Synthetic fictions: turning imagined biological systems into concrete ones

Synthese 198 (9):8233-8250 (2020)
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The recent discussion of fictional models has focused on imagination, implicitly considering fictions as something nonconcrete. We present two cases from synthetic biology that can be viewed as concrete fictions. Both minimal cells and alternative genetic systems are modal in nature: they, as well as their abstract cousins, can be used to study unactualized possibilia. We approach these synthetic constructs through Vaihinger’s notion of a semi-fiction and Goodman’s notion of semifactuality. Our study highlights the relative existence of such concrete fictions. Before their realizations neither minimal cells nor alternative genetic systems were any well-defined objects, and the subsequent experimental work has given more content to these originally schematic imaginings. But it is as yet unclear whether individual members of these heterogeneous groups of somewhat functional synthetic constructs will eventually turn out to be fully realizable, remain only partially realizable, or prove outright impossible.
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Archival date: 2021-11-03
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