adaptation: An attribute of an organism that appears to be of value for something, generally its survival or reproduction. The purposive, or seemingly purposive, nature of adaptations can be thought of in terms of teleology or teleonomy (q.v.)
atom: In the philosophy of atomism (q.v.), the eternal, invariant, impenetrably hard, homogeneous, ultimate unit of matter. In chemistry, the smallest unit or part of an element that can take part in a chemical reaction. In modern physics, a complex structure of activity, with a central nucleus orbited by electrons. Nuclei and their constituent particles are in turn complex structures of activity.
atomism: The doctrine that all things are composed of ultimate, indivisible atoms of matter endowed with motion. These ultimate particles are the enduring basis of all reality. In the modem form of this philosophy, atoms have been superceded by fundamental subatomic particles.
attractor: A term used in modem dynamics to denote a limit towards which trajectories of change within a dynamical system move. Attractors generally lie within basins of attraction. Attractors and basins of attraction are essential features of the mathematical models of morphogenetic fields due to René Thom.
chromosomes: Microscopic, threadlike structures found in the nuclei of living cells, and also in cells without nuclei such as bacteria. They are made up of DNA and protein and contain chains of genes.
dialectical materialism: A form of materialism that sees matter not as something static, on which change and development have to be imposed, but as containing within its own nature those tensions or "contradictions" that provide the motive force for change.
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, a molecule consisting of a large number of chemical units called nucleotides attached together in single file to form along strand. Usually two such strands are linked together parallel to each other and coiled into a helix. DNA is the material of genetic inheritance, but in higher organisms only a small proportion of the DNA appears to be in genes. DNA contains four kinds of nucleotide, and the sequence of the nucleotides is the basis of the genetic code. DNA strands pass on their structure to copies of themselves in the process of replication, and the genetic code of genes can be "translated" into the sequences of amino acids which are joined together in chains to form proteins. Protein synthesis takes place on the basis of strands of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which serve as templates. These are "transcribed" from the DNA of genes.
dominance: In genetics, a dominant gene is one that brings about the same phenotypic (q.v.) effects whether it is present in a single dose along with a specified allele (q.v.), or in a double dose. The allele that is ineffective in the presence of the dominant gene is said to be recessive.
energy: In general, the capacity or power to produce an effect. In the technical sense of physics, energy is the property of a system that is a measure of its capacity for doing work. Work is technically defined as what is done when a force moves its point of application. Energy can be potential or kinetic, and it comes in a variety of forms: electrical, thermal, chemical, nuclear, radiant, and mechanical.
entelechy: In Aristotelian philosophy, the principle of life, identified with the soul or psyche. The entelechy is both the formal or formative cause and the final cause, or end, of a living body; thus there is always an internalized purpose in life. In the vitalism (q.v.) of Hans Driesch, entelechy is the non-material vital principle, a directive, teleological causal factor which brings about harmonious developmental, behavioural, and mental processes (cf. genetic program and morphic field).
epigenetic inheritance: A form of inheritance in which non-genetic factors cause genes to be expressed differently, without a change in the actual genes themselves. Such changes can be passed on through cell divisions and from one generation to another.
evolution: Literally, a process of unrolling or opening out. In biology, originally applied to the development of individual plants and animals, which according to the doctrine of preformation depended on the unrolling or unfolding of pre-existing parts. Only in the 1830s was this word first applied to the historical transmutation of organisms; by the 1860s and 1870s it had come to refer to a general process of transmutation, which was generally assumed to be directional or progressive. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection enabled this process to be thought of as blind and purposeless, and this interpretation is central to neo-Darwinism (q.v.), the dominant orthodoxy in modem biology. A variety of other evolutionary philosophies postulate an inherently creative principle in matter or in life; and some see in the evolutionary process the manifestation of a directional or purposive principle. According to modem cosmology, the entire universe is an evolutionary system.
field: A region of physical influence. Fields interrelate and interconnect matter and energy within their realm of influence. Fields are not a form of matter; rather, matter is energy bound within fields. In current physics, several kinds of fundamental field are recognized: the gravitational and electro-magnetic fields and the matter fields of quantum physics. The hypothesis of formative causation broadens the concept of physical fields to include morphic fields as well as the known fields of physics.
form: The shape, configuration, or structure of something as distinguished from its material. In the Platonic tradition, the term Form is used to translate the Greek term eidos and is interchangeable with the term Idea. Particular things we experience in the world participate in their eternal Forms, which transcend space and time. By contrast, in the Aristotelian tradition, the forms of things are immanent in the things themselves. From the nominalist point of view, forms have no objective reality independent of our own minds.
formative causation, hypothesis of: The hypothesis that organisms or morphic units (q.v.) at all levels of complexity are organized by morphic fields, which are themselves influenced and stabilized by morphic resonance(q.v.) from all previous similar morphic units.
gene: A unit of the material of inheritance. Genes consist of DNA and are situated in chromosomes; an individual gene is a short length of chromosome that influences a particular character or set of characters of an organism in a particular way. Alternative forms of the same gene are called alleles. The unit of the gene is defined in different ways for different purposes: for molecular biologists it is usually regarded as a cistron, a length of DNA that codes for a chain of amino acids in a protein. For neo-Darwinism, the gene is the unit of selection, and evolution is the change of gene frequencies in populations.
genetic program: A program is a plan of intended proceedings, as in a concert or computer program. The concept of the genetic program implies that organisms inherit plans of intended proceedings; these plans are assumed to be carried in the genes. The genetic program is the principal metaphor through which conceptions of purposive activity and of formative causes are introduced into modem biology (cf. entelechy).
genotype: The genetic constitution of an organism (cf. phenotype).
gestalt: A German term roughly meaning form, configuration, shape, or essence. The term is used to refer to unified wholes, complete structures or totalities which cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts.
habit: A bodily or mental disposition; a settled tendency to appear or behave in a certain way, generally acquired by frequent repetition; a settled practice, custom, or usage. The word habit also means dress or attire, as in a monk's habit. In biology, it is used to refer to the characteristic mode of growth or appearance of a plant or animal; and crystallographers refer to the habits of crystals, meaning the characteristic forms they assume. On the hypothesis of formative causation, the nature of morphic units at all levels of complexity tends to become increasingly habitual through repetition, owing to morphic resonance.
heredity: The transmission of characters from ancestors to their descendents. Originally understood in a broad sense that included the inheritance of acquired characteristics and habits of life; restricted in modern biology to mean the inheritance of genes (see Mendelian inheritance, neo-Darwinism). According to the hypothesis of formative causation, heredity includes genetic inheritance, epigenetic inheritance and the inheritance of morphic fields by morphic resonance.
holon: A whole that can also be part of a larger whole. Holons are organized in multi-levelled nested hierarchies or holarchies. This term, due to Arthur Koestler, is equivalent in meaning to morphic unit (q.v.).
information: To inform literally means to put into form or shape. Information is now generally taken to be the source of form or order in the world; information is informative and plays the role of a formative cause, as for example in the concept of "genetic information."
information theory: A branch of cybernetics (q.v.) that attempts to define the amount of information required to control a process of given complexity. Information in this narrow technical sense is measured in bits. A bit is the amount of information required to specify one of two alternatives, for example to distinguish between 1 and 0 in the binary notation used in computers.
Lamarckian inheritance: The inheritance of acquired characteristics. Until the late nineteenth century, it was generally believed that characteristics acquired by organisms in response to the conditions of life or as a result of their own habits could be inherited by their descendents, and both Lamarck and Darwin shared this general opinion. The possibility of this type of inheritance was denied on theoretical grounds by twentieth-century genetics (cf. Mendelian inheritance), but is now admitted in the form of epigenetic inheritance.
matter: That which has traditionally been contrasted with form or with mind. In the philosophy of materialism, matter is the substance and basis of all reality, and is usually conceived of in the spirit of atomism. In Newtonian physics, matter, distinguished by mass and extension, was contrasted with energy. According to relativity theory, mass and energy are mutually transformable, and material systems are now regarded as forms of energy.
mechanics: In its broad, traditional sense, the body of practical and theoretical knowledge concerned with the invention and construction of machines, the explanation of their operation, and the calculation of their efficiency. In physics, the study of the behaviour of matter under the action of force. In the present century, Newtonian mechanics has been substantially modified by relativity theory and has been replaced by quantum mechanics as a method of interpreting physical phenomena occurring on a very small scale.
mechanistic theory: The theory that all physical phenomena can be ex-plained mechanically (see mechanics), without reference to goals or purposive designs (cf. teleology). The central metaphor is the machine. In the seventeenth century, the universe was conceived of as a vast machine, designed, made, and set running by God and governed by his eternal laws. By the late nineteenth century, it was commonly regarded as an eternal machine that was slowly running down. In biology, the mechanistic theory states that living organisms are nothing but inanimate machines or mechanical systems: all the phenomena of life can in principle be understood in terms of mechanical models and can ultimately be explained in terms of physics and chemistry.
meme: A term coined by Richard Dawkins, who defines it as "a unit of cultural inheritance, hypothesized as analogous to the particulate gene and as naturally selected by virtue of its 'phenotypic' consequences on its own survival and replication in the cultural environment."
memory: The capacity for remembering, recalling, recollecting, or recognizing. From the mechanistic point of view, animal and human memory depend on material memory traces within the nervous system. From the point of view of the hypothesis of formative causation, memory in its various forms, both conscious and unconscious, is due to morphic resonance.
Mendelian inheritance: Inheritance by means of pairs of discrete hereditary factors, now identified with genes. One member of each pair comes from each parent. The genes may blend in their effects on the body, but they do not themselves blend and are passed on intact to future generations.
mind: In Cartesian dualism, the conscious thinking mind is distinct from the material body; the mind is non-material. Materialists derive the mind from the physical activity of the brain. Depth psychologists point out that the conscious mind is associated with a much broader or deeper mental system, the unconscious mind. In the view of Jung, the unconscious mind is not merely individual but collective. On the hypothesis of formative causation, mental activity, conscious and unconscious, takes place within and through mental fields, which like other kinds of morphic fields contain a kind of in-built memory.
molecule: A chemical unit. The smallest amount of a chemical substance that is capable of independent existence. Each kind of molecule has a characteristic atomic composition, a specific structure, and specific physical and chemical properties.
morphic field: A field within and around a morphic unit which organizes its characteristic structure and pattern of activity. Morphic fields underlie the form and behaviour of holons or morphic units at all levels of complexity. The term morphic field includes morphogenetic, behavioural, social, cultural, and mental fields. Morphic fields are shaped and stabilized by morphic resonance from previous similar morphic units, which were under the influence of fields of the same kind. They consequently contain a kind of cumulative memory and tend to become increasingly habitual.
morphic resonance: The influence of previous structures of activity on subsequent similar structures of activity organized by morphic fields. Through morphic resonance, formative causal influences pass through or across both space and time, and these influences are assumed not to fall off with distance in space or time, but they come only from the past. The greater the degree of similarity, the greater the influence of morphic resonance. In general, morphic units closely resemble themselves in the past and are subject to self-resonance from their own past states.
morphic unit: A unit of form or organization, such as an atom, molecule, crystal, cell, plant, animal, pattern of instinctive behaviour, social group, element of culture, ecosystem, planet, planetary system, or galaxy. Morphic units are organized in nested hierarchies of units within units: a crystal, for example, contains molecules, which contain atoms, which contain electrons and nuclei, which contain nuclear particles, which contain quarks.
morphogenetic fields: Fields that play a causal role in morphogenesis. This term, first proposed in the 1920s, is now widely used by developmental biologists, but the nature of morphogenetic fields has remained obscure. On the hypothesis of formative causation, they are regarded as morphic fields stabilized by morphic resonance.
mutation: A sudden change. Mutations are observed in the phenotypes of organisms, and can generally be traced to changes in the genetic material. The term mutation is now generally taken to mean a random change in a gene.
nature: Traditionally personified as Mother Nature. The creative and controlling power operating in the physical world, and the immediate cause of all phenomena within it. Or the inherent and inseparable combination of qualities essentially pertaining to anything and giving it its fundamental character. Or the inherent power or impulse by which the activity of living organisms is directed or controlled. From the conventional point of view of science, nature is made up of matter, fields, and energy and is governed by the laws of nature, usually thought to be eternal.
neo-Darwinism: The modem version of the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection. It differs from Darwin's theory in that it denies the possibility of Lamarckian inheritance (q.v.); heredity is explained in terms of genes passed on by Mendelian inheritance (q.v.). Genes mutate at random, and the proportions of alternative versions of genes, or alleles, within a population are influenced by natural selection. In its most extreme form, neo-Darwinism reduces evolution to changes of gene frequencies in populations.
organicism: A form of holism according to which the world consists of organisms (or holons or morphic units, q.v.) at all levels of complexity. Organisms are wholes made up of parts, which are themselves organisms, and so on; they are organized in nested hierarchies. The parts of organisms can be understood only in relation to their activities and functions in the on going whole. Organisms in this sense include atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organs, plants and animals, societies, cultures, ecosystems, planets, planetary systems, and galaxies. In this spirit, the entire cosmos can be regarded as an organism rather than a machine (cf. mechanistic theory).
paradigm:An example or pattern. In the sense of T. S. Kuhn (1970), scientific paradigms are general ways of seeing the world shared by members of a scientific community, and they provide models of acceptable ways in which problems can be solved.
physicalism: A modem form of materialism. The doctrine that all scientific propositions can in principle be expressed in the terminology of the physical sciences, including propositions about mental activity.
Platonism: The philosophical tradition that, following Plato, postulates the existence of an autonomous realm of Ideas or Forms or essences existing outside space and time and independently of manifestations of them in the phenomenal world.
protein: A complex organic molecule composed of many amino acids linked together in chains, called polypeptide chains. The sequence of amino acids is specified by the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA of genes. There maybe one or more such chains in a protein, and the chains are folded up into characteristic three-dimensional configurations. Proteins are found in all living organisms, and there are many different kinds of protein molecule. Many proteins are enzymes, the catalysts of biochemical reactions; others play a variety of structural and other roles.
preformation: The theory (now known to be false) that the entire diversity of structure of adult organisms pre-exists in the fertilized egg. Embryonic development supposedly consisted merely of the manifestation of this preformed structure as it enlarged and unfolded, or "evolved" (cf. epigenesis).
reductionism: The doctrine that more complex phenomena can be reduced to less complex ones (cf. holism). In philosophy, the theory that human behaviour can ultimately be reduced to the behaviour of inanimate matter governed by the laws of nature. In biology, the belief that all the phenomena of life can ultimately be understood in terms of chemistry and physics. Closely associated with the mechanistic theory, materialism, and atomism (q.v.).
regulation: In embryology, the normal development of an embryo, or part of an embryo, in spite of the disturbance of its structure in some way, as by removing some of it, adding to it, or rearranging it. For example, half of a young sea-urchin embryo will develop into a small but normally proportioned larva and eventually into a normal sea urchin.
systems theory: A form of holism concerned with the organization and properties of "systems" at all levels of complexity. Much of the early inspiration for this approach came from an attempt to establish parallels between physiological systems in biology and social systems in the social sciences. The systems approach has been deeply influenced by cybernetics (q.v.). The central metaphor in much systems thinking is the self-regulating machine.
teleonomy: The science of adaptation. "In effect, teleonomy is teleology made respectable by Darwin" (Dawkins, 1982). The apparently purposive structures, functions, and behaviour of organisms are regarded as evolutionary adaptations established by natural selection.
vitalism: The doctrine that living organisms are truly vital or alive, as opposed to the mechanistic theory that they are inanimate and mechanical. Living organization depends on purposive vital factors, such as entelechy (q.v.), which are not reducible to the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. Vitalism is a less far-reaching form of holism than organicism (q.v.), in so far as it accepts the mechanistic assumption that the systems studied by physicists and chemists are inanimate and essentially mechanical.