You are here
Séminaire doctoral Philsci - séance exceptionnelle - Flavia Fabris
Flavia Fabris - The Philosophical Impact of Cybernetics on Waddington’s Epigenetics
Résumé : The presentation analyses Conrad Hal Waddington’s systemic and antireductionist approach to biology, and explains its development in the period between the 1930s and 1950s. It will be shown that: (i) much of Waddington’s work on epigenetics was deeply influenced by a process ontology of living systems; (ii) Waddington’s process philosophy offered a new rationale for evolutionary biology, distinctly different from the one proposed by the architects of the Modern Synthesis; (iii) and lead the foundation for the systems approach. This is a well-worked territory for historians and philosophers of biology, but the presentation will challenge relevant aspects of the received view. Drawing from the first-hand study of papers, books, and correspondence letters from the Waddington’s archive housed in Edinburgh, the research establishes a link between Waddington’s reasoning and Whitehead’s organicism, and argues that it was mainly Waddington’s cybernetic reasoning –rather than organicism–, to lead the foundation for his novel scientific approach. Waddington’s theory of developmental systems was initially entrenched in the general cybernetic framework of communication and control. Waddington took the work of Ashby Ross and colleagues beyond their familiar boundaries, toward a cybernetics of biological development, that he called epigenetics. Building upon Whitehead and Thompson’s cybernetic works, and then on Ross’ feedback-control concept, Waddington adumbrated, and then fully presented, the process of genetic assimilation. It will be shown that this link is fundamental to understand the conceptual dimensions of Waddington’s processual epigenetics and to clarify what contributions it made to contemporary theoretical biology.