The Logic & Philosophy of Science Colloquium Series presents
"Organization and Dynamic Mechanistic Explanation"
with William Bechtel, Department of Philosophy and Center for Chronobiology, University of California, San Diego
Friday, March 16, 2012
Social and Behavioral Sciences Gateway, Room 1517
Philosophers of science focusing on biology have sought to articulate the practice of biologists who appeal to mechanisms to explain phenomena. Increasingly biologists are focusing on phenomena that involve complex dynamics, especially oscillations (ranging from annual and daily oscillations in behavior to much more rapid cardiac and neural oscillations). Understanding the dynamical behavior of biological mechanisms requires unpacking the appeals to organization that have been common but not sufficiently developed in philosophical accounts of mechanistic explanation. Surveying the wide variety of biological mechanisms may suggest that there is little order to be found in the modes of organization employed—each biological system appears to be organized in its unique way. But in recent years researchers have begun to identify and characterize abstractly modes of organization that are found repeatedly in biological mechanisms. By analyzing them, these investigators have tried to characterize the types of functionality they generate. In his talk, Bechtel will focus on both local and global examples of such modes of organization. Alon introduced the term /motif/ for small network structures that occur far more frequently than expected by chance and identified a number of motifs in gene regulatory systems. The concept of motif has been applied in other fields such as neuroscience, in which some similar and some distinct motifs have been identified. At a more global level, Watts introduced the idea of small-world networks that enable both local clustering and rapid coordination between modules. Again researchers in a variety of biological disciplines have applied this framework to understand the behavior of the mechanisms they posit.
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