Could We Really Be Made of Swiss Cheese? Xenobiology as an Engineering Epistemology for Biological Realization

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Besides having potential medical and biosafety applications, as well as challenging the foundations of biological engineering, xenobiology can also shed light on the epistemological and metaphysical questions that puzzle philosophers of science. This paper reviews this philosophical aspect of xenobiology, focusing on the possible multiple realizability of life. According to this hypothesis, what ultimately matters in understanding life is its function, not its particular building blocks. This is because there should, in theory, be many different ways to build the same function. The possibility of multiple realizability was originally raised in the context of AI's hypothesized capacity to realize mental functions. Because we still do not have any incontrovertible examples of digital minds, not to mention alien life of foreign biochemistry, the best way to test this philosophical idea is to examine the recent results and practices of synthetic biology and xenobiology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2591-2594
Number of pages4
JournalChemBioChem: a european journal of chemical biology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 603102 Epistemology


  • bioorganic chemistry
  • multiple realizability
  • philosophy of science
  • synthetic biology
  • xenobiology
  • LIFE

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