Discovering Cell Mechanisms

Discovering Cell Mechanisms : The Creation of Modern Cell Biology

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Between 1940 and 1970 pioneers in the new field of cell biology discovered the operative parts of cells and their contributions to cell life. They offered mechanistic accounts that explained cellular phenomena by identifying the relevant parts of cells, the biochemical operations they performed, and the way in which these parts and operations were organised to accomplish important functions. Cell biology was a revolutionary science but in this book it also provides fuel for yet another revolution, one that focuses on the very conception of science itself. Laws have traditionally been regarded as the primary vehicle of explanation, but in the emerging philosophy of science it is mechanisms that do the explanatory work. Bechtel emphasises how mechanisms were discovered, focusing especially on the way in which new instruments made these inquiries possible. He also describes how new journals and societies provided institutional structure to this new enterprise.show more

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"This volume...will be useful not only to cell biologists interested in the embryology of their field, but also to theorists and historians of science concerned with the boundaries of fields of intellectual inquiry." -Choice "For decades historians have been preoccupied with genetics and molecular biology. However, mitochondria, ribosomes, Golgi bodies, and lysosomes explain the life processes of the cell; DNA does so only peripherally. This is their much needed story." -Douglas Allchin, Isis "Historians will appreciate Bechtel's thorough research in the archives of the Rochefeller Foundation and the American Society for Cell Biology, as well as his use of oral history interviews with some of the principal scientists...Cell biologists especially welcome this new history of their field." -Lindley Darden, University of Maryland, Journal of the History of Biologyshow more

About William Bechtel

William Bechtel is professor of philosophy and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author and editor of many books, including Discovering Complexity (with Robert C. Richardson, 1993) and Connectionism and the Mind (with Adele Abrahamsen, 2002), and he is editor of the journal Philosophical Psychology. He is the current chair of the Cognitive Science Society and past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology.show more

Table of contents

Part I. Introduction: Cell Mechanisms and Cell Biology: 1. A different kind of science; 2. The organization of science into disciplines; 3. The new discipline of cell biology; Part II. Explaining Cellular Phenomena through Mechanisms: 4. Historical conceptions of mechanism; 5. Twentieth century conceptions of mechanism; 6. Current conceptions of mechanisms; 7. Representing and reasoning about mechanisms; 8. Levels of organization and reduction; 9. Organization: from Cartesian to biological mechanisms; 10. Discovering and testing models of mechanisms; 11. Conclusions; Part III. The Locus of Cell Mechanisms: Terra Incognita Between Cytology and Biochemistry: 12. Cytological contributions to discovering cell mechanisms up to 1940; 13. Biochemical contributions to discovering cell mechanisms up to 1940; 14. The need to enter the Terra Incognita between cytology and biochemistry; Part IV. Creating New Instruments and Research Techniques to Study Cell Mechanisms: 15. The epistemology of evidence: judging artifacts; 16. The ultracentrifuge and cell fractionation; 17. The electron microscope and electron microscopy; 18. A case study of an artifact charge; 19. Equipped with new instruments and techniques to enter Terra Incognita; Part V. Entering the Terra Incognita Between Biochemistry and Cytology: 20. First steps towards cell biology at the Rockefeller Institute: Claude's introduction of cell fractionation; 21. Robert Bensley: an alternative approach to fractionalism; 22. Competing interpretations of fractions from normal cells; 23. Linking Claude's microsomes to protein synthesis; 24. Adding a biochemical perspective to the Rockefeller Laboratory; 25. Adding electron microscopy as a tool; 26. The state of cell studies at the end of the 1940's; Part VI. New Knowledge: the Mechanisms of the Cytoplasm: 27. The mitochondrion; 28. Microsomes, the endoplasmic reticulum, and ribosomes; 29. Two additional organelles; 30. Giving cell biology an institutional identity.show more

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