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date: 21 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the different meanings as well as values associated with the mathematical and the biological sciences in relation to the kinds of generality favored by the practitioners of biological evolution. It first considers the joke of the ‘spherical cow’ told by physicists about experimental biologists, which reflects the difference in epistemological cultures that, in turn, reflects (at least in part) differences between the two fields. It then explores what these differences can tell us about practices of generalization in mathematical physics, in biology, and even in strategies of biological evolution. It also discusses generality in the physical sciences and in the life sciences, focusing on Nicolas Rashevsky’s dispute with the cell biologists that arose at the 1934 meeting of the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. Finally, it looks at biologists’ lack of interest in universality and universal laws.

Keywords: biological sciences, generality, biological evolution, spherical cow, mathematical physics, biology, physical sciences, life sciences, Nicolas Rashevsky, universality

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