Article ID: CBB000772595

Panpsychic Organicism: Sewall Wright's Philosophy for Understanding Complex Genetic Systems (2007)


Sewall Wright first encountered the complex systems characteristic of gene combinations while a graduate student at Harvard's Bussey Institute from 1912 to 1915. In Mendelian breeding experiments, Wright observed a hierarchical dependence of the organism's phenotype on dynamic networks of genetic interaction and organization. An animal's physical traits, and thus its autonomy from surrounding environmental constraints, depended greatly on how genes behaved in certain combinations. Wright recognized that while genes are the material determinants of the animal phenotype, operating with great regularity, the special nature of genetic systems contributes to the animal phenotype a degree of spontaneity and novelty, creating unpredictable trait variations by virtue of gene interactions. As a result of his experimentation, as well as his keen interest in the philosophical literature of his day, Wright was inspired to see genetic systems as conscious, living organisms in their own right. Moreover, he decided that since genetic systems maintain ordered stability and cause unpredictable novelty in their organic wholes (the animal phenotype), it would be necessary for biologists to integrate techniques for studying causally ordered phenomena (experimental method) and chance phenomena (correlation method). From 1914 to 1921 Wright developed his method of path coefficient (or path analysis), a new procedure drawing from both laboratory experimentation and statistical correlation in order to analyze the relative influence of specific genetic interactions on phenotype variation. In this paper I aim to show how Wright's philosophy for understanding complex genetic systems (panpsychic organicism) logically motivated his 1914--1921 design of path analysis.


Description “In this paper I aim to show how Wright's philosophy for understanding complex genetic systems (panpsychic organicism) logically motivated his 1914--1921 design of path analysis.” (from the abstract)

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Authors & Contributors
Komel, Svit
Marks, Peter
Gerrits, Lasse
Tuunainen, Juha
Suárez, Edna M.
Skipper, Robert Alan, Jr.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Biology and Philosophy
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Perspectives on Science
Journal of the History of Biology
University of Notre Dame
Harvard University Press
Cambridge University Press
University of Pennsylvania
American Philosophical Society
Experiments and experimentation
Wright, Sewall
Fisher, Ronald Aylmer
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Slobodkin, Lawrence Basil
Lewontin, Richard
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
Great Britain
United States
Cambridge. University. Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Helsingin yliopisto (Finland)

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