimental biology, their epistemologies and basic biological principles.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

All Day

CCMB, Prof. Sorin Istrail

Watson Center for Information Technology (CIT)

CIT 241 Swig Boardroom

Dr. Ute Deichmann
Director, Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

From Gregor Mendel to Eric Davidson: Models in experimental biology, their epistemologies and basic biological principles.

Models have been widespread in biology since its emergence as a modern experimental science in the 19th century. Typical model types include animal models, chemical models and mathematical models. Quantitative models in biology differed strongly among researchers in various fields regarding function and explanatory power.

This talk presents the properties and epistemological basis of pertinent mathematical models in developmental biology and heredity from the 19th to the 21st centuries. (Models in physiology, ecology, population genetics and origin of life and artificial life research are not included.) I show that the models differ not only in their epistemologies but also in how they explicitly or implicitly take into account basic biological principles, in particular those of biological specificity (which was in part replaced by genetic information) and genetic causality.

I argue that models that disregarded these principles did not impact the direction of biological research in a lasting way and that successful models were based on inductive as well as hypothetico-deductive methodology; they were not mathematical descriptions or simulations of biological phenomena. Moreover, I argue that though the recent availability of big data technologies tremendously facilitates systems approaches and pattern recognition, inductive and hypothetico-deductive experimental methodologies have remained fundamentally important as long as causal-mechanistic explanations of complex systems are pursued.

Hosted by Sorin Istrail, in honor of the late Dr. Eric Davidson