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The Philosophy department would be delighted if you could join us on Monday February 17th from 3:00 – 4:15 PM in Merten Hall, 1202 for a presentation by Dr. Dan Nicholson, entitled "What is Wrong with the Machine Conception of the Organism?" (abstract below).



Dr. Nicholson is a candidate in our search for a new faculty member in Philosophy of Science (a position that will begin in Fall 2020). He has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Exeter, UK, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Austria.


If you are able to attend, please feel free to let me know any comments or observations you may have about the presentation: we are particularly interested to hear about possible synergies between Dr. Nicholson's interests and those of faculty in the School of Systems Biology.


Please do also encourage any graduate students you are working with to attend, if this topic may be relevant to them: they would be most welcome.



Best wishes,


Dr Rachel Jones

Associate Professor and Department Chair, Philosophy

Program Faculty, Women and Gender Studies

George Mason University

Pronouns: she/her/hers


What is Wrong with the Machine Conception of the Organism?



Daniel J. Nicholson



The machine conception of the organism (MCO) is one of the most pervasive notions in modern biology. To mention only a few of its contemporary manifestations, in developmental biology it equates the embryo with a computer that executes a predetermined set of operations in accordance with a program encoded in its genes, in evolutionary biology it assimilates organisms with optimally-designed artefacts blindly engineered by natural selection, and in molecular biology it identifies the cell as a factory of highly specialized molecular machines. Despite its undeniable heuristic value, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the MCO offers only a partial, and rather distorted, understanding of living systems. The reason is that, some superficial similarities notwithstanding, organisms are fundamentally different from machines. In this talk, I will propose three distinct arguments against the ontological assimilation of organisms with machines with the purpose of establishing the inadequacy of the MCO as a general theory of living systems. In the process I will anticipate and address a range of potential objections that may be raised against each of my three arguments. I will conclude by considering some of the surprisingly wide-ranging philosophical implications that follow from a rejection of the MCO.