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ISBN:0521841143
Author: Ernst Mayr
ISBN13: 978-0521841146
Title: What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline
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ePUB size: 1804 kb
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Language: English
Category: Science and Mathematics
Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (August 9, 2004)
Pages: 246

What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline by Ernst Mayr



What Makes Biology Unique is the 25th book he has written during his long and prolific career. His recent books include This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Belknap Press, 1997) and What Evolution Is (Basic Books, 2002). Categories: Biology\Biophysics. A full understanding of the autonomy of biology therefore is not possible without an analysis of Darwinism. Indeed, modern biology is conceptually Darwinian to a large extent. Although I attempted in previous publications to characterize this Darwinian contribution to our modern biological thinking, its importance for the philosophy of biology is so great that this renewed analysis should be welcome.

This collection of revised and new essays argues that biology is an autonomous science rather than a branch of the physical sciences. Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory and impact.

Discipline by Ernst Mayr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. At 100 years of age, Professor Mayr describes his 25th book as his final conversation on. evolution and the place of biology within the general scope of scientific inquiry. some discussion is based on previously published material, there are many new and com-. pelling perspectives that emerge, resulting in a cogent and thoughtful reflection of over. 70 years of biological investigation. He makes the compelling observation that. humans have historically been left outside of the realm of biological scientific inquiry. and that this only has detrimental consequences on the development of anthropology and. psychology.

Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline PDF. Best zoology books. Nematodes and the Biological Control of Insect Pests - download pdf or read online. Environmental and public illnesses coming up from using chemical pesticides have ended in an expanding call for for choices for insect pest keep an eye on. including this, frequent public predicament leading to governmental bans on some of the foremost pesticides and improvement of insecticide resistance has significantly lowered the variety of priceless pesticides on hand.

Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory and impact.

What Makes Biology Unique? offers newcomers an entertaining way to expand their horizons. We are lucky that someone who has experienced so much remains forever young in his thinking. American Scientist, Volume 93, David Sloan Wilson, Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York. A very enjoyable and interesting book by the unique Ernst Mayr. This slim book covers a surprising amount of ground and does so at the level a non-expert can appreciate and enjoy. Personally I found Mayr's answer to the title question less than satisfying. There do seem to be things fundamentally different about biology as compared to the other sciences, but exactly what are these differences?

issues in evolutionary theory. Notably, Ernst Mayr explains that Darwin’s theory of evolution is actually ve separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory, and impact.

This collection of revised and new essays argues that biology is an autonomous science rather than a branch of the physical sciences. Ernst Mayr, widely considered the most eminent evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, offers insights on the history of evolutionary thought, critiques the conditions of philosophy to the science of biology, and comments on several of the major developments in evolutionary theory. Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory and impact. Ernst Mayr, commonly referred to as the "Darwin of the 20th century" and listed as one of the top 100 scientists of all-time, is Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. What Makes Biology Unique is the 25th book he has written during his long and prolific career. His recent books include This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Belknap Press, 1997) and What Evolution Is (Basic Books, 2002).
Reviews: 7
Rrinel
A very enjoyable and interesting book by the unique Ernst Mayr. This slim book covers a surprising amount of ground and does so at the level a non-expert can appreciate and enjoy.

Personally I found Mayr's answer to the title question less than satisfying. There do seem to be things fundamentally different about biology as compared to the other sciences, but exactly what are these differences? Mayr claims the key difference is that biological entities, in addition to being subject to the physical laws that govern all (even inanimate) objects, also must follow the "programmed" instructions of their genetic code. Mayr seems to view genetic information as completely separate from the physical world and therefore beyond the purview of the deterministic models of the "physicalists" he so enjoys deriding. But this doesn't seem right. Though Mayr has little use for reductionists, at least a reductionist lives with the fact that a gene is fundamentally a section of a molecule and is thus ultimately subject to exactly the same (and no more) laws and processes that govern everything else. Biological processes are so hideously complex that proper application of the known laws and successful prediction are not possible - but this doesn't mean the laws themselves are no longer valid or insufficient. Still, I think Mayr is correct to point out the shortcomings of deterministic approaches that proceed under the assumption that they will be able to overcome the insurmountable complexities and give us reliable predictions of complicated biological phenomena.

Chapters 5-7 on Darwinism are fantastic - extremely interesting and insightful. I do not agree with much of what Mayr has to say about the "object of selection" issue in Chapter 8... but then again I'm only me while Mayr is Mayr. Mayr is especially hard on Richard Dawkins and the "selfish gene" viewpoint; but anyone who has read Dawkins' books (The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype) knows that he (Dawkins) has convincingly addressed and countered all of the objections raised by Mayr. More importantly, as Dawkins points out, a serious problem for those like Mayr who believe the individual organism to be the object of evolutionary selection is that they can't explain why the individual organism exists in the first place. Mayr speaks eloquently of needing to pose and answer "Why?" questions in evolutionary biology, but this is one of the biggest "Why?" questions out there and he dodged it.

The final three chapters on the species problem, the origin of humans, and the search for extraterrestrial life are all wonderful, chock full of profound and simple insights and observations.
Gaudiker
This was a book that finally answered my wife's questions. She is a theologian (main stream, liberal. Evolution is OK) and deals with science and religion frequently. She kept asking me of my biochemical research "is it predictive?". What she was asking was from my studies in protein structure could I predict the Taj Mahal? I mumbled a great deal during those conversations.

In this book Mayr give voice and coherence to the chaos that is biology. It is not the science of physics, where one equation rules all. Choices, and accidents happen, and they shape future development. That is who we are.

I recommend this book to anyone really interested in what biology is, and what is can say about how it has arrived in this place and time.

duke out
Diab
good
Whitecaster
Mayr lays out his vision of a philosophy of science as it concerns biology. In doing so, he provides clear and concise refutations of a number of philosophies that other authors have put forward. Mayr occasionally could be accused of making an argument from authority; however, one could say that he's earned the right to make those arguments. It should be noted that this work draws heavily on prior works of Mayr's and as such serves mostly as a primer or condensed description of his philosophy.
Madi
This book was an absolute joy to read, Ernst Mayr is an absolute marble. The book is well-written easy to read filled with facts
Reddefender
For the serious student of Biology you can't beat Ernst Mayr. He is eminently readable and only a few, e.g., E. O. Wilson can compare. If you haven't read him and are interested in Biology, evolution and/or ecology you are in for a treat.
Bralore
This book collects many of Mayr's most important contributions to the philosophy of biology. The majority of the essays stem from previously published papers, though they appear here in considerably revised forms, having been revised by Mayr shortly before his passing. As such the essays reflect his last thoughts on the relevant issues in philosophy of biology. Ernst Mayr was certainly qualified to write about these topics, having been one of the world's foremost evolutionary biologists (dubbed by some as the "Darwin of the 20th century") and a key figure in the so-called Modern Synthesis, along with Fisher, Dobzhansky and others. Mayr had devoted the last few decades of his life to the study of the history and philosophy of biology and he continues to be regarded as an authority in this area.

The essays are not presented in a haphazard manner. Instead they link up with one another thematically. The major issues that are analyzed in the essays concern the autonomy of biology as a scientific discipline (separate from physics and chemistry). Most philosophers of science have tried to impose upon biology the conceptual framework of the strictly physical sciences and have thereby, according to Mayr, failed to make any significant contributions to the field. Indeed, one cannot begin to fully understand and appreciate the nature of biology without understanding the essential differences that characterize the study of the inanimate world from that of the living world. Living systems are orders of magnitude more complex and for Mayr this is primarily due to their being subject to `dual causation'. On the one hand, living things are subject to the same natural laws as inanimate objects (e.g., the thermodynamic laws, etc.) but they are also uniquely controlled by genetic programs which have no analogue in the inanimate world. Mayr draws out the full implication of these genetic programs and shows how they add a new level of complexity to the study of nature - for example, with the discovery of genetic programs, we could begin to have natural explanations for processes that once invoked spooky teleological mechanisms. According to Mayr, the establishment of biology as an autonomous, bona fide science was a three-step process, that involved: (1) discarding erroneous principles that dominated the study of biology right up to the beginning of the 20th century (this primarily concerns the rejection of vitalism and cosmic teleology), (2) demonstrating that certain fundamental principles of the physical sciences do not apply to biology (strict determinism and reductionism, essentialism and the concept of natural laws, etc.) and (3) establishing certain fundamental principles that are specific to biology (primarily, genetic programs, emergence and the role of stochastic processes). For Mayr every science is characterized both by the features it shares with all sciences ("the organization and classification of knowledge on the basis of explanatory principles") and features that are unique to it (e.g., the role of mathematics in physics). It is especially interesting to read Mayr's work in comparison with the writing of some of the more extreme reductionists such as E.O. Wilson, for whom the dream of 'consilience' is to be achieved by reduction to the laws of physics (for Mayr, a fundamental impossibility).

Mayr proves to be particularly insightful on some of the following issues: the nature of theory construction in biology (which is based largely on concepts, rather than natural laws - in contrast, theory construction in the physical sciences largely proceeds from the basis of natural laws), the difference between reduction and analysis in the study of complex systems, the difference between functional and evolutionary biology, the concept of emergence, the part played by experimentation in science and the role of historical narratives in evolutionary biology, the relevance of the Kuhnian thesis to biology, the history of teleological concepts in biology and the structure of Darwinian theory. Mayr shows how Darwin's theory actually consists of five main strands that are partly independent of one another. Thus, the theory of common descent enjoyed enthusiastic acceptance shortly after 1859 (largely because it provided a theoretical framework for the work of naturalists and taxonomists) while the theory of natural selection was not fully accepted until several decades into the 20th century. The book's final essay presents a highly forceful and cogent critique of the SETI program.

The essays are a delight to read and will be enjoyed by anyone with a more than casual interest in biology. They present Mayr's original ideas on the topics at hand and mark an important contribution to the philosophy of science. Reading the book should be a requirement for a true understanding of the science of biology.