Does biology need a new theory of explanation? An investigation into the possibility of moving past the limits of mechanistic and teleological descriptions of organisms : a thesis presented in partial fulfullment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Ecology at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
The problem of how to explain the fundamental nature of organisms for biology
commonly falls under two causal systems, mechanistic and teleological. These
systems however, fall into fundamental logical problems when put to the test. Many
biologists also claim that these systems miss the essential nature of organisms.
Historically one of the most important discussions of this problem occurs in
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment, and this work has been chosen as the basis
for an investigation of possible ways to avoid the inherent problems that occur with
mechanistic and teleological explanations in current biology. By evaluating Kant’s
claim, that organisms are not accurately describable by our standard causal
explanations, it could be assessed in light of current discoveries whether we have the
ability to develop a new causal or acausal system by which to explain organisms.
From this analysis, and in agreement with Kant’s investigations of the problems of
‘design-like’ characteristics in organisms, both causal mechanistic and teleological
explanations were found to be inapplicable for use in any comprehensive and
accurate understanding of organisms and evolution. They are recommended at best
to be considered as heuristics. Following this, an investigation of alternate methods
of explanation apparently not prone to the problems of mechanistic and teleological
causal explanations were characterised and assessed. This lead to the uncovering
the system of extremal principles, a system that claims to be acausal and seems to
have direct application to fundamental aspects of biology and evolution.
This acausal system of extremal principles can for example, be used to describe the
class of solitons. Types of solitons (biosolitons) exist in organisms and are
important aspects of processes such as morphogenesis, DNA replication, self
organization in the cytoskeleton, and locomotion to name a few. They also exhibit
the properties of the quantum wave-particle fermions. It is proposed that further
investigation of the system of extremal principles and their influence in biology
through phenomena such as biosolitons can provide the basis for the development of
a new acausal system of explanation or an extra aspect for standard causal models.
This, it is concluded, will allow a potential avenue for creating a new and logically
more consistent explanatory system in relation to fundamental aspects of the
phenomenon of evolution, organisms and the environment.