Sara Green will be leading the session, which will be based on the draft of a paper on organizing principles in biology, written with the systems biologist Olaf Wolkenhauer. Sara would like to discuss this paper, as she thought it would be better to discuss something that it is still in progress and not yet submitted, and that can therefore still be revised according to the comments at the meeting. Sara hopes that the topic of the paper is of general interest for particpants and that any linguistic mistakes are not too confusing (neither of the authors are native English speakers).
Here is the abstract for the paper:
The identification of organizing principles underlying observations of biological systems is an important aim of systems biology but the philosophical and scientific implications of this strategy are not yet well understood. At first sight, the search for general principles seems at odds with the widely accepted view that explanations in biology are descriptions of mechanisms, and that biological phenomena are too context-dependent to be described by law-like principles. However, we shall argue that the explanatory ideal of organizing principles is different and complementary to formulating fine-grained mechanisms. Organizing principles explain how a class of systems works “in principle” and thereby function as a conceptual and methodological framework for research across levels, systems and disciplines. We argue that there is no conflict between the complexity of biological systems and organizing principles. On the contrary, it is complexity that forces systems biologists to pursue this strategy. The ideal of organizing principles stems from early systems sciences where it was formulated to meet the challenges of overspecialization in science. We explore the potential of these early approaches and argue that looking back not only helps us understand the current practice but also points to possible future directions for systems biology.
The article can be obtained by emailing Jim Lowe at jwel201 [at] ex.ac.uk – as it is a work in progress please do not disseminate further without Dr. Green’s express permission.
For further information about this session or BIG in general, please contact Sabina Leonelli at S.Leonelli [at] exeter.ac.uk