Article ID: CBB262240198

Towards the System Heuristics of Paul Weiss (2009)


“[T]here is no phenomenon in a living system that is not molecular, but there is none that is only molecular, either.” – This sentence summarizes the system approach of the influential biologist Paul Weiss. The Austro-American started his research in the Biologischen Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, where he focused on problems in developmental biology. His PhD thesis, however, was in the field of animal behaviour. Research on the resting postures of butterflies led him to introduce his system approach, which was developed further in later years. As an experimental biologist he did not develop a system theory in a narrower sense, but used the system approach as a heuristic tool to structure his laboratory work and to explain his results. Using this approach, he sought basic characteristics of living systems. Some of his ideas have re-appeared in discussions of recent biology, sometimes with different labels, e.g. downward causation. His field concept also continues to be a topic in current developmental biology. This paper provides an overview of some important concepts of Weiss together with experiments that led to his system approach. A concise theoretical framework of his approach is still a desideratum.

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Authors & Contributors
Friedberg, Errol C.
Crotty, Shane
Morgan, Gregory J.
Brenner, Sydney
Wolpert, Lewis
Lawrence, Eleanor
Biology and Philosophy
Mendel Newsletter
Indian Journal of History of Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
University of Pittsburgh
University of California Press
BioMed Central Limited
Sinauer Associates
Atlas Books
Molecular biology
Developmental biology
Experimental biology
Brenner, Sydney
Watson, James Dewey
Crick, Francis
Weiss, Paul A.
Baltimore, David
Perutz, Max Ferdinand
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
20th century, late
17th century
Cambridge (England)
South Africa
United States
Great Britain

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