The Seven Stones

Universal laws in biology

In her provocative essay, "A clash of two cultures", Evelyn Fox Keller wonders whether the quest for universal principles is reasonable in biology:

How appropriate is it to look for all-encompassing laws to describe the properties of biological systems? By its very nature, life is both contingent and particular, each organism the product of eons of tinkering, of building on what had accumulated over the course of a particular evolutionary trajectory. Of course, the laws of physics and chemistry are crucial. But, beyond such laws, biological generalizations (with the possible exception of natural selection) may need to be provisional because of evolution, and because of the historical contingencies on which both the emergence of life and its elaboration depended.

In his briefing "Through a Mathematical Looking Glass", Benjamin Mann from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) expresses a contrasting opinion :

In DSO, we refuse to believe that biology’s descriptive complexity is mathematically intractable. Moreover, there is far more than just biology at stake. If we can develop the tools to understand systems as complex as biology, we can also apply those tools to design complex technological systems, materials, structures, and devices, and even expand our understanding to the dynamics of social networks.

Should we really give up on our search for general laws in biology?


  1. Report this comment

    IF said:

    “Should we really give up on our search for general laws in biology?”

    Yes, we should. We will, thus, save a lot of taxpayer’s money that can be used to simply do our job, that is, regular research.

  2. Report this comment

    Dinesh said:

    No, we should never give up.I am more than sure we would surely come with come concrete universal laws for Biology.Its not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”.Even today we lack some of the tools which could be used efficiently to quantitate the biological processes.In such a case, it is childish to say that we will never be able to find universal laws of biology.WE should try our best to go on, innovate and have hte dream fulfilled.

Comments are closed.