Models and Analogues in Biology

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QUANTUM PHYSICS AND BIOLOGY†+

By NIELS BOHR Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Copenhagen


I

The significance of physical science for philosophy does not merely lie in the steady increase of our experience of inanimate matter, but above all in the opportunity of testing the foundation and scope of some of our most elementary concepts. Notwithstanding refinements of terminology due to accumulation of experimental evidence and developments of theoretical conceptions, all account of physical experience is, of course, ultimately based on common language, adapted to orientation in our surroundings and tracing of relationships between cause and effect. Indeed, Galileo's programme to base the description of physical phenomena on measurable quantities has afforded a solid foundation for the ordering of an ever larger field of experience.

In Newtonian mechanics, where the state of a system of material bodies is defined by their instantaneous positions and velocities, it proved possible, by the well-known simple principles, to derive, uniquely from the knowledge of the state of the system at a given time and of the forces acting upon the bodies, the state of the system at any other time. A description of this kind, which evidently represents an ideal form of causal relationships, expressed by the notion of determinism, was found to have still wider scope. Thus, in the account of electromagnetic phenomena, in which we have to consider a propagation of forces with finite velocities, a deterministic description could be upheld by including in the definition of the state not only the positions and velocities of the charged bodies, but also the direction and intensity of the electric and magnetic forces at every point of space at a given time.

A new epoch in physical science was inaugurated by Planck's discovery of the elementary quantum of action, which revealed a feature of wholeness inherent in atomic processes going far beyond the ancient idea of the limited divisibility of matter. Indeed, it became clear that the pictorial description of classical physical theories represents an idealization valid only for phenomena in the analysis of which all actions involved are sufficiently large to permit the neglect of the quantum. While this condition is amply fulfilled in phenomena on the ordinary scale, we meet, in experimental evidence concerning atomic particles, with regularities of a novel type, incompatible with deterministic analysis. These quantal laws are determining for the peculiar

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The author has abbreviated his recent article from "Survey of Philosophy in the Mid- Century", Firenze, 1958, to form the first portion of his paper, while the reminder he specially prepared for this Symposium.

-1-

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Models and Analogues in Biology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Quantum Physics and Biology† 1
  • Models in Genetics 6
  • Kinetic Models of Development And Heredity 13
  • Tissues in Culture and in the Body 28
  • References 40
  • Models of Muscle 41
  • References 66
  • Mechanical Models in Zoology 69
  • Conclusions 82
  • Physical Models in Biology 83
  • Estimation of Values Of Parameters of a Model to Conform With Observations 102
  • Summary 120
  • Applications of Theoretical Models to the Study of Flight- Behaviour in Locusts and Birds 122
  • References 138
  • Electrical Analogues in Biology 140
  • Computers and the Nervous System 152
  • References 168
  • Models in Cybernetics 169
  • References 190
  • Modelling of Large-Scale Nervous Activity 192
  • Conclusions 197
  • Energy Models of Motivation 199
  • Summary 212
  • The Use of Models in the Teaching Of Embryology 214
  • School Biology as An Educational Model 230
  • Conclusion 241
  • The Problem of Communication In Biological Teaching 243
  • Acknowledge Ments 248
  • A Review of the Symposium: Models and Analogues in Biology 250
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