Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 4, No 1-2 (2008)

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Life and the Homeostatic Organization View of Biological Phenomena

Robert Arp


In this paper, I argue that starting with the organelles that constitute a cell – and continuing up the hierarchy of components in processes and subsystems of an organism – there are clear instances of emergent biological phenomena that can be considered “living” entities. These components and their attending processes are living emergent phenomena because of the way in which the components are organized to maintain homeostasis of the organism at the various levels in the hierarchy. I call this view the homeostatic organization view (HOV) of biological phenomena and, as is shown, it comports well with the standard philosophical accounts of nomological (metaphysical) emergence and representational (epistemological) emergence. To proffer HOV, I describe properties of biological entities that include internal-hierarchical data exchange, data selectivity, informational integration, and environmental-organismic information exchange. Further, a distinction is drawn between particularized homeostasis and generalized homeostasis, and I argue that because the various processes and subsystems of an organism are functioning properly in their internal environments (particularized homeostasis), the organism is able to exist as a hierarchically-organized entity in some environment external to it (generalized homeostasis). Stated simply: that components of biological phenomena are organized to perform some function resulting in homeostasis marks them out to be living emergent entities distinguishable, in description and in reality, from the very physico-chemical processes of which they are composed.

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