Relational biology

In science, relational biology is the study of life in terms of the organization of entailment relations in living systems, where life is defined by a relational closure that places life structures or entities, supposedly, beyond the reach of physicochemical and mechanistic dogma, outside the reductionistic universe, and into the realm of impredicativity. [1] Relational biology, in short, is a holistic non-reductionism interpretation of biology.

The term “relational biology” was coined by Russian-born American theoretical biologist Nicolas Rashevsky in 1954 following several decades of work in attempting to describe biological phenomenon in purely physical terms.

Rashevsky's research efforts in these years, beginning in the 1920s, were centered around the question of whether or not biological phenomenon, in particular cellular division, is a phenomenon that can be reduced to pure physics, in particular pure thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, among other subjects such as bifurcation theory. Into following two or three decades, Rashevsky focused on establishing the material basis of basic biological phenomena and developed a type of systematic mathematical biology. In 1950, however, a turning point occurred in Rashevsky’s thinking, when he had begun to become uneasy about the basic question ‘what is life?’ after which, following some reflection, he concluded the purely reductionist approach would never work. His turning point comment on this matter was:

“As we have seen, a direct application of the physical principles used in the mathematical models of biological phenomena, for the purpose of building a theory of life is not likely to be fruitful. We must look for a principle which connects the different physical phenomena involve and expresses the biological unity of the organism and of the organic world as a whole.”

The new principle that Rashevsky searched for was termed “relational biology” a term coined by Rashevsky in 1954. In 1959, American theoretical biologist Robert Rosen completed a PhD in relational biology, under Rashevsky at the University of Chicago. A recent promoter of the relational biology approach includes American physiologist Donald Mikulecky.

1. Louie, Aloisius Ho-Yin. (2009). More Than Life Itself: A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology (abs). Onto Verlag.
2. Rosen, Robert. (1991). Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life (relational biology, pg. 109). Columbia University Press.

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