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Lecture/Discussion Notes Addendum

Paul Grobstein's picture
Biology 103, Fall, 2009, Bryn Mawr College


BIOLOGY: An exploration and conversation

Making Sense of Life


Lecture/Discussion Notes

7, 9 December



Is everything "biologically based"?

Do we need more than macromolecules to make sense of life?

More than evolution and macromolecules plus some general insights from acquired from thinking about them?

Candidate additional ideas/tools ...

Multiple levels of organization

Cells as interdependent improbable assemblies of macromolecules, multicellular organisms as interdependent improbable assemblies of cells, populations/ecosystems as interdependent assemblies of organisms

Multiple and reciprocal interactions, no simple cause-effect relationships, no gene/environment controversy

Ontogeny/development - evolution within individual lifetimes

Interdependence of individuals and improbable assemblies of of which they are a part

Top down as well as bottom up influences - no individual/culture controversy


Cells as assemblies of interacting diverse macromolecules, multicellular organisms as assemblies of interacting diverse cells

Semi-autonomy and semi-homeostasis as properties of interacting macromolecules, as properties of interacting cells/organs

No one is in charge !!!!!

Implications for thinking about "death"?

The gene/environment controversy

"The nature versus nurture debate rages on, because there doesn't seem to be an answer as to whether there is a biological basis for personality" ... What's in a Personality

"I suppose the question boils down to our ongoing debate of nature versus nurture" ... An Exploration of Taste, Illness, and the Story of Flavor


  • Genes do not code for phenotypic characteristics; they code for proteins or for molecules that regulate production of proteins; "coding" depends on other proteins/molecules;  phenotypic characteristics reflect, among other things multiple proteins - typically a given gene influences lots of different phenotypic characteristics and a given phenotypic characteristic is influenced by lots of genes
  • Genes are themselves regulatable by, among other things, the environment
  • Genes and environment interact in the production of all phenotypic characteristics (body size, hair color, "intelligence," depression/schizophrenia)
  • There isn't any gene-environment controversy

The biology/culture controversy



  • life experiences/culture affect genes, both in individual lifetimes (by gene regulation) and over evolutionary time (see lcorhan, paoli.roman on appendix, Grobstein on brain size)

  • bodies affect llife-experiences/culture

  • therefore there is no biology/culture controversy: everything is affected by biology, nothing is determined by biology; its a loop

  • yes, everything is "biologically based"? 

Bringing it all together in a test case: sex/gender

  • genetic?
  • biological?
  • social construction?
  • other?

All "influence," non "determine", leaving one room to make choices oneself, for oneself and for culture


Thanks for joining me this semester in trying to make sense of life, a work in progress.  Keep me posted about your continuing progress.


To be continued ...