By Stephen Webster

Vitalism is a profoundly science-ejected idea, although many CAM or 'natural well-being' cabals falsely declare that vitalism survives clinical scrutiny.

I quote:

"vitalism is now a useless philosophy [...] for the vitalist, residing issues are possessed (literally) by way of a 'life force,' completely particular from the physiochemical forces to date came upon [...this is] most unlikely to enquire: how do you examine a lifestyles strength? [p.057]."


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Over a number of years the same sets of data were interpreted in completely divergent ways by the two sides in the debate. Like our eighteenth-century example from embryology (preformationism and epigenesis), this later debate is an example of how one set of results can have two or more explanations. 0 billion years ago. There are no intermediate forms in nature, nor in the fossil record, and there is no straightforward evidence of how the eukaryotes emerged. Margulis suggested, essentially, that several symbiotic events led from one form to the other, and that swallowing without digesting – endosymbiosis – is the best explanation.

Today we do not use the word ideoplasm. We say instead that the inherited material consists of particles called genes, arranged on the chromosomes, but in 1880, though Mendel had done his work and had indeed discussed inherited particles (he called them ‘factors’) his paper was languishing, unappreciated, and nothing was known of genes or DNA. So when a biologist called Roux, working at exactly the same time as Nageli, and thinking about the nature of the ideoplasm, worked out from first principles that the material must be particulate, the insight was crucial.

Modern medicine is based on reductionist biology, as is the genetic modification of crops, and reductionism suggests many lines of research for the future. In the field of genetics, for example, the great reductionist prize of discovering the structure of DNA is to be used in the medical process of gene therapy. Knowledge of the genetic code will be supplemented by a knowledge of how to chop out, disable, or replace strips of DNA that we as a society consider harmful. Scientists, like philosophers, are quite choosy about the questions they aim to answer.

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