Publication 540

Varela F. J. & Maturana H. R. (1972) Mechanism and biological explanation. Philosophy of Science 39(3): 378–382. Fulltext at
Machines and Biology have been, since antiquity, closely related. From the zoological figures present in astronomical simulacra, through renaissance mechanical imitations of animals, through Decartes’ wind pipe nerves, to present day discussions on the computer and the brain, runs a continuous thread. In fact, the very name of mechanism for an attitude of inquiry throughout the history of Biology reveals this at a philosophical level ([4] and [6]). More often than not, mechanism is mentioned in opposition to vitalism, as an assertion of the validity of the objectivity principle in biology: there are no purposes in animal nature; its apparent purposefulness is similar to the purposefulness of machines. Yet, the fact that one picks machines as a set of objects comparable to living systems, deserves a closer look. What in machines makes it possible to establish such a connection?




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