On the Incompatibility of Dynamical Biological Mechanisms and Causal Graphs

Philosophy of Science 83 (5):959-971 (2016)
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Abstract

I examine to what extent accounts of mechanisms based on formal interventionist theories of causality can adequately represent biological mechanisms with complex dynamics. Using a differential equation model for a circadian clock mechanism as an example, I first show that there exists an iterative solution that can be interpreted as a structural causal model. Thus, in principle, it is possible to integrate causal difference-making information with dynamical information. However, the differential equation model itself lacks the right modularity properties for a full integration. A formal mechanistic model will therefore have to leave out either noncausal or causal explanatory relations.

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Marcel Weber
University of Geneva

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