Special Issue "Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences"

A special issue of Philosophies (ISSN 2409-9287).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2020) | Viewed by 9878

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Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Alessandro Minelli
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Biology, University of Padova, 35131 Padova, Italy
Interests: biological systematics; evolutionary developmental biology; philosophy of biology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Recent and ongoing debates in biology and still more in the philosophy of biology reveal a widespread dissatisfaction with traditional explanatory frameworks. This is, for instance, the case of Neo-Darwinism, as it has been frequently advocated that evolutionary biology should replace the traditional gene-centered perspective with an organism-centered extended evolutionary synthesis, to account, e.g., for inclusive inheritance extending beyond genes and for phenotypic variation resulting from nonrandom mutation or biased by developmental processes.

There are also problems with the current definitions or circumscriptions, often vague or controversial, of key concepts such as gene, species, and homology, and even of whole disciplinary fields within the life sciences, like developmental biology. For instance, there is no reason to restrict the latter to the study of normal, undisturbed ontogeny (e.g., from egg to adult, or in reparative regeneration); it could legitimately extend to the investigation of dysfunctional processes such as carcinogenesis, and to the production of phenotypes other than morphological ones, e.g., so-called temporal phenotypes.

To some extent, growing awareness of these conceptual issues and the contrasting views defended in their regard can be construed as marks of healthy debates in the field; however, this is also arguably a symptom of the need to revisit traditional, unchallenged partitions between the specialist disciplines within the life sciences.

It can be argued that biological disciplines and their boundaries need to be reorganized. This is already happening in evolutionary developmental biology, which is not the product of a simple addition of evolutionary biology and developmental biology, but a field articulating its own research program around a set of original core concepts such as robustness, evolvability, modularity, and innovation.

Due to their neutrality with respect to taxonomic identity, level of complexity, and nature (e.g., morphological vs. processual) of the properties on which the analysis is focused, robustness and evolvability of living systems are candidate pivotal notions for a re-organization of disciplinary fields within biology.

Prof. Alessandro Minelli
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • disciplinary boundaries in biology
  • evolutionary developmental biology
  • evolvability
  • non-adaptive developmental processes
  • robustness of living systems
  • temporal phenotypes

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences
Philosophies 2020, 5(4), 43; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040043 - 07 Dec 2020
Viewed by 762
Abstract
The general problem around which this Special Issue revolves is that the way in which science is organized into specialties can have negative consequences on the progress of knowledge [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)

Research

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Article
How Do Living Systems Create Meaning?
Philosophies 2020, 5(4), 36; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040036 - 11 Nov 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 3626
Abstract
Meaning has traditionally been regarded as a problem for philosophers and psychologists. Advances in cognitive science since the early 1960s, however, broadened discussions of meaning, or more technically, the semantics of perceptions, representations, and/or actions, into biology and computer science. Here, we review [...] Read more.
Meaning has traditionally been regarded as a problem for philosophers and psychologists. Advances in cognitive science since the early 1960s, however, broadened discussions of meaning, or more technically, the semantics of perceptions, representations, and/or actions, into biology and computer science. Here, we review the notion of “meaning” as it applies to living systems, and argue that the question of how living systems create meaning unifies the biological and cognitive sciences across both organizational and temporal scales. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)
Article
EvoDevo: An Ongoing Revolution?
Philosophies 2020, 5(4), 35; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040035 - 05 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1322
Abstract
Since its appearance, Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo) has been called an emerging research program, a new paradigm, a new interdisciplinary field, or even a revolution. Behind these formulas, there is the awareness that something is changing in biology. EvoDevo is characterized by a [...] Read more.
Since its appearance, Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo) has been called an emerging research program, a new paradigm, a new interdisciplinary field, or even a revolution. Behind these formulas, there is the awareness that something is changing in biology. EvoDevo is characterized by a variety of accounts and by an expanding theoretical framework. From an epistemological point of view, what is the relationship between EvoDevo and previous biological tradition? Is EvoDevo the carrier of a new message about how to conceive evolution and development? Furthermore, is it necessary to rethink the way we look at both of these processes? EvoDevo represents the attempt to synthesize two logics, that of evolution and that of development, and the way we conceive one affects the other. This synthesis is far from being fulfilled, but an adequate theory of development may represent a further step towards this achievement. In this article, an epistemological analysis of EvoDevo is presented, with particular attention paid to the relations to the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) and the Standard Evolutionary Synthesis (SET). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)
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Article
Multiplicity of Research Programs in the Biological Systematics: A Case for Scientific Pluralism
Philosophies 2020, 5(2), 7; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5020007 - 15 Apr 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1277
Abstract
Biological diversity (BD) explored by biological systematics is a complex yet organized natural phenomenon and can be partitioned into several aspects, defined naturally with reference to various causal factors structuring biota. These BD aspects are studied by particular research programs based on specific [...] Read more.
Biological diversity (BD) explored by biological systematics is a complex yet organized natural phenomenon and can be partitioned into several aspects, defined naturally with reference to various causal factors structuring biota. These BD aspects are studied by particular research programs based on specific taxonomic theories (TTs). They provide, in total, a framework for comprehending the structure of biological systematics and its multi-aspect relations to other fields of biology. General principles of individualizing BD aspects and construing TTs as quasi-axiomatics are briefly considered. It is stressed that each TT is characterized by a specific combination of interrelated ontological and epistemological premises most adequate to the BD aspect a TT deals with. The following contemporary research programs in systematics are recognized and characterized in brief: phenetic, rational (with several subprograms), numerical, typological (with several subprograms), biosystematic, biomorphic, phylogenetic (with several subprograms), and evo-devo. From a scientific pluralism perspective, all of these research programs, if related to naturally defined particular BD aspects, are of the same biological and scientific significance. They elaborate “locally” natural classifications that can be united by a generalized faceted classification. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)

Review

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Review
EvoDevo: Past and Future of Continuum and Process Plant Morphology
Philosophies 2020, 5(4), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040041 - 01 Dec 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 1459
Abstract
Plants and animals are both important for studies in evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo). Plant morphology as a valuable discipline of EvoDevo is set for a paradigm shift. Process thinking and the continuum approach in plant morphology allow us to perceive and interpret growing [...] Read more.
Plants and animals are both important for studies in evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo). Plant morphology as a valuable discipline of EvoDevo is set for a paradigm shift. Process thinking and the continuum approach in plant morphology allow us to perceive and interpret growing plants as combinations of developmental processes rather than as assemblages of structural units (“organs”) such as roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. These dynamic philosophical perspectives were already favored by botanists and philosophers such as Agnes Arber (1879–1960) and Rolf Sattler (*1936). The acceptance of growing plants as dynamic continua inspires EvoDevo scientists such as developmental geneticists and evolutionary biologists to move towards a more holistic understanding of plants in time and space. This review will appeal to many young scientists in the plant development research fields. It covers a wide range of relevant publications from the past to present. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)
Review
Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences: Evolving Divides and Anchor Concepts
Philosophies 2020, 5(4), 34; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5040034 - 04 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 982
Abstract
Recent and ongoing debates in biology and in the philosophy of biology reveal widespread dissatisfaction with the current definitions or circumscriptions, which are often vague or controversial, of key concepts such as the gene, individual, species, and homology, and even of whole disciplinary [...] Read more.
Recent and ongoing debates in biology and in the philosophy of biology reveal widespread dissatisfaction with the current definitions or circumscriptions, which are often vague or controversial, of key concepts such as the gene, individual, species, and homology, and even of whole disciplinary fields within the life sciences. To some extent, the long growing awareness of these conceptual issues and the contrasting views defended in their regard can be construed as a symptom of the need to revisit traditional unchallenged partitions between the specialist disciplines within the life sciences. I argue here that the current relationships between anchor disciplines (e.g., developmental biology, evolutionary biology, biology of reproduction) and nomadic concepts wandering between them is worth being explored from a reciprocal perspective, by selecting suitable anchor concepts around which disciplinary fields can flexibly move. Three examples are offered, focusing on generalized anchor concepts of generation (redefined in a way that suggests new perspectives on development and reproduction), organizational module (with a wide-ranging domain of application in comparative morphology, developmental biology, and evolutionary biology) and species as unit of representation of biological diversity (suggesting a taxonomic pluralism that must be managed with suitable adjustments of current nomenclature rules). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences)
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