Culturing Science – biology as relevant to us earthly beings

Quote of the Day, Pt. II

From Carl Woese’s 2004 piece, “A New Biology for a New Century:”

A heavy price was paid for molecular biology’s obsession with metaphysical reductionism. It stripped the organism from its environment; separated it from its history, from the evolutionary flow; and shredded it into parts to the extent that a sense of the whole—the whole cell, the whole multicellular organism, the biosphere—was effectively gone. Darwin saw biology as a “tangled bank,” with all its aspects interconnected. Our task now is to resynthesize biology; put the organism back into its environment; connect it again to its evolutionary past; and let us feel that complex flow that is organism, evolution, and environment united. The time has come for biology to enter the nonlinear world.

More on this article to come in the next week.

This is essentially the reason I feared molecular biology for most of my life.  I felt like it removed organisms from their place in the web and analyzed their parts separately, with no connection to how they all worked together except on a very small scale.  The purpose of this mechanistic reduction seemed to be a way to apply nature to help ourselves, instead of getting the big picture of things, an understanding of the world, the patterns that make up life.  The former I saw as selfish, and the latter dignified and learned (or something like that).

Working in molecular biology, I’m learning that things aren’t so black and white.  Most molecular biologists are interested in these larger-picture, nearly philosophical questions, but are searching for their answers on the small-scale (looking for miniature models of larger truths).  Or, on the other hand, they are interested in curing cancer or other diseases.  As a Jewish cynic, I clearly hate my own species so see this as a waste of time — but I really shouldn’t blame scientists for wanting to help other people.

Or they are just looking for a way to spend their time, and there are a lot of jobs in science.

I would recommend reading the whole piece if you have an interest in reflecting upon the development of science in the 20th century.  Or if you’re a human living in the 21st century.  For real real.

Written by Hanner

March 6, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Reflection

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