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vitalism is not dead -or- how to infuriate the dogmatists

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posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 04:58 PM

what is perceived by a living organism has a reality of its own -- and it is precisely the undeniability of it that represents both the origin and the limit of an absolutely objective understanding of organic life. (1)

this isn't news to anybody. but believe it or not, Biology is finally coming back around to the idea that, in fact, the study of living systems may actually require a different interpretation of physical reality. Biologists have been fighting the notion of "vitalism" since the days of Descartes and Newton. but the days of Biology as a subset of Physics are coming to a close.

in the above image, i have depicted the “naive realism” and “naive substantialism” of modern (deterministic, linear) physics, and how it creates an obvious episemological bias which is standing in the way of scientific advancement. the way forward will require a reworking at the foundations of Biology so that it more resembles the image below. (1)


this image will probably invoke quite a few responses. (all appropriate, IMO)

the construction of a meta-observer will no doubt be tricky, as it will be hard to avoid drawing self-recursive arrows into infinity. like the "all seeing eye" of mythology, one is tempted to declare that "science is only just now coming around to what the 'ancients' have known since the dawn of time". i am never fond of that argument, but it may in fact be true.

for the sake of being overly-wordy, and to encourage discussion, i will let the images speak for themselves. in closing, the final image depicts a theoretical "biological time", apart from "clock time", showing a hint of what "reworking at the foundations of Biology" might look like.

...the usual physical (linear) representation of time is insufficient, in our view, for understanding key phenomena of life, such as rhythms, both physical (circadian, seasonal) and properly biological (heart beating, respiration, metabolic). In particular, the role of biological rhythms do not seem to have any counterpart in mathematical formalization of physical clocks. (2)

it is worth mentioning, for the skeptics, that the following THREAD (with a very unfortunate title) gives a concrete example of how nonlinear analytical techniques have already produced significant findings.
(1) - Durrive, Barthélemy (2012): Scientific progress specific to biology: An epistemological overview. In Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 110 (1), pp. 17–23.
(2) - Bailly, Francis; Longo, Giuseppe; Montevil, Mael (2011): A 2-dimensional geometry for biological time. In Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 106 (3), pp. 474–484.

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 05:08 PM

Originally posted by tgidkp

Biologists have been fighting the notion of "vitalism" since the days of Descartes and Newton.

Do you suppose we will have to hold them down and shove the truth down their throats, once and for all?

The Irish blood in me likes that idea...

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 05:30 PM
reply to post by tgidkp

Nice write up. I agree that 'lifeforce' or the 'spark of life' cannot be accounted for by physicalism (for now anyways). But, in my opinion, it isn't yet easy to determine if it is an epiphenomena of biology or something completely intangible or otherworldly. We must at least consider that we have yet to discover anything intangible or incorporeal about the human organism, and that most of what was once unknown about it was considered to be intangible, but this soon proved to be false. That's not to say it isn't a possibility, but so far all signs point to no in that regard.

We must also ask why this 'lifeforce' is only visible (from our perspective at least) on this planet and only in these conditions. Is it because of the earths physical location from the sun, its structure, its elements, its conditions? Or did life magically apear? I would wager it would be the former, but we cannot yet rule anything out.

I am not skeptical of vitalism, but once that 'life force' can be circumscribed, I believe it will proven to be physical or at least an epiphenomena of the physical. We must admit that there is something there beneath the concept of a 'soul,' and that it is something we have missed or overlooked. It's possible we will never know in our lifetime.

Great topic. Some things here to consider.

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 06:03 PM
reply to post by BlueMule

Originally posted by BlueMule
..... shove the truth down their throats....

as always, it is my hope that the data will speak for itself.

some people may be inclined to say, "that's what we're doing!". but it is clear to me, and to the authors cited, that the models currently in use in biology have very little resemblance to what is actually going on.

no shoving down throats: that makes us as bad as them.

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 06:09 PM
reply to post by tgidkp

Aw, shucks. OK, no shoving then.

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 06:28 PM
reply to post by LesMisanthrope

i agree that whatever forms this "new science" might take, it will ultimately need to be accounted for by physics. but the time has come for biology to stake its own claim, much like quantum mechanics did in the last century. it may create temporarily irreconcilable models (re: relativity vs. QM) be it. i have a hunch, however, that both physics and biology will find resolution via the same "theory of everything". you can see it, already, in the fringes of both disciplines.

regarding that which is "not visible", i dont really see this as a hurdle. physics has been making use of 'invisible' spaces, for modeling purposes, for decades now. granted, this approach has not (yet) been embraced in biology. but the final "biological time" image shows how modeling a well known phenomenon in an imaginary space yields whole new avenues of potential investigation. and whatever space the "EYE" in my diagram occupies, it is almost certainly an invisible one.

my begrudging tone is intentional. i am tired of letting the physicists be in charge. they are creatively stifled. physicists afford themselves theoretical conveniences that no others are allowed. they are very bossy.

posted on Dec, 27 2012 @ 09:58 PM
reply to post by tgidkp

I agree here. I have a slight disdain for most of the sciences myself. But I agree biology does have a chance here to fill in some of physics' blanks. I mean physics can only go so far with such a limited perspective before it must fill in the blanks with mathematics and other contrived systems.

I do appreciate the tone. I feel the same way except I don't think I quite know enough to refute the arguments of physics, nor do I really care to know. But you seem to have quite a decent grasp of what you're talking about.

But I personally hold a Nietzschean of view the sciences: physics is an interpretation, and not an explanation—sadly, much like religion. That's all it can every be. Although it does have more application.

Really I'm just thinking out loud here and not adding much. But I agree with you.

posted on Dec, 28 2012 @ 06:07 PM
some relevant humor from douglas hofstadter:

....and M.C.Escher:

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