This book demonstrates how and why vitalism—the idea that life cannot be explained by the principles of mechanism—matters now. Vitalism resists closure and reductionism in the life sciences while simultaneously addressing the object of life itself. The aim of this collection is to consider the questions that vitalism makes it possible to ask: questions about the role and status of life across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities and questions about contingency, indeterminacy, relationality and change. All have special importance now, as the concepts of complexity, artificial life and artificial intelligence, information theory, and cybernetics become increasingly significant in more and more fields of activity.

On the Vitality of Vitalism

On the vitality of vitalism

Many of those who share an interest in the life sciences today, perhaps most, would agree with the claim that vitalism is obsolete. Some prominent biologists now use ‘vitalism’ as a derogatory label associated with lack of intellectual rigour, anti-scientific attitudes, and superstition (see, e.g., Dawkins, 1988). Other scientific commentators treat the term more seriously, but equally arrive at the conclusion that vitalism is an untenable perspective. Prigogine and Stengers (1984), for example, have described vitalist concepts as meaningful for biology within the broader scientific context characterized by Newtonian physics, but as having been made redundant by 20th-century developments both in physics and in (molecular) biology.

The claim that vitalism is obsolete – the ease with which ...

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