Systems Biology and Mechanistic Explanation

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Brigandt, Ingo; Green, Sara; O'Malley, Maureen
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preprint description
We address the question of whether and to what extent explanatory and modelling strategies in systems biology are mechanistic. After showing how dynamic mathematical models are actually required for mechanistic explanations of complex systems, we caution readers against expecting all systems biology to be about mechanistic explanations. Instead, the aim may be to generate topological explanations that are not standardly mechanistic, or to arrive at design principles that explain system organization and behaviour in general, but not specific mechanisms. These abstraction strategies serve various aims, including prediction and control, that are central to understanding the epistemic diversity of systems biology.