The History of Life: Aristotle – Underlying philosophy

Plato’s pupil, and later Alexander the Great’s tutor, Aristotle was born in Stagira in Macedonia in 384 BCE (died 322 BCE), and is sometimes known as the “Stagirite” in older writings. His activity was mostly in Athens, where he studied with Plato, and where he set up a school after Plato’s death, where he and Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 3 – The Four Elements

The Four Elements (Empedocles) Empedocles (ca. 495–435 BCE), who lived in Sicily, was influenced both by the Pythagoreans and Parmenides (in his poem “On Nature”) and proposed what came to be called the “four elements” theory to explain why there was change if the universe was monistic. It was just recombination of eternal and unchanging elements (he called Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 2 – The Eleatics and the atomists

I will be passing over many philosophers, such as Heraclitus (“everything flows”) only because they said nothing of great influence directly on biology. As we shall see when we finally get to the modern era, this doesn’t mean that some philosophers like Whitehead or Teilhard didn’t draw biological conclusions from them. For perhaps the most Read More…

The History of Life: Before Aristotle 1 – the Milesians and monism

Normally in the history of philosophy the earliest Greek thinkers are referred to as “pre-Socratics”, but in biology, the first systematic thinker is Aristotle, so here we look at his predecessors. One of the issues in histories of ideas is that one can find precursors for nearly every idea you like. Back in the 1890s, Read More…

Is the brain a computer?

There is an ongoing debate over whether or not our brains are computers lately (against | for). This is an old debate, going back at least to Turing’s famous “Can Machines Think?” paper of 1950. To answer why I think that brains are not computers, contrary to my friend Jeff Shallit (second link above), let Read More…

Is Physicalism coherent?

In my last post I argued that physicalism cannot be rejected simply because people assert there are nonphysical objects which are beyond specification. Some are, however, specifiable, and one commentator has identified the obvious ones: abstract objects like the rules of chess or numbers. I have dealt with these before in my “Pizza reductionism” post, Read More…

Is physicalism an impoverished metaphysics?

Every so often, we read about some philosopher or other form of public intellectual who makes the claim that a physicalist ontology – a world view in which only things that can be described in terms of physics are said to exist – is impoverished. That is, there are things whereof science cannot know, &c. Read More…