Models and Analogues in Biology

By Society for Experimental Biology | Go to book overview

THE PROBLEM OF COMMUNICATION IN BIOLOGICAL TEACHING
By W. T. WILLIAMS Department of Botany, The University, Southampton
INTRODUCTION
For too long the analysis of teaching methods has been in the hands of the denizens of those restless sanctuaries, the University Departments and Institutes of Education. But teaching is a characteristic activity of all the higher forms of animal life, and a proper subject for study by this Society; and if I can maintain my contention that all teaching involves the use of models, it is still more a proper subject for inclusion in this Symposium. Models can be both badly chosen and incorrectly applied; I believe that we are failing into both of these traps, and that our teaching is suffering in consequence.
FIRST-ORDER MODELS
I begin with two propositions:
1. Teaching is the communication of information.
2. Information can only be communicated by means of propositions.
Propositions consist of words, but words alone cannot convey information; this, I believe, is the flaw in Suzanne Langer's stimulating work ( 1942) on the origins of language. There are, admittedly, one-word propositions; an interjection is sometimes a one-word verbal shorthand for a proposition such as 'I am experiencing pain', and is understood as such. Or the existence of an appropriate context may cause the hearer to embed a single word in a proposition of his own with little risk of ambiguity. If you and I are walking through a jungle, and I turn and say 'tigers', you will probably embed this in a suitable proposition and take appropriate action. But if I turn and say 'government' the context will supply no clue, and the word convey no information.What then is the nature of propositions? Here we may turn to Wittgenstein ('Tractatus', Sect. 4):
(4.01) The proposition is a model of the reality as we think it is.
(4.02) The proposition only asserts something, in so far as it is a picture.
(4.032) The proposition is a picture of its state of affairs, only in so far as it is logically articulated.

Later (in 4.12) Wittgenstein points out that propositions must have a logical form in common with the reality which they represent. This logical form is mirrored in the words, but has its own independent life. For, just as a

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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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