Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

There are two kinds of explanation (3)

Here, then, is the point. What distinguishes the language of biology from that of physics is its free and full use of the because of reason. Where the inanimate world lends itself in some regards to application of a "deadened", skeletal language — a language that perhaps too easily invites us to think in terms of mechanisms — the organism requires us to recognize a full and rich drama of meaning.

And so when we ask whether a protein has folded correctly, we’re not suggesting it may have rashly disregarded the laws of physics. Its respect for the syntax of a physical law is not the issue we’re addressing. We want to know something much more plastic — more plastic in the way that meaning is more plastic than a rigid grammar or mathematical formula. That is, we want to know whether the folding is consistent with — serves the needs of and is harmonious with — the coherence and the active, self-expressing identity we recognize in the surrounding context. It’s a context and an identity whose qualities and intents differ greatly from a snake to a lion, from a German shepherd to a golden retriever, or from a lung to a kidney. Likewise, when we inquire into the communication between cells, we are not merely curious about the physical impact of molecular projectiles fired from one cell to another; we are trying to clarify a context of meaning. The one cell is saying something to the other, not just pushing against it.

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