Generalization and discovery by assuming conserved mechanisms: Cross‐species research on circadian oscillators

Philosophy of Science 76 (5):762-773 (2009)
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Abstract

In many domains of biology, explanation takes the form of characterizing the mechanism responsible for a particular phenomenon in a specific biological system. How are such explanations generalized? One important strategy assumes conservation of mechanisms through evolutionary descent. But conservation is seldom complete. In the case discussed, the central mechanism for circadian rhythms in animals was first identified in Drosophila and then extended to mammals. Scientists' working assumption that the clock mechanisms would be conserved both yielded important generalizations and served as a heuristic for discovery, especially when significant differences between the insect and mammalian mechanism were identified. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Programs in Science Studies and Cognitive Science, 0119, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093‐0119; e‐mail: [email protected].

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2009-01-28

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William Bechtel
University of California, San Diego

Citations of this work

The Concept of Mechanism in Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1):152-163.
Mechanism and Biological Explanation.William Bechtel - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (4):533-557.
Mechanisms and Laws: Clarifying the Debate.Marie I. Kaiser & C. F. Craver - 2013 - In H.-K. Chao, S.-T. Chen & R. Millstein (eds.), Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 125-145.

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References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: a mechanist alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.

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