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Discovering Complexity : Decomposition and Localization as Strategies in Scientific Research - William Bechtel

Discovering Complexity

Decomposition and Localization as Strategies in Scientific Research


Published: 6th August 2010
For Ages: 18+ years old
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In "Discovering Complexity, " William Bechtel and Robert Richardson examine two heuristics that guided the development of mechanistic models in the life sciences: decomposition and localization. Drawing on historical cases from disciplines including cell biology, cognitive neuroscience, and genetics, they identify a number of "choice points" that life scientists confront in developing mechanistic explanations and show how different choices result in divergent explanatory models. Describing decomposition as the attempt to differentiate functional and structural components of a system and localization as the assignment of responsibility for specific functions to specific structures, Bechtel and Richardson examine the usefulness of these heuristics as well as their fallibility--the sometimes false assumption underlying them that nature is significantly decomposable and hierarchically organized. When "Discovering Complexity" was originally published in 1993, few philosophers of science perceived the centrality of seeking mechanisms to explain phenomena in biology, relying instead on the model of nomological explanation advanced by the logical positivists (a model Bechtel and Richardson found to be utterly inapplicable to the examples from the life sciences in their study). Since then, mechanism and mechanistic explanation have become widely discussed. In a substantive new introduction to this MIT Press edition of their book, Bechtel and Richardson examine both philosophical and scientific developments in research on mechanistic models since 1993.

"In Discovering Complexity, Bechtel and Richardson sketched a blueprint for a post-reductive philosophy of science grounded in historical examples and focused on major heuristics and biases in the search for mechanisms. Many of the ideas in this book are as fresh today as they were when the book was first published; others have become the widely accepted background in the new mechanistic philosophy of science." Carl F. Craver, Washington University in St. Louis, author of Explaining the Brain "The first edition of Discovering Complexity pioneered what has come to be called 'the new mechanistic philosophy,' with original analyses of mechanistic explanation and the heuristics for discovering mechanisms in genetics, cell biology, and neuroscience. Having it back in print is a real service to philosophers and scientists investigating biological mechanisms, as well as critics of this approach. The new introduction is well worth reading on its own for an overview of the book's arguments, as well as summaries of the authors' more recent work on dynamic mechanistic explanations, discovery heuristics, emergence in systems biology, and circadian rhythms." Lindley Darden, University of Maryland, College Park "The original edition of Discovering Complexity was a landmark in the philosophy of science, with path-breaking accounts of explanation, mechanism, and the development of biological knowledge. This reissue is highly welcome, especially with the excellent new introduction that contains insightful updates about mechanisms, discovery, localization, emergence, and other crucial aspects of science." Paul Thagard, University of Waterloo, author of The Brain and the Meaning of Life "This classic of mechanistic analysis and explanation has been out of print for some years. It is reissued with a substantive new review of the explosion of interest in mechanistic explanation in philosophy of science and the crucial interpenetration of scientific and philosophical interests it represents. I welcome its return in even better form. MIT has done the profession a major service by reissuing this book. It should be required reading in any philosophy of science curriculum." William C. Wimsatt, Peter M. Ritzma Professor of Philosophy, The University of Chicago

Preface to the MIT Press Editionp. xi
Preface to the Original Editionp. xiii
Introduction: Discovering Complexity-Further Perspectivesp. xvii
The Appearance of a New Mechanistic Philosophy of Sciencep. xvi
Discovery Heuristics: Conceptual and Experimentalp. xx
Decomposition and Localizationp. xxviii
Recomposing and Situating Mechanismsp. xxxvii
Model Systems, Conserved Mechanisms, and Generalizationp. xl
Rethinking Emergencep. xliv
Conclusionp. xlvii
Scientific Discovery and Rationality
Cognitive Strategies and Scientific Discoveryp. 3
Rationalizing Scientific Discoveryp. 3
Procedural Rationalityp. 11
Complex Systems and Mechanistic Explanationsp. 17
Mechanistic Explanationp. 17
Decomposition and Localizationp. 23
Hierarchy and Organizationp. 27
Conclusion: Failure of Localizationp. 31
Emerging Mechanisms
Introductionp. 35
Identifying the Locus of Controlp. 39
Introduction: Identifying System and Contextp. 39
External Control: The Environment as a Controlp. 41
Internal Control: The System as a Controlp. 47
Fixing on a Locus of Control: the Cell in Respirationp. 51
Conclusion: Localization of Functionp. 59
Direct Localizationp. 63
Introduction: Relocating Controlp. 63
Phrenology and Cerebral Localizationp. 65
Competing Models of Cellular Respirationp. 72
Conclusion: Direct Localization and Competing Mechanismsp. 88
The Rejection of Mechanismp. 93
Introduction: Mechanism and Its Opponentsp. 93
Flourens and the Integrity of the Nervous Systemp. 95
The Vitalist Opposition to Mechanistic Physiologyp. 99
Conclusion: Setting for Descriptionsp. 113
Elaborating Mechanisms
Introductionp. 119
Complex Localizationp. 125
Introduction: Constraints on Localizationp. 125
Top-Down Constraintsp. 128
Bottom-Up Constraintsp. 138
Conclusion: The Rise and Decline of Decomposabilityp. 145
Integrated Mechanismsp. 149
Introduction: Replacing a Direct Localizationp. 149
Direct Localization of Fermentation in Zymasep. 153
A Complex Linear Model of Fermentationp. 156
An Integrated System Responsible for Fermentationp. 163
Conclusion: The Discovery of Integrationp. 168
Reconstituting the Phenomenap. 173
Introduction: Biochemical Geneticsp. 173
Classical Geneticsp. 175
Developmental Geneticsp. 181
One Gene/One Enzymep. 188
Conclusion: Reconstituting the Phenomenap. 192
Emergent Mechanism
Introductionp. 199
"Emergent" Phenomena in Interconnected Networksp. 202
Introduction: Dispensing with Modulesp. 202
Hierarchical Control: Hughlings Jackson's Analysis of the Nervous Systemsp. 203
Parallel Distributed Processing and Cognitionp. 210
Distributed Mechanisms for Genomic Regulationp. 223
Conclusion: Mechanistic Explanations without Functional Decomposition and Localizationp. 227
Constructing Causal Explanationsp. 230
Decomposition and Localization in Perspectivep. 230
Four Constraints on Developmentp. 234
Conclusion: Looking Forwardp. 243
Notesp. 245
Referencesp. 257
Indexp. 281
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780262514736
ISBN-10: 0262514737
Series: The MIT Press
Audience: Professional
For Ages: 18+ years old
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 340
Published: 6th August 2010
Publisher: MIT Press Ltd
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.2  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.48