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Call For Papers

Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Biology

Deadline: May 15, 2006


Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Biology




George Terzis, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy

Saint Louis University

3800 Lindell Blvd.

St. Louis, MO 63108

(314) 977-3163



Robert Arp, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy

Southwest Minnesota State University

1501 State Street

Marshall, MN 56258

(507) 532-7281



Call for Papers.  We have been asked by Ashgate Publishing to edit their Ashgate Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Biology.  Our approach to this project will emphasize the importance of information-theoretic considerations as well as more familiar philosophical and scientific ones.  Our rationale for this approach is that, although central to the biological sciences, the idea of information has received little attention from philosophers of biology.  To address this omission, we seek papers on topics that employ this approach to advance understanding of topic-related philosophical problems and controversies.  Although we have included a broad list of possible topics (see below), we are willing to consider others provided that they also reflect the collection’s overall approach.  Interested authors should include an abstract of the paper they propose for the collection (not to exceed 500 words), together with a copy of their cv.  Abstracts should be submitted by May 15, 2006, and authors whose contributions are accepted will be informed by June 15, 2006.  The deadline for accepted papers is February 1, 2007.  Submit relevant materials to: terzisgn@slu.edu; arpr@southwestmsu.edu.

Objectives of the Companion.  Information pervades biological processes at all levels of organization.  Familiar examples of these processes include how organisms utilize free energy, how DNA codes for protein synthesis, how genes regulate morphological development, and even how ensembles of nerve cells coordinate their activity in a way that enables some organisms to be aware of their environment.  But although pervasive, the contribution that
information-related ideas make to our understanding of these processes is not yet well understood.  Indeed, only recently have researchers begun to explore their deeper theoretical significance.  Of course, an understanding of these processes also depends on a variety of more traditional biological and non-biological scientific considerations.  But the combining of these considerations with information-related ones will almost certainly add greater accuracy and depth to our grasp of such processes.

A similar point may be made about our understanding of the traditional philosophical issues and controversies associated with the previously noted biological processes.  For example, since organisms use information to construct, maintain, and replicate themselves, it would also seem natural to include information-related ideas in our attempt to understand the general nature of living systems, the causality by means of which they operate, their capacity to generate prolific bio-diversity, whether or not they could exist and evolve in non-biological matter, and how in some species they give rise to cognition and emotion.  But, again, philosophers of biology have only begun to include information-related ideas in the repertoire of methodological considerations they use to discuss these philosophical issues.

Our approach to this volume thus seeks to correct what we believe is a long-standing neglect of those informational considerations relevant to an understanding of both the scientific and philosophical significance of a variety of basic biological processes.  To be sure, the inclusion of these considerations can only add to the controversies that already existed in their absence.  For example, how closely or remotely related to one another are the informational ideas that are employed at different levels of biological organization?  Second, although the presence of informational ideas at these levels is undeniable, their philosophical significance is another matter.  Is that significance a literal one, or is it more metaphorical and heuristic?  Finally, in order to defend a specific philosophical interpretation of these ideas, we require a more general information-theoretic perspective.  But is there one such perspective, or are there different, competing ones?  Although difficult questions, we feel that any aversion toward answering them is overridden by the fact, now nearly undeniable, that information is integral to our understanding of biological phenomena.  For this reason, these questions are as much in need of further philosophical examination as are the more familiar ones.


Audience. The collection of papers represents a broad range of disciplines, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, computer science, information theory, paleontology, philosophy, physics, psychology, and systems theory.  The papers will be written to meet the needs of advanced undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, and theoretical biology courses.  The papers are also intended to enable interested researchers to learn about the contribution that information makes to both the biological sciences and philosophy of biology.


Organization of the Text.  Section 1, which introduces readers to the nature and methodology of philosophy of biology, incorporates not only traditional scientific and philosophical considerations, but also information-theoretic ones.  Sections 2-7 then discuss a variety of increasingly complex biological topics to which this methodology can be applied.  For example, Section 2 begins with the general idea of organisms as hierarchically organized systems that use information to construct, maintain, and replicate themselves, while Sections 3 and 4 expand this idea to take into account the evolutionary character of organisms in both natural and artificial environments.  Next, Sections 5 and 6 show that this idea can also be applied to psychological concepts in humans and higher primates.  Finally, a conclusion summarizes the broader philosophical significance of the information-enhanced approach to the biological topics presented in this text.



Table of Contents


Section Titles:

Editors’ Introduction

1. Philosophy of Biology: Its Nature and Methodology

2. Organisms as Living Systems

3. Evolutionary Theory

4. Natural Versus Artificial Life

5. Cognition

6. Individual and Society

7. Conclusion


Editors’ Introduction

George Terzis and Robert Arp


1. Philosophy of Biology: Its Nature and Methodology

1.1.  Traditional Scientific and Philosophical Perspectives

1.2.  Origin and Biological Relevance of Information-Theoretic Perspectives


2. Organisms as Living Systems

2.1. Living Versus Non-Living Systems

2.2. Energy Coupling

2.3. Genetic Programming

2.4. Cell Signaling

2.5. Biological Causality as Information Transfer


3. Evolutionary Theory

3.1. Evolution of the Prokaryotic Cell

3.2. Speciation

3.3. Genetic Switches

3.4. Camouflage, Mimicry, and Aggressive Forms of Communication


4. Natural Versus Artificial Life

4.1. The Definition of Life

4.2. Self-Organizing Systems

4.3. Cellular Automata and Virtual Environments

4.4. Does Biology Matter?


5. Cognition

5.1. The Nature of Bottom-Up and Top-Down Mental Causation

5.2. Disambiguating Visual Information

5.3. Perceptual Versus Abstract Visual Information


6. Individual and Society

6.1. The Biological Basis of Personality

6.2. Imitative Learning

6.3. Linguistic Communication


7. Conclusion

7.1. Unity and Diversity of Information-Related Ideas

7.2. Information and Hierarchical Organization

7.3. Future Research

George Terzis and Robert Arp

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