By Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, Peter McLaughlin, Staffan Muller-Wille
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Extra info for A Cultural History of Heredity
The program rests on a mechanics of heredity inspired by Buffon’s organic molecules, whereby specific traits materialize in oscillating spiral-shaped particles that wind together selectively to make up the germ of the offspring. These operations at the submicroscopic level, well beyond the reach of direct observation, locate macroscopic properties firmly in the stuff of organic matter with its resilience, activity, vibrations and self-propulsion. Vandermonde adapted Buffon’s version of active matter to his own more medical vision of prescriptions for human betterment where heredity is key.
Experiment and observation were crucial components of his theory of life – but he insisted that the limitations of the human senses made it necessary to bring into play other means, if complex phenomena were to be understood. 17 This attitude threatened deists like Réaumur and Pluche, who explicitly pursued a descriptive approach restricted to visible surfaces, and avoided mysteries and metaphysics. Following his collaboration with Buffon, Needham continued his microscopical work. ” (Buffon 1954, p.
36/37. , Pensée LI, pp. 84/85. Speculation and Experiment in Enlightenment Life Sciences restless touching and retouching, trial and error, a “tatonnement” like that of a blind man’s stick. ” 10 It’s productive, useful, like making honey, but it’s also synthetic, and physical, or empirical. Any position, whether material or philosophical, is always either in flux or in a state of dynamic equilibrium, and potentially unstable. Diderot’s Pensées sur l’interpretation de la nature (1754) is a defense of “conjecture” as a productive method; the interpreter of nature starts where the senses leave off.