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Thread: What is Biology anyway?

  1. #1 What is Biology anyway? 
    The Doctor Quantime's Avatar
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    I've always been really good at Biology and grasping it, even to the extent it rivals m Physics knowledge. But I have never understood, what it REALLY is and what it really is about? Could anyone please clear things up please? I'd like to have an answer that doesn't say: It's about life, or about organic materials etc. Thanks.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    whether you want it or not, it is still the study of life.


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    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    sorry svwillmer, like spurious said, that's what it really means. It's a hugely broad field and the only uniting factor for every possible discipline is that they all involve living things. Maybe if you have questions about a more specific field?
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    To repeat the last two responses in a slightly different way:
    Bio = βίος = life
    Logos = λόγος = speech, or word
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    To repeat the last two responses in a slightly different way:
    Bio = βίος = life
    Logos = λόγος = speech, or word
    I was going to do that, you beat me to it.
    "There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition." -Jorge Luis Borges
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    Beyond the obvious 'study of life', there's a question in science if biology and other science 'ologies' aren't simply'dressed up' packaged views of chemistry and physics. As Carl Sagan once put it, these sciences are man trying to make sense of the physical properties of matter and energy. There is not really an organic chemistry that differs from chemistry. The subatomic particles, energy forces, etc. are the same regardless of an atom or molecule being in an organism or not. Biology, the study of life, is a perception we've created to explain certain manifestations of matter and energy. Dawkins picks up on Sagan's view in some of his writings. What it comes down to is that any label we put on matter and energy and their relationship is an artificial one to facilitate our understanding.
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    That's a really interesting point, Jelly. I'm going to have to remember that one.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    Yeah thats the thing, I've always thought of Biology as an applied science, I cant understand people who think they love Biology whereas at the same time claiming the dislike chemistry/physics.
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  10. #9  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jellyologist
    Beyond the obvious 'study of life', there's a question in science if biology and other science 'ologies' aren't simply'dressed up' packaged views of chemistry and physics. As Carl Sagan once put it, these sciences are man trying to make sense of the physical properties of matter and energy. There is not really an organic chemistry that differs from chemistry. The subatomic particles, energy forces, etc. are the same regardless of an atom or molecule being in an organism or not. Biology, the study of life, is a perception we've created to explain certain manifestations of matter and energy. Dawkins picks up on Sagan's view in some of his writings. What it comes down to is that any label we put on matter and energy and their relationship is an artificial one to facilitate our understanding.
    Luckily you can't explain biology with physics, chemistry, math, or whatever science.

    That's because it is unique.

    Life doesn't follow the normal rules. It made its own rules.

    And if you don't believe me I challenge you to describe the theory of evolution in chemical terms and avoid all biological references.

    It's impossible.

    Usually the idea that biology is just physics or chemistry comes from physicists and chemists. They fail to see the main principle of biology, because they are not biologists, not trained to be biologist, not trained to study life.

    Reductionism doesn't fly in biology. It's popular of course, because reductionism has the great image of being proper science. But after a period of applying reductionism to a biological topic some biologist(s) steps forwards and simply states: there is more to it then this.

    Because the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Biology works on levels. Higher levels have different characteristics than lower levels. Sometimes the higher level has completely opposite characteristics than the lower level.

    This reminds me now of the free will debate. It's very popular on the internet. People grasp back to quantum mechanics and the like to prove that free will is possible.

    And totally lose perspective while doing it.

    There is one structure that determines our actions. That is our brain in combination with our sensory perception. The biological reality of the brain is that it constricts action. It is not designed for freedom of thought. In fact it's rather a specific structure allowing specific thoughts. It is also designed to 'deceive' the owner. Because it just works better like that for daily life.

    It also has given the owner an ego. The notion of being special, of being capable of understanding. Which is not the same as actual understanding, or actually being special.

    This structure does not allow for free will. No quantum mechanics principle will ever change that. The structure of the brain overrides the characteristics of all lower levels.

    I'm sure you could take neurons and design something that could come closer to free will if you had the actual smarts to be able to do that. But it sure will not be a human brain.

    And these simple principles are typical of biology, very hard to understand for the non-biologists, or even the biologists, and even more difficult to apply consistently.

    Another example is evolution.

    It's an extremely simple process. But to apply it consistently and properly to all aspects of life that are affected by it, is extremely difficult. Even for trained people. Our brains just love to fuck with us.

    In fact, biology is the most difficult of all scientific disciplines. Because it looks easy, but is terribly difficult to apply in a consistent manner.
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    Nevertheless, a reductionist approach assists in a holistic appreciation of emergent properties. Your own researc is an excellent example of this. 8)
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    nah.

    I now have a paper accepted where I show the big picture without even giving half the details.

    will give you a link when it is out.

    The big picture is more important than the components.

    Darwin managed to formulate the correct theory on evolution without even knowing anything on the mechanisms of heredity.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbie
    Yeah thats the thing, I've always thought of Biology as an applied science, I cant understand people who think they love Biology whereas at the same time claiming the dislike chemistry/physics.
    Throughout my education, I've met people who love chemistry, but hate physics, love physics but hate chemistry, hate everything, or love everything. It simply depends how a person likes to view the world. I can't understand how someone could possibly get down on someone for claiming they love something, but hate something else. Having an understanding of chemistry and physics is important, they are the building blocks of biology, but understanding doesn't need or necessarilly should equate to love or passion.

    Also if biology is an applied science, everything is an applied science, everything was developed by humans in attempts to understand the universe. Nothing in the realm of science or mathematics is innate.

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  14. #13  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    no. you can be an excellent biologists without knowing any chemistry or physics.

    it's reductionist propaganda.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    no. you can be an excellent biologists without knowing any chemistry or physics.
    .
    Yes, but not if you are wishing to study the growth of olofactory axons in the brain.
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    yes, but that would be boring. :P

    Actually for the paper I mentioned we had lots of molecular data. In the later versions we all kicked most of it out to be replaced by simple histology and words.

    The molecules/reductionism didn't matter for the message of this article.

    In fact, they were holding it back.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbie
    Yeah thats the thing, I've always thought of Biology as an applied science, I cant understand people who think they love Biology whereas at the same time claiming the dislike chemistry/physics.
    So true.

    Unfortunately many science keeners are turned off of fascinating pursuits because of 'math'. Put some equations on a chemistry or physics page and they turn green...but not because they aren't smart individuals but because their math experience has been a tortuous nightmare out of the Inquisition. The way math is taught from high scool onwards is to turn off and reach as few children as possible. Kids who love to read about astronomy, play with chemistry sets, collect rocks and so on are shuffled aside by post-algebraic math that has all the appeal of a dead stick. Later in life how many people are ever inspired to go to the library and take out math books for the enjoyment of it?
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  18. #17  
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    Obviously neither of you is a biologist.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    Obviously neither of you is a biologist.
    But they are biological. All of our forum members are biodegradable. It is a condition of membership.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by spuriousmonkey
    Obviously neither of you is a biologist.
    But they are biological. All of our forum members are biodegradable. It is a condition of mebership.


    We're biological & chemical. I have to remember the biodegradable part...except for those of us who ate foods with too many preservatives :wink:

    Actually it proves the point. Our organic self breaks down via the properties of matter and energy no different than any other animate or inanimate object.
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    I think I ride the fence on this one. I think it's obvious that biological systems are simply a level of organization of matter. However, they represent a unique and wonderfully (at least I think so) complex form of organization that more than warrants its own field of study, and really does require a different mode of thinking than when you're dealing with more elementary levels of organization. As a biologist I definitely enjoy biology more than chemistry or physics, but it really is because of that complexity, because it really awes and fascinates me that wrapped up within a single organism are all the workings of chemistry and physics, harnessed and working in harmony towards the goal of reproductive success. I appreciate chemistry, most certainly. I just find it less interesting in and of itself.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    I think I ride the fence on this one. I think it's obvious that biological systems are simply a level of organization of matter. However, they represent a unique and wonderfully (at least I think so) complex form of organization that more than warrants its own field of study, and really does require a different mode of thinking than when you're dealing with more elementary levels of organization. As a biologist I definitely enjoy biology more than chemistry or physics, but it really is because of that complexity, because it really awes and fascinates me that wrapped up within a single organism are all the workings of chemistry and physics, harnessed and working in harmony towards the goal of reproductive success. I appreciate chemistry, most certainly. I just find it less interesting in and of itself.
    Well put. I'm the same with geology. It's often trying to understand the complexities of forces at work. The fact we're ultimately trying to unravel what is basically matter and energy doesn't make it less fascinating but more so. The actual chemistry of a diamond, hunk of coal or a limestone mountain isn't all that different. Each, however, is more interesting than a carbon atom to me. I understand, however, how a physicist would then say 'WAIT!'...nothing is more amazing than the forces and particles within an actual atom . The more we understand of a science discipline, the more fascinating it becomes. I find chemistry a bit dry but probably wouldn't if I had ever studied it beyond first year.
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    I was reading a chapter on evo-devo during lunch in the book "tinkering: the microevolution of development" and stumbled on a relevant paragraph to this discussion.

    The developmental geneticist Adam Wilkins states on page 71:

    Biologists are quite rightly suspicious of logical propositions as explanatory guides to the properties of living things. Two centuries of biological science, since the early 1800s, have revealed the endless capacity of living things to surprise us with their properties
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jellyologist
    So true.

    Unfortunately many science keeners are turned off of fascinating pursuits because of 'math'. Put some equations on a chemistry or physics page and they turn green...but not because they aren't smart individuals but because their math experience has been a tortuous nightmare out of the Inquisition. The way math is taught from high scool onwards is to turn off and reach as few children as possible. Kids who love to read about astronomy, play with chemistry sets, collect rocks and so on are shuffled aside by post-algebraic math that has all the appeal of a dead stick. Later in life how many people are ever inspired to go to the library and take out math books for the enjoyment of it?
    Perhaps it is unintended, and perhaps I am overly zealous in my interpretation, but I seem to detect some level of grossly unfounded intellectual arrogance here. My own mathematical ability is certainly not lacking (according, at least, to examination results), and yet I find physics and chemistry, both subjects of which I have a decent understanding, to be arduously tedious in comparison to Biology. I can assure you also that one can be "smart" even if this is not the case! Many highly intellectual persons (either Biologists or otherwise) may have modest mathematical cognition.

    Biology is its own, utterly unique, I think beautiful, field of study. It is separated intrinsically from the other branches of science, decidedly so in fact. Of course everything housed within the universe is governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, but try explaining evolution to me using those, and see how far it gets you!
    Knowledge of evolution may not be strictly useful in everyday commerce. You can live some sort of life and die without ever hearing the name of Darwin. But if, before you die, you want to understand why you lived in the first place, Darwinism is the one subject that you must study.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adamd164
    Quote Originally Posted by Jellyologist
    So true.

    Unfortunately many science keeners are turned off of fascinating pursuits because of 'math'. Put some equations on a chemistry or physics page and they turn green...but not because they aren't smart individuals but because their math experience has been a tortuous nightmare out of the Inquisition. The way math is taught from high scool onwards is to turn off and reach as few children as possible. Kids who love to read about astronomy, play with chemistry sets, collect rocks and so on are shuffled aside by post-algebraic math that has all the appeal of a dead stick. Later in life how many people are ever inspired to go to the library and take out math books for the enjoyment of it?
    Perhaps it is unintended, and perhaps I am overly zealous in my interpretation, but I seem to detect some level of grossly unfounded intellectual arrogance here. My own mathematical ability is certainly not lacking (according, at least, to examination results), and yet I find physics and chemistry (the 'applied mathematics', as it were) to be arduously tedious in comparison to Biology. I can assure you also that one can be "smart" even if this is not the case! Many highly intellectual persons (either Biologists or otherwise, may have modest mathematical cognition).

    Biology is its own, utterly unique, I think beautiful, field of study. It is separated intrinsically from the other branches of science, decidedly so in fact. Of course everything housed within the universe is governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, but try explaining evolution to me using those, and see how far it gets you!
    I think you mistake jelly's meaning in that quote of his/hers. Jelly was saying that smart people often get turned off by math because it's not taught well. Not that people who don't get math are stupid.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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  26. #25  
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    I think you mistake jelly's meaning in that quote of his/hers. Jelly was saying that smart people often get turned off by math because it's not taught well. Not that people who don't get math are stupid.
    Hmm, well what he/she seemed to be saying was that these people are turned off by maths, even though they're not stupid, as if we should expect them to be because of this fact alone.

    I've read it again and this is all I can take from it.
    Knowledge of evolution may not be strictly useful in everyday commerce. You can live some sort of life and die without ever hearing the name of Darwin. But if, before you die, you want to understand why you lived in the first place, Darwinism is the one subject that you must study.

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