Life in the Interstices: Systems Biology and Process Thought

In Spyridon A. Koutroufinis (ed.), Life and Process: Towards a New Biophilosophy. De Gruyter. pp. 157-170 (2014)
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When a group of processes achieves such closure that a set of states of affairs recurs continually, then the effect of that coherence on the world differs from what would occur in the absence of that closure. Such altered effectiveness is an attribute of the system as a whole, and would have consequences. This indicates that the network of processes, as a unit, has ontological significance. Whenever a network of processes generates continual return to a limited set of states of affairs, the system may function as a “whole”— with respect to appropriate interaction partners. The balance achieved by the processes provides the form of definiteness of a unified agent. The causal powers of such coherent aggregates are indeed just the powers of the “constituents acting in concert”. However, the components act in concert in the specific way they do only because of their inclusion in the closed set of interactions that defines the coherence. This renders the causal powers of the coherence defined by that closure non-redundant, and hence the coherence, as a unit, is ontologically significant. The form of definiteness that provides internal coherence also grounds external efficacy of the societal aggregation. The closure is a structural feature of the coherence — possibly, but not necessarily, apparent in spatial structuring. This approach can provide a unified account that includes quantum microphysics, systems biology, and the philosophy of organism ─ without reducing any of these to another.

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Joseph E. Earley
Georgetown University


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