Altruistic Vitalism and Epigenetics: Scientific and Social Physiology in Context - Michael Osborne

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Biochemistry and biophysics, allegiance to a physiological determinism derived from Claude Bernard’s work on experimental medicine, and laboratory methods applied to animal models have advanced knowledge of human physiology. These tools have been productive in virtue of their ability to isolate and explain phenomena such as the glycogenic function of the liver. Another approach, one rather common among physicians in Provence around 1890, ran counter to this reductionistic paradigm and promoted a vitalistic physiology which attempted to account for the social and spiritual life of human organisms. The approach evaluated how life in the human community affected individual physiology and well-being. In this it was similar to the emergent science of epigenetics in elucidating social and environmental factors impacting inheritance and well-being. I will use this residency to draft a book informed by the newer science of epigenetics, convene a one-day conference on this topic, and prepare the revised papers for publication.

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