Models and Analogues in Biology

By Society for Experimental Biology | Go to book overview

PHYSICAL MODELS IN BIOLOGY

By J. W. L. BEAMENT Agricultural Research Council Unit of Insect Physiology; Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge


INTRODUCTION

According to those elementary text-books which are the usual reference sources of biologists, physics is the science of measurement from which it might follow that bio-physics is the science of measuring the properties of life. Measurement is indeed a starting point in all physical experimenting but the core of physics is the formulation from measurement of relationships: the relationships between matter and energy. The eventual aim of the science is the reduction, or analysis, of formulated relationships into the terms of a number of statements or propositions which we call the 'laws' of physics and which we have come to regard as fundamental properties of the materials and energies comprising our universe. When a biologist looks at a text-book of physics and considers these 'laws'--the behaviour of heat or light or electricity in relation to matter and the exact way in which energy is transduced from one form to another--he cannot but be greatly impressed by their simplicity. The behaviours of physical systems are expressed by simple mathematical relationships: linear, integer geometric and first-order exponential equations. What he is inclined to overlook is that these expressions represent the behaviour of simple systems composed of very few inter-related variables. We must however distinguish very carefully between these statements of physical systems and 'theoretical' relationships, for it is supposed that matter and energy obey these 'laws' implicitly and exactly. It may be that these relationships are virtually undemonstratable in the exactness of their simplicity in practice, because all natural systems are systems of many inter-related variables--complex systems--and the great success of physics (some may say, the art of physics) is its ability to dissect complex systems, to control or to discount for all other variables in a practical system of complexity, while assessing a particular relationship between a small number of variables in it.

Although examples do not prove generalizations, it is expedient to remove apparent superficial objection to the general statement that the properties of matter and energy obey simple mathematical laws. Thus the original crude optical experiments led to the formulation of a simple equation representing the refraction of light by a spherical lens:

If one takes a real thick lens and a beam of white light, the image is complex and one might suggest that the simple law does not hold. But if one considers

-83-

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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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