Enriching the Strategies for Creating Mechanistic Explanations in Biology

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Bechtel, William
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To demonstrate that a proposed mechanism could explain a phenomenon, biologists must recompose the mechanism. Traditionally they have relied on mentally rehearsing the operations, often aided by a mechanism diagram. Such a strategy has reached its limits in contemporary biology. For example, through mental rehearsal alone researchers cannot determine whether a feedback mechanism will generate sustained oscillation. Accordingly, mechanistic inclined biologists are enriching their strategies, relying on computational simulation and graph-theoretical analyses of networks. The limitations of traditional approaches and the additional strategies biologists are employing are illustrated in research on glycolytic and circadian oscillations.