Research Programs: Collaborative Research

Period of Performance

10/1/2010 - 9/30/2013

Funding Totals

$110,000.00 (approved)
$101,684.23 (awarded)

Discovering Mechanisms: Strategies from the History of Biology

FAIN: RZ-51240-10

Washington University (St. Louis, MO 63130-4862)
Carl F. Craver (Project Director: November 2009 to April 2014)

Preparation for publication of a scholarly study on the theory of mechanisms in biology. (12 months)

A central aim of science is to discover mechanisms. Knowledge of mechanisms gives the scientist the ability to predict how a system will behave under a variety of conditions, to explain how it works, and to control how it works for good or ill. Building on our prior collaboration, we will write a book, In Search of Mechanisms. We collect the insights of the new mechanists into one book with one voice and one story arc. We also extend our earlier research by focusing on the strategies scientists can use to construct, evaluate, and revise models of mechanisms. We ground our discussion in classic examples from the history of biology, including genetics, molecular biology, neuroscience, physiology, and evolutionary biology. We thus demonstrate the applicability of the new mechanistic philosophy to central examples that have driven the philosophy of biology for the last 30 years and show how this approach solves many central problems in philosophy of science.

Associated Products

In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries Across the Life Sciences (Book)
Title: In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries Across the Life Sciences
Author: Lindley Darden
Author: Carl F. Craver
Abstract: Neuroscientists investigate the mechanisms of spatial memory. Molecular biologists study the mechanisms of protein synthesis and the myriad mechanisms of gene regulation. Ecologists study nutrient cycling mechanisms and their devastating imbalances in estuaries such as the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, much of biology and its history involves biologists constructing, evaluating, and revising their understanding of mechanisms. With In Search of Mechanisms, Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden offer both a descriptive and an instructional account of how biologists discover mechanisms. Drawing on examples from across the life sciences and through the centuries, Craver and Darden compile an impressive toolbox of strategies that biologists have used and will use again to reveal the mechanisms that produce, underlie, or maintain the phenomena characteristic of living things. They discuss the questions that figure in the search for mechanisms, characterizing the experimental, observational, and conceptual considerations used to answer them, all the while providing examples from the history of biology to highlight the kinds of evidence and reasoning strategies employed to assess mechanisms. At a deeper level, Craver and Darden pose a systematic view of what biology is, of how biology makes progress, of how biological discoveries are and might be made, and of why knowledge of biological mechanisms is important for the future of the human species.
Year: 2013
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat listing
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Publisher's listing
Access Model: eBook
Publisher: University of Chicago press
Type: Multi-author monograph
ISBN: 9780226039824
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes


Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles 2014: Top 25 Books
Date: 1/1/2014
Organization: American Library Association
Abstract: Every year in the January issue, in print and online, Choice publishes a list of Outstanding Academic Titles that were reviewed during the previous calendar year. This prestigious list reflects the best in scholarly titles reviewed by Choice and brings with it the extraordinary recognition of the academic library community. The list is quite selective: it contains approximately ten percent of some 7,000 works reviewed in Choice each year. Choice editors base their selections on the reviewer's evaluation of the work, the editor's knowledge of the field, and the reviewer's record.