The Department of Biomedicine

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CCBIO seminar: Roger Strand

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Crossing the Styx

Roger Strand
Centre for Cancer Biomarkers (CCBIO) and Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT), University of Bergen

What is gained, and what may be lost, as the old cartoon models and wordy descriptions from biochemistry and molecular biology are gradually being replaced by systems biology with more rigorous, mathematical models? As part of a recently completed research project Reflexive Systems Biology, Dominique Chu (University of Kent) and myself put this question to philosophical analysis. Can the transition from the living organism to a computational model be likened with crossing the river Styx?

In this seminar, I will outline our still unpublished analysis, which draws upon 15 years of philosophical research on the prospects of modelling the complexity in living systems, providing an invitation to discussing the topic. In this manner, I also aim to show that ELSA research – research on the ethical, legal and social aspects of emerging science and technology – can be a lot more than issues of patenting, patient data protection or health priorities. It is also a matter of what kind of research we wish to do. During the inaugural seminar of CCBIO, cancer researcher Mina Bissell expressed the maxim “Always understand the normal organ in order to be able to find out how it goes wrong in cancer!” – almost the opposite of the slogan of physiology back in the mid 19th century: to study the pathological in order to understand the normal. The one does not necessarily exclude the other; still, the choice of focus is not only a choice of which research to do first, but what kind of knowledge to build, to fit the specific purpose.

Relevant readings:

Chu, Dominique (2013). The science myth: God, society, the self and what we will never know, Iff Books, London
Chu, D., Strand, R., Fjelland, R. (2003). Theories of Complexity, Complexity, 8:19-30

Chairperson: Rolf Reed , CCBIO




After the seminar, CCBIO is pleased to invite you to a get-together outside the auditorium where pizza and beverages will be served. Everybody is welcome!