Elena Gagliasso

The concept of "field" in biology: between tacit philosophies and experiments

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Is the analogy with the physics of electromagnetic fields a sufficient explanation for the success of the concept of "morphogenetic field" in biology? Between constitutive metaphors and experiments this concept is rooted at the crossroads of prior, ancient, thinking styles. We can observe tacit philosophical matrices from Naturphilosophie and Monadologie that guide the interpretations of the holistic finalism of embryologists in early XX Century. "Morphogenetic Field", as a theoretical term and as a research sector, dominates, unchallenged, until the emergence of molecular genetics. With DNA, the coded program replaces the processes of embryonic development. Biochemistry gives way to very different and effective research tools. But yet today the research that links contemporary eco-evolutionism with developmental genetics updates in a different key some of the instances that were present in morphogenetic fields and in their families of metaphors, like "induction", "gradients", "morphospace", "architectural constraints".


  • Morphogenetic Field
  • Vitalism
  • Reasoning Styles and Metaphysics
  • Epigenetics
  • Evo-Devo Theories


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