A forthcoming symposium — “The making up of organisms: Mapping the future of biological models and theories”, which will be held 8-10 June 2006 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris — illustrates the fascinating possibilities for mobilising the history, philosophy and social studies of biology and medicine for more future-oriented studies and as a conversation partner in the theoretical development of biology and medicine. It is organised by Institut d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences et des techniques in Paris (part of the CNRS-complex) who have invited an impressive array of historians and philosophers of STM etc. to speak about the history-philosophy-biomedicine -future interface. Quote from the symposium website:

Life sciences are today in a state of theoretical deepening and renewal. In the last forty years, there has been a development of new models and interpretations of the living organism, such as the genetic programme, self-organization and biological complexity, network models, and co-constructionist approaches of organisms as products and makers of their environment, especially through a dialectical relationship. Several of these models borrow their concepts and explanations from the physical and chemical sciences (e.g. thermodynamics), information theory or cybernetics and computer theories, and rely on mathematics and the theory of probability. These borrowings contributed probably to the enrichment of biological models, but they led also to the growing heterogeneity of the theoretical tools used in the life sciences.

Are these models merely partial explanations of some aspects of the life of organisms, or are they global explanations? In any case, it is valuable to ask questions of their compatibility and their articulation. Firstly, is it possible to subsume these different models and interpretations under a limited set of general theoretical statements? Secondly, if these interpretations are actually conflicting, which ones are best suited to give a proper account of living organisms?

Some of the vivid questions raised by contemporary biological models and interpretations are: what are the limits of organisms? Is an organism contained virtually in its genes? Do self-organization and emergence explain the development and the maintenance of organisms? Are organisms made by their environment, or do they make it (e.g. through ‘niche construction’)? Are organisms open or rather closed entities with regard to their environment? The conference aims at shedding a new and forceful light on these questions, which will sketch out future theoretical and experimental investigations in the life sciences.

See further here.

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