Sunday, November 26, 2017

Organism and mechanism

The philosophy of biology can contribute to critical psychiatry. I came across Daniel Nicholson's PhD thesis on 'Organism and Mechanism' online.  He quotes from Francis Crick, who said that "The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is to explain all of biology in terms of physics and chemistry” (p.9) As Nicholson points out, it's often assumed, as in Jacques Monod's book Chance and Necessity, that "organisms are machines, albeit ones cobbled together by natural selection" (p.13).

However, organisms have a capacity for self-regulation. To use JS Haldane's definition of Claude Bernard's principle, "all physiological activities have as their ultimate objective the preservation of the organism's internal environment. ... [T]he continuous dynamic coordination and regulation of the internal environment ... is responsible for the distinctiveness and irreducibility of living beings" (p. 56). Organisms, unlike machines, are self-organising and self-reproducing. As Nicholson says, “No  machine  is  made  of  parts  that  are constantly  replaced  by  the  machine  itself,  yet  this  is  precisely  what  occurs  in  an organism” (p. 125). Mechanistic understanding of life should therefore be abandoned.

This fundamental difference between organisms and machines applies across the spectrum of the complexity of life, from human mind to blade of grass, to use the quote from Kant about the absurdity of hoping for a Newton of the genesis of but a blade of grass (p.33). Critical psychiatry’s challenge to the technological or mechanical paradigm (eg. see previous post) is no different from that in biology of opposing mechanicism by organicism.

1 comment:

cobweb said...

Goethe is worth reading on this topic - One beautiful book describing, explaining and adding to Goethe's way of science is 'The Wholeness of Nature, Goethe's Way of Science by Henri Bortoft, who was himself a physicist with an interest in the history of science and philosophy.