Book ID: CBB978602426

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick (2016)

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Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science. The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines. The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.

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Reviewed By

Review Peter Dear (2017) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". American Historical Review (pp. 1171-1173). unapi

Review Victor D. Boantza (2018) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science (pp. 59-62). unapi

Essay Review Edward Jones-Imhotep (2020) Review Essay: The Ghost Factories: Histories of Automata and Artificial Life. History and Technology (pp. 3-29). unapi

Review Sune Holm (2018) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (p. 60). unapi

Review Roger Smith (2017) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (pp. 395-397). unapi

Review John Henry (2017) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". British Journal for the History of Science (pp. 345-346). unapi

Review Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (2016) Review of "The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick". Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (pp. 348-350). unapi

Citation URI
http://data.isiscb.org/isis/citation/CBB978602426/

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Authors & Contributors
Smith, Justin E. H.
Reeves, Eileen A.
Stroup, Alice
Goldstein, Amanda Jo
Fischer, Jean-Louis
Sutter, Alex
Journals
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Comptes Rendus Biologies
Bruniana & Campanelliana: Ricerche Filosofiche e Materiali Storico-testuali
Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Publishers
Athenäum
J. Vrin
Oxford University Press
Princeton University Press
Hermann
McGill University (Canada)
Concepts
Biology
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Natural philosophy
Philosophy
Evolution
Botany
People
Darwin, Charles Robert
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von
Descartes, René
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
La Mettrie, Julien Offray de
Kant, Immanuel
Time Periods
17th century
19th century
18th century
Early modern
20th century, late
21st century
Places
Great Britain
Europe
France
Netherlands
Italy
Institutions
Académie des Sciences, Paris
Institute for the History of Science and Technology, University of Paris
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