Modes of Explanation and the Tension of Biology

“This symposium will thoroughly irritate any biologist who comes across it. At first sight it contains a lot of talk and precious little deductive theory; a closer look reveals essays violently attacking the accepted modes of scientific explanation and espousing a biology reformed along more Aristotelian lines. Worse yet, these essays were written by reputable physicists still practicing their trade, emphatically no the “carpenters blaming their tools” who frequent so many theoretical biology congresses. What happened?

This symposium records the attempts of some very intelligent people to digest and understand the disturbing complexities of biology. Many have read Kuhn on scientific revolution, and realise that current models of scientific explanation are as temporary as their predecessors: they are willing to face the possibility that a general theory like the embodied in Einstein’s laws and Maxwell’s equations is impossible in biology. How do they respond?


In sum, this hook gave me a lot to think about. It has two or three articles, especially Bohm’s first paper, and Kerner’s, which I found quite beautiful. Even the abominable papers, of which there were a number, are abominable in interesting ways and forced me to think about what biology should be. This may be a very personal reaction, however: I doubt if this book will have a very great influence, and doubt if it deserves to. It is simply an unvarnished record of the reactions of intelligent people to the oldest problems in science.”

Egbert G. Leigh, Jr.