In this series of videos Johannas Jaeger gives us some very interesting things to consider. He considers proteins to be pleomorphic assemblies not molecular machines.
Jaeger doesn’t believe in, nor feel the need to propose any extrinsic form of vitalism, but he does accept what Denis Walsh called methodological vitalism. If organisms are purposeful then it is an intrinsic purposefulness.
If we are to gain a meaningful understanding of the organism the machine metaphor will in no way suffice. Life is self-sustaining at all levels. The symbol of the caduceus is apt at so many levels, from the double helix of DNA to the movement of the solar system as it travels around the galaxy. Here is a link to a gif of the motion of the planets relative to the sun. Our hearts take on their form by the layers of muscle being laid down in a helical manner as the blood spirals onward.
The late Gerald D.BuckbergMD, professor and pioneer in cardiac surgery had this to say:
Knowledge develops through analysis, differentiation, or taking things apart. Wisdom evolves by synthesis, integration, or by putting things together, to see with the eyes of the mind.
These steps are not very helpful unless we undertake one other action, which is wholeness: to bring together diversities, to have complementary activity. I believe that we, as cardiac surgeons, are particularly fortunate because we can learn, we can understand, and we can act on the part of our patients.
There are many very intelligent people who consider dynamic processes to be more fundamental than physical matter.
D’Arcy Thompson studied living forms and their morphogenesis and did a lot of work on various animals and plants, comparing forms and applying mathematical rules to determine how one form changes into another.
From the book, “On Growth and Form”, he wrote:
The fir-cone may be looked upon as a cylindrical axis contracted at both ends, until it becomes approximately an ellipsoidal solid of revolution, generated about the long axis of the ellipse; and the semi-ellipsoidal capitulum of the teasel, the more or less hemispherical one of the thistle, and the flattened but still convex one of the sunflower, are all beautiful and successive deformations of what is typically a long, conical, and all but cylindrical stem. On the other hand, every stem as it grows out into its long cylindrical shape is but a deformation of the little spheroidal or ellipsoidal or conical surface which was its forerunner in the bud.
I would say that plant growth is expressed in varying degrees between point-wise radial forces and plane-wise peripheral forces.
To learn about the construction and growth and working of the organism he believes that the physical sciences are our only guide, but in, “On Growth and Form”, he wrote:
Matter as such produces nothing, changes nothing, does nothing; and however convenient it may afterwards be to abbreviate our nomenclature and our descriptions, we must most carefully realise in the outset that the spermatozoon, the nucleus, the chromosomes or the germ-plasm can never act as matter alone, but only as seats of energy and as centres of force.
Life does not so much consist of matter but of processes of dynamic transformations. As the human genome project demonstrated, obtaining the sequences of DNA reveals very little about life. Understanding comes only with the grasp of the movements, transformations and interactions of living forms. And this is just as true whether it is populations of organisms or intracellular molecular complexes.
Life need not and does not break any of the rules of chemistry or physics.
Goethe could see and experience the reality of dynamic, living, nature. The living world should not be thought of as a production line, manufacturing organisms as objects of nature.
In ‘Pluto’s Republic’, Peter Medawar wrote:
When scientific research is studied on the hoof, so to speak, we find that very few theories are utterly discredited in the style of which (for example) Thomas Henry Huxley demolished Goethe’s and Oken’s Vertebral Theory of the skull.
Medawar had made the mistake of attributing to Goethe the same understanding of the archetype as Owen and Oken. But Goethe’s idea of the archetype should not be thought of in the same way. His archetype is not a physical, ancestral form available to be apprehended by the senses. His archetype was an all inclusive dynamic process that does not reside within any one specific manifestation.
This piece makes clear Huxley’s view:
Huxley highlighted that method in his 1858 Croonian lecture, “On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull,” in which he rejected a theory proposed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Lorenz Oken in Germany and by Richard Owen in England that the bones of the skull and of spine in vertebrates were serial homologous.
But Goethe did not consider their relationship to be as such. For Goethe a vertebra is as much a transformed skull bone as the bone is a transformed vertebra. It is not that one has developed from the other but that they both express the archetype in their individual way. He could compare them both and picture the reciprocal transformations in his mind’s eye.
He did not examine their static form, but he could see the movement in how they took on their various shapes.
In one of Jaeger’s videos he quotes Dan Nicholson:
Living forms are the expression of a perpetual stream of matter and energy which passes the organism and at the same time constitutes it.
Perhaps he meant something like, “passes through the organism”.
Anyway John Dupré & Daniel J. Nicholson had this to say:
When considering a particular organism, there is a general tendency to privilege or prioritise the adult stage of its life cycle (for instance, in the context of taxonomic discussions), as this is the period during which the organism most closely resembles a thing by virtue of its relative stability. But we should not forget that the organism encompasses the entire life cycle; indeed, it is the life cycle itself that constitutes the organism. Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to speak of an egg developing into a frog, as the egg is really a temporal part of the developmental trajectory that is the frog.
Nicholson continues his argument here:
It is quite remarkable to observe that, despite the enormous empirical advances that have been made since 1962, our basic theoretical picture of the cell has remained essentially unchanged (see, e.g., Bray, 2009; Danchin, 2009). The standard view nowadays is that the cell coordinates its functions by virtue of a ‘genetic program’ encoded in the DNA that directs and controls the expression of a specific set of RNAs and proteins, which assemble deterministically into stable ‘molecular machines’ that reliably and efficiently execute predetermined operations according to the mechanisms of cell division, endocytosis, signal transduction, etc. Machine analogies and metaphorical references to ‘locks’, ‘keys’, ‘gates’, ‘pumps’, ‘motors’, and ‘engines’ continue to pervade the technical literature (e.g. Piccolino, 2000; Frank, 2011), as does talk of the ‘machinery’ (e.g. Goodsell, 2009) and ‘circuitry’ (e.g. Alon, 2007) that underlies the cellular organization. The machine conception of the cell (MCC) itself is seldom explicitly defended; it has become so engrained in our minds that we simply take it for granted…
As a result, critical reviews have begun to appear that explicitly challenge the reductionistic and deterministic presuppositions of mechanicism and question the coherence of the familiar clockwork image of the cell. Notable examples include Kirschner et al. (2000), Astumian (2001), Woese (2004), Cornish-Bowden (2006), Longo and Tendero (2007), Karsenti (2008), Huang (2009), Mayer et al. (2009), Kupiec (2010), Moore (2012), Bizzarri et al. (2013), Talbott (2013), Heams (2014), Longo and Montévil (2014), Soto and Sonnenschein (2018), and a series of articles by Kurakin (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010). Drawing and building on this burgeoning body of literature, the aim of this paper is to establish the inadequacy of the MCC. From a theoretical perspective, the MCC offers a poor and rather misleading representation of biological reality—or so I will argue.
Rivers flow inexorably downwards, life flows inexorably upwards.