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

There are no consistent causes in the organism (1)

No biologist today will deny that fundamental physical laws continue to apply without exception to organisms. But what about causes? We have just now noted that, by means of carefully designed closed systems more or less immune to contextual interference, it is possible to say one thing “causes” another, with due caveats. Well-made machines are such systems. But what happens when the biologist attempts to see the organism in the same mechanistic light, making a closed system of it?

The effort fails miserably. For in biology a changing context does not interfere with some causal truth we are trying to see; contextual transformation is itself the truth we are after. Or, you could say: in the organism as a maker of meaning, interfering is the whole point. The ongoing construction and evolution of a context, with its continually modulated causal relationships, is what the biologist is trying to recognize and do justice to. Every creature lives by virtue of the dynamic, pattern-shifting play of a governing context, which extends into an open-ended environment. The organism gives expression, at every level of its being, to the unbounded because of reason, the tapestry of meaning, the form and character I referred to earlier. It can change its proximal goal from moment to moment, thereby also changing the contextual significance of the details of its life.

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