Friday, January 07, 2022

Positive Biology for the 21st century

As we enter year 3 of this pandemic, with media headlines consumed with yet more negative news about the spread of (new variants) of SARS-CoV-2, I thought I would share a few timely snippets from my book chapter titled "'Positive Biology' and Well-Ordered Science":

The philosophical question I would like to contemplate in this chapter is:  “What constitutes “well-ordered science”?”… I lay some preliminary foundations for addressing this question by elaborating briefly on the virtue epistemological construal of knowledge as “success from ability”.

….The world is a complex and constantly changing environment, and thus knowledge itself will be not fixed or static.  The normative value of different types of knowledge will be context-specific.  In one context certain empirical insights about the world might prove to be vital in helping us protect a population from disease and premature death.  But those same empirical insights might be, in a different context, of much more limited use and significance because the most pressing external threats to human populations are different. 

….Since the rise of epidemiology in the 19th century, the central question which has been the primary focus of both clinical medicine and public health is- what causes disease?  In this chapter I argue that this fixation on disease-research (evident in oncology, cardiology, psychiatry, etc.) must now (i.e. in the 21st century) be supplemented by a zeal to also invest in, and support, basic scientific research into the causation of exemplar positive phenotypes. 

…. I urge that the study of pathology be supplemented by the study of the determinates of exemplary positive phenotypes (e.g. healthy aging and happiness). 

…. Rather than fixating solely on the causation of pathology, positive biology encourages the study of the biology of centenarians, the emotional resilience of those who experience growth and development from adversity (vs those who become depressed or develop addiction), the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to self-esteem, healthy relationships and secure attachment, etc.  By transcending negative biology’s fixation on negative phenotypes, positive biology may be able to yield significant prescriptions that help the human populations of the 21st century flourish in spite of the fact that we face a potentially precarious and uncertain future.