Antireductionism and Biology: An Interview with John Dupre, Philosopher of BiologySubmitted by Ayanna Monteverdi on Thu, 01/30/2014 - 10:14
John Dupre, Professor, University of ExeterBio and Contact Info
Listen (2:19) Why should scientists think about philosophy?
Listen (8:47) Antireductionism
Listen (6:04) Have molecular biologists suffered from reductionism?
Listen (9:20) Underestimating the problems of biology
Listen (2:01) Are biologists getting the message?
Listen (5:29) Do you think much about the GMO controversy?
When a researcher is doing basic science, what is meant by that? Indeed, what is science? Ernest Rutherford, a British chemist and physicist at the turn of the 20th century remarked, “all science is either physics or stamp collecting." Is this true? Can all science be reduced to physics or does a discipline such as biology need to be studied in its own way? We can ask more specific questions pertaining to life science. What is a genome? And is the tree of life really a tree? And furthermore, are these questions really that interesting?
Here to answer these questions and kick off a new series, "Philosophy of Science," is John Dupre, a philosopher of biology and professor at the University of Exeter in Southern England. John is an antireductionist. In today's interview he argues that molecular biologists have been limited by a system of science inherited from physicists and other scientists that has been overly reductionist. For example, he says that biologists have relied too much on certain models of the cell without remembering that these are abstract models.
"The real nature of the parts is really shaped by the sort of system that it's participating in," he says.
It's true that we've recently seen biologists become more concerned with "systems" and move away from the overly gene-centric view of biology. The power of new tools and cheap computing are now opening up new possibilities to look at the vast network of connections that transpire in biology. However, John questions whether the new systems biologists aren't just more reductionists working at large.
Should scientists be studying philosophy? John answers, " . . . some scientists need to think more about what they're doing than they're often given time to do."
We finish with a question about the public controversy over GMOs.
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