2
$\begingroup$

Biology nowadays is filled with mathematics. Indeed, the field of mathematical biology is huge, and shows no sign of decay. But the mathematisation of biology is, to my knowledge, a recent phenomenon - dating to the early 20th century with the contributions of Ronald Fisher and his contemporaries.

Any resources detailing the history of this quantification would be fascinating to read; in particular, something which comments on the birth of mathematical biology and its relationship to biology done in the field or in the lab. But I can't find much! I'm looking for recommendations - books, articles, anything - on this aspect of the history and philosophy of biology.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

It is not that recent (apart from the name), before Fisher there were Bernoulli (1760), Malthus (1789) and Verhulst (1838), to name a few, although one might view them as pre-history. Here is a PowerPoint that has the main highlights with dates. Rashevsky is generally credited with establishing the field, see Hoffman, The Dawn of Mathematical Biology. For book length treatments see Essays on the history of mathematical biology by Israel, Modeling Nature by Kingsland (it focuses on population ecology), and Stewart's The Mathematics of Life for a mathematician's take.

For some philosophical treatments see books like Otsuka's The Role of Mathematics in Evolutionary Theory or Instrumental Biology, or, the Disunity of Science by Rosenberg, and papers like Dorato's Mathematical biology and the existence of biological laws or The mathematical theory of categories in biology by Varenne.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

One of the first application of mathematics and logic to biology was classification. This was done by Aristotle and his terms still apply today - ie genus, species. These are logical terms taken from his Organon which detail the Aristotelian understanding of logic.

A good reference for this is the book by Rene Thom, Semiophysics where he also details the work of his own school to biological morphology and other aspects of Aristotelian biology. (This work he called catastrophe theory which Vladimir Arnold took umbrage at, and which he called singularity theory. And with good reason as many mathematical laymen misunderstood the term catastrophe - it's a change of form - nevertheless it did publicise the subject).

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.