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Perspectives on theory at the interface of physics and biology

Research paper by William Bialek

Indexed on: 30 Dec '15Published on: 30 Dec '15Published in: Physics - Biological Physics



Abstract

Theoretical physics is the search for simple and universal mathematical descriptions of the natural world. In contrast, much of modern biology is an exploration of the complexity and diversity of life. For many, this contrast is prima facie evidence that theory, in the sense that physicists use the word, is impossible in a biological context. For others, this contrast serves to highlight a grand challenge. I'm an optimist, and believe (along with many colleagues) that the time is ripe for the emergence of a more unified theoretical physics of biological systems, building on successes in thinking about particular phenomena. In this essay I try to explain the reasons for my optimism, through a combination of historical and modern examples.