Organism, Machine, Process. Towards a Process Ontology for Organismic Dynamics

Spyridon A. Koutroufinis

Abstract


The creation of a process ontology for biology is one of the most ambitious and important projects of current philosophy of biology. Process ontology is usually seen as opposing mechanistic ontology which currently dominates biology. However, the terms ‘process’ and ‘mechanistic’ are not always clearly defined in current debates. In this paper I provide a new definition of ‘mechanism’ and ‘mechanistic ontology’ based on the most abstract definition of ‘machine’—von Foerster’s ‘non-trivial machine’ that is related to Turing machine. I argue that the main methods of modeling used in systems biology rest upon the implicit assumption that organisms abide by the non-trivial or Turing machine logic. By showing that organisms and machines obey two incompatible logics of causality I demonstrate the limits of this assumption. The paper concludes by introducing an organism-centered concept of process and arguing that Whitehead’s process metaphysics offers a way of understanding organisms as exemplifications of a specific category of process.

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