Thinking in Biological Terms

  • Konrad Z. Lorenz


In physics the search is for the most general laws governing all matter and all energy. In biology the attempt is to understand living systems as they are. Since the time of Galileo, physics has proceeded by using the method of the generalizing reduction. A physicist always considers the individual system he happens to be examining at the moment—it could be a planetary system, a pendulum or a falling stone—as a special case within a superordinated class of systems. In the examples cited, this is a system comprising mass within a gravitational field. Then the physicist proceeds to find the lawfulnesses prevailing in one of the special systems, such as the Keplerian laws and the laws governing pendulums, and tries to relate these to the more general laws of the superordinated class of systems; in our example, to the Newtonian laws. For this purpose he must, naturally, investigate the structures of the special systems. Among other things, he must consider the mechanics of the pendulum—the axis, the length of the pendulum rod, the weight of the pendulum. But, for the physicist, understanding the structures and functions of special systems is only a means, only an interim goal on the way toward an abstraction of more general laws. As soon as this abstraction is achieved, the attributes of the special systems are no longer of any interest at all. The individual characteristics of the solar system through which Newton discovered the laws of gravitation are completely irrelevant to the validity of those laws. He would have arrived at an abstraction of the same laws had he contemplated a completely different solar system, a system of celestial bodies having different dimensions, intervals, and revolutions.


Social Parasitism Biological Term Ontological Reductionism Species Preservation Colorado River Delta 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konrad Z. Lorenz
    • 1
  1. 1.ViennaAustria

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