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Q: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question... ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question...
Category: Science
Asked by: zombyw00f-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 10 Oct 2002 23:20 PDT
Expires: 09 Nov 2002 22:20 PST
Question ID: 75186
I'm having trouble getting started with this essay question for my
Philosophy of Biology class.  I'm looking for a push in the right
direction, please!

"Philosophers have shown that it is impossible to provide a fully
satisfactory definition of 'gene'.  Since the sciences should deal
only with exact concepts, it follows that talk of genes in
contemporary biology ought to be dropped."  Is this argument
Subject: Re: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question...
Answered By: hailstorm-ga on 11 Oct 2002 00:36 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Being a more analytical person, my first instinct was to challenge the
assumptions made in the question regarding what philsophers are
alleged to have shown, and what science should be. However, since this
is a Philosophy class, let us assume the facts are true as given, and
ask if the arguement is still valid.

All that is left for science to learn is, of course, unknown. If
science simply rested on the information that was already known, the
body of scientific knowledge would remain the same forever, and
science would be meaningless. So to advance, science must combine
known information with new observations, to create new known knowledge
to build upon.

Now let's move on to genes. A fully satisfactory definition is
impossible, but we do know some things about them. For example, it is
known that is known genes determine a person's characteristics, from
hair color to the number of fingers on your hand, and much more.

We know many things about genes, many important things. We don't know
everything, and indeed we may never be able to satisfactorily define
them. But science is not an all or nothing game. Indeed, we have shown
that the fundamental purpose of science is to take partial knowledge
and extend it further. So my counterargument is that it is *because*
there is no satisfactory definition of genes that they should continue
to be a source of study in contemporary biology.

For more information that may lead you to other trains of thought,

What is Science?:

What is a Gene?:

What is Philosophy?:

Google search terms used:
"what is science?"
"what is a gene?"
"what is philosophy?"

Request for Answer Clarification by zombyw00f-ga on 11 Oct 2002 05:20 PDT
I was hoping for a more detailed analysis of my question for the $10
listing fee.  Could you please provide more links and a more in-depth
discussion of your opinions?  Thanks.

Clarification of Answer by hailstorm-ga on 11 Oct 2002 05:32 PDT

Your question specifically mentioned that you wanted a "push in the
right direction", not a full detailed answer. This was why I provided
the answer the way I did, to give you a start in the creation of your
essay answer. Are you actually requesting a full analysis of a certain

Request for Answer Clarification by zombyw00f-ga on 11 Oct 2002 08:13 PDT
Not of a certain length, no.  And I am certainly not asking you to
write my essay.  But I would like you to discuss the topic in academic
detail, so that I may use *your* essay as reference.  Thanks.

Request for Answer Clarification by zombyw00f-ga on 11 Oct 2002 12:19 PDT
p.s. Sorry for not being clear as to what I was looking for in my original question.

Clarification of Answer by hailstorm-ga on 11 Oct 2002 16:32 PDT

For the purposes of this philisophical discussion, the specifics of
what is known and not known about genes is not important, so long as
it is agreed that, while there is much that is known about genes, it
is still not a subject that is known with 100% certainity. The heart
of this question is the role of science, and whether or not it should
be used in discussing a nonexact concept. So I will elaborate on
science and the scientific method a little bit more.

First, an expansion on what science is and how it is used in making
new discoveries. All academically acceptable science employs the
modern scientific method, a process by which scientists collectively
endeavor to construct an accurate, non-arbitrary representation of the
world. This process if broken down into four steps: observation of a
phenomenon, creating a hypothesis as to the reasons behind it,
controlled experimentation based on previously proven knowledge to
either prove or disprove the hypothesis that can be readily duplicated
by other researchers, and drawing conclusions based on the result of
experimentation. The importance of the scientific method is twofold.
First, it builds only upon well-known, documented knowledge. You are
not allowed to use unproven information to prove other things, because
if the original assumption that the unproven information is correct is
disproved, then every other discovery built upon the unproven
information can longer be assumed to be true as well. This confirms
that science should only be built upon exact concepts, things that
scientists have clearly identified and agreed upon. But the other
importance of the scientific method is that it allows scientists to
confidently work with nonexact concepts, by using hypothesis to
predict how a new situation would be resolved based on previous
knowledge, and experimentation to confirm or disprove the hypothesis,
either of which results in new, proven information about an unknown

I believe the one word that makes this question difficult to handle is
the word "deal". The scope of this word in our question is not clearly
defined, so upon reading one attempts to apply it universally to all
aspects of science. Based on an examination of the scientic method, we
now understand that science deals with both exact concepts and
nonexact concepts, but "deals" with them differently. Exact concepts ,
like the reflective properties of a microscope or a particular
chromosone known to cause Downs Syndrome, are used as the basis of
determining what we observe, initial hypothetical explanations, and
the types of experimentations that can prove or disprove the
hypothesis. Unexact concepts, the body of everything else we want to
know, serve as the inspriation for expanding our body of known
knowledge, and continue to guide scientists to an ever more exact
representation of our world.

For more information on the evolution and history of the scientific
method and its use in biology, see "scientific method" at

For a timeline on how the scientific method has expanded our base of
genetic knowledge for over 400 years, see "The Gene Factor - Genetics
- A Time Line" at

For a more detailed analysis of the scientific method, see
"Introduction to the scientific method" at

For the definition of the word "deal", see the entry at

Google search terms used:
scientific method
history of the scientific method
how were genes first discovered
online dictionary
zombyw00f-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you.

Subject: Re: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question...
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Oct 2002 00:47 PDT
It is my belief that a truly complete definition of anything is not
humanly possible. To define a thing in total precision requires a kind
of omniscience that mankind will never achieve.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson expressed this thought beautifully:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
Subject: Re: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question...
From: suntzu4m-ga on 11 Oct 2002 13:39 PDT
The point of the philosophy question goes to the heart of the current
debate in biology about the number of genes in the human genome.  The
human genome project as reported by Celera claims about 38,000
"genes."  This is based on a computer algorithm analysis of the
sequences of 6 people (I think that it is 6).  There is no direct
scientific evidence that this number is correct.  Actually, lab data
suggests a much higher number of transcribed sequences.  Recent work
on the 22nd chromosome showed that there were hundreds if not
thousands of transcripts that bound to the 22nd chromosome over and
above the predicted number based on the Celera / HGP model.  Work in
my lab suggests about 120,000 transcripts in any given cell type.  The
key word here is "transcripts" or mature mRNA molecules.  Since these
are the work horses of the genome, is it correct to view each mRNA as
a "gene" or the original code in the DNA as the "gene?"

Further, alternate splicing of pre-mRNA can result in many "isoforms"
of the same gene.  For example in mice there are 50 different splicing
varients of the mRNA for Calcium ion channel protein in the brain. 
The particular gene expressed corresponded to the age of the mouse. 
So is this one gene or 50 genes?

I hope that helps.
Subject: Re: Help with Philosophy of Biology essay question...
From: yelsdrab-ga on 03 Nov 2002 22:56 PST
Defining a gene _can_ be simple:
A gene is a sequence of DNA that, when decoded by an enzyme eventually
results in a protein.  That's a highly simplified definition of a gene
on a biological level.  I, therefore, reject the premise that a gene
cannot be satisfactorily defined.  But a definition can be translated
and perceived in many different ways.  So, a satisfactory definition
for one person, may not be satisfactory for another.  Perhaps, as
mentioned above, a truly omniscient definition of something is
impossible because of our inability to simultaneously understand what
a "satisfactory definition" means to everyone.

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