The Logic of Life, the Creation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and the Relation between Molecular Biology and Physics

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 13 (2):463-482 (2023)
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Abstract

In The Logic of Life, François Jacob reconstructed the history of heredity from the seventeenth century to the present, emphasizing the role of physics in the development of biology. Quantum mechanics provided questions, methods, and techniques to molecular biologists. In the 1960s, physics also provided the organizational model. Jacob worked on the creation of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, on the model of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). I argue that reflection on the relation between molecular biology and physics played a part in the making of The Logic of Life. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, Jacob focused on relations between the “genealogy” of his molecular biology work and the development of physics at scientific, institutional, and historical levels. He thus brought molecular biology to the attention of a larger public, following the history of the Institut Pasteur, whose public mission had to be reaffirmed to grant its survival. With The Logic of Life, Jacob became an influential intellectual who engaged with scholars in human sciences. He promoted his view of the development of molecular biology as a model for a possible new discipline: bioanthropology.

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