Hajo Greif, Adam Kubiak, and Paweł Stacewicz (2023). Turing’s Biological Philosophy. Morphogenesis, Mechanisms and Organicism. Philosophies 8, 2023, Article 8. Special Issue “Turing the Philosopher: Established Debates and New Developments”, edited by Diane Proudfoot and Zhao Fan. Open Access. DOI: 10.3390/philosophies8010008
Abstract: Alan M. Turing’s last published work and some posthumously published manuscripts were dedicated to the development of his theory of morphogenesis. In The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis (1952), he provided an elaborated mathematical formulation of the theory of the origins of biological form that had been first proposed by Sir D’Arcy Wendworth Thompson in On Growth and Form (1917/1942). While being his mathematically most detailed and systematically most ambitious effort, Turing’s morphogenetical writings also form the thematically most self-contained and philosophically least explored part of his work. We dedicate our inquiry to the reasons and the implications of Turing’s choice of biological topic and viewpoint. Thompson’s pioneering work in biological ‘structuralism’ was organicist in outlook and explicitly critical of the Darwinian approaches that were popular with Turing’s cyberneticist contemporaries – and partly used by Turing himself in his proto-connectionist models of learning. In particular, we will probe for possible factors in Turing’s choice that go beyond availability and acquaintance with Thompsons’ approach, in particular his quest for mechanistic, non-teleological explanations of how organisation emerges in nature that nonetheless leave room for a non-mechanistic view of nature.
Acknowledgement: The research presented in this publication was supported by NCN (National Science Centre) OPUS 19 grant ref. 2020/37/B/HS1/01809.