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ERC-European Research Council (ERC)

Self-Assembly: Shifting our View of Life

Tildelt: kr 20,0 mill.






2023 - 2028


Self-Assembly: Shifting our View of Life

Biology invites us to understand life as “hard work”. Living beings are mainly viewed as systems requiring the constant input of energy and the detailed regulation by genetic material. These ideas of life very much influence the general understanding of living systems, and, particularly interesting for this project, it influences current philosophy of science accounts of the understanding and explanation of living processes. But what if life is much less “hard work” than often presented? And what if genes should be understood as “nudgers” rather than as “directing” living processes? Self-assembly is the spontaneous formation of complex patterns and structure. It can be visualized as a pile of lego bricks turning into a Ninjago fortress on its own. There are no lego-builders. The parts “self-assemble”, possibly as a result of chemical and physical processes working between and on the parts. Recent nanoscience research efforts at the intersection of chemistry, biology, and material science, increasingly utilize self-assembly processes in the development of new materials, technologies and understanding of living systems. AssemblingLife will, on an interdisciplinary basis, build a new theoretical framework withing the philosophy of science for understanding and explaining life, building on the increasing focus and knowledge about self-assembly processes that carry the potential to shift our view of life. The project will provide a new understanding of genetic causation starting from the idea of genes as “nudging” self-assembly processes rather than as providing detailed regulation, and it will develop new theory of scientific explanation that will account for the observation that self-assembly processes do not behave like classical mechanisms or interventions targets. AssemblingLife plan for contributing novel and needed theory and conceptual tools both to the philosophy of science and to the empirical life sciences.


ERC-European Research Council (ERC)