Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Physicists vs Biologists

I've been noticing a bit of a recurring theme in science and this book, whereby a notion initiated by a biologist has either had to be then proven and explained by a physcisist, or has been blown out of the water by physicists. I give two example.
1) the chapter focus question - the biologists are going out of their minds, wondering how they could possibly make any useful predictions of the nanoworld, when that same world is full of complete randomness. Here steps in the physicist going, "no worries, if we know the collective activity, we can make predictions about the collective movement......the individuals by themselves aren't necessary here"

2) Though the biologists got a step up on the physicists with Robert Brown discovering the phenomena of brownian motion, it was Einstein who solved the problem and who slaved over the equating of Avogadro's number.

Obviously I don't mean to be entirely paying out the biologists right now, but it is true that a lot of the things we known in biology have been influenced largely by biologists like Einstein, who decided that solving a biologists problem (or possibly shaming the biologist) was more important than finishing his own thesis

1 comment:

  1. I don't think Einstein had it in mind to shame anybody.

    A lot of this comes down to Occam's razor. The razor says that if you can explain many facts with one theory, this is preferable to having several mutually disjoint theories.

    The idea that living things had "vital force" fell before the razor when it became clear that you could explain living matter using the principles that also applied to the rest of chemistry.

    Nelson suggests vitalism died with Einstein's brownian theory; I have previously heard that it died with the first total synthesis of urea by Wöller (there is a JCE article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ed041p452). Previously, it was not thought that you could synthesize biological chemicals because the starting reactants did not have "vital force".