République des Savoirs

Laboratoire transdisciplinaire du CNRS, ENS et du Collège de France

Curriculum vitae : CV

Axes de recherche :

Titre de thèse :

« L’écriture en biologie :
des limites de l’abstraction
aux méthodes d’une approche organiciste. »

Directeurs de thèse :
Maël Montévil (CNRS)
Nicolas Glades
(Translational Innovation in Medicine and Complexity (TIMC))

Année académique d’inscription :


Résumé :
This thesis builds on the efforts in the past couple of decades in reflecting on the construction of objectivity in mathematics and physics to posit principles for a theory of organisms.
The epistemology of physics and chemistry objectivizes generic objects, defined by attributes and relations between them. Material objects described by the same generic object are considered equivalent and theoretically identical because they share the attributes that constitute the generic object that represents them — they can be scrutinized all at once by focusing on the single ideal object. In abstracting, separating the characteristics of a material object from its materiality, physicists create generic objects that can be objectivized using mathematical writing on a piece of paper.
A biological object, an organism, is, on the contrary, a specific object: some aspects of it can be abstracted, like in the case of generic objects, but there are always aspects for which it is not sufficient to objectivize them. This distinction reflects and formalizes long-standing methods of biologists, who cannot avoid coping with the radical materiality of living beings. From the naming procedure of objects (systematics) to common laboratory practices, biologists keep resorting to the contextual history of organisms to objectivize them and describe what they do with them (breeding, exchange of cells, mentioning origins or past conditions, etc.).

Specific objects vary in a strong sense: they change so that predictions that can be made about them are limited in time, be it at the ontogenetic or phylogenetic timescale. Organisms cannot be a priori cast into fixed equivalent classes and understood using an epistemology that constructs objectivity by positing invariances (symmetries, equivalences, or conservations) to explain variations. The ontological reversal (that Darwin inaugurated when theorizing about living objects in a golden age of physics), and which consists of positing variation and explaining stabilities, requires new ways of constructing objectivity, which are proper to sciences whose objects are not inert.

The construction of objectivity requires the exteriorization and fixation of traces on a hypomnementa, i.e., a material support of memory. The writing of physics is centrally mathematical. However, any attempt at stabilizing the scientific description of living beings by resorting solely to formal languages brushes one of their only invariant aspects aside: their past. A hybrid epistemology needs to be developed in which the historical aspects complement physical descriptions. What kind of writing could complement a mathematical one in biology, and how to combine them?

This epistemological question calls for methods and general guidelines that theoretical biologists can adopt to cope, thanks to a new writing system, with the contextual history and the unpredictable variations of the objects

Key words :
Specific objet, closure of constraints, historicity, new possibilities, abstraction, writing.