Klymkowsky’s goal for this talk is to illustrate how stochastic (noisy) processes influence all aspects of life and how they can be best introduced to students. Physics is often seen as the model for how science works, with its explanatory power implying that our universe is deterministic. However, many events, such as radioisotope decay, are unpredictable individually. Stochasticity is more prominent and functionally significant in living systems, where complexity is built through evolutionary processes in ever-changing conditions, resulting in a range of emergent behaviors, including consciousness and self-consciousness. The basic living unit, the cell, is particularly susceptible to the effects of stochasticity. Cells typically contain two gene copies and small numbers of regulatory molecules, causing a wide range of unpredictable variations in gene expression, axon firing, and network behaviors that influence the organism's development and behavior. Stochastic variation can explain why identical twins are similar but not identical and how genetic differences influence phenotype, disease susceptibility, and responses to pathogens and drugs. Despite this, our educational system rarely introduces students to stochastic processes' origins and implications, and the myth of genetic determinism influences many scientific discussions. Introducing students to the functionally valuable roles and implications of stochastic processes can place deterministic myths in context. It raises questions about what determinism means if we cannot predict individual behaviors accurately. Developing an appreciation and understanding of the stochastic nature of living things may lead to a more realistic, humane, and hopeful perspective among people.
Biologist and Professor part of the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental faculty at CU BoulderNo slides available
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