An important strategy in the discovery of biological mechanisms involves the piecing together of experimental results from interventions. However, if mechanisms are investigated by means of ideal interventions, as defined by James Woodward and others, then the kind of information revealed is insufficient to discriminate between modular and non-modular causal contributions. Ideal interventions suffice for constructing webs of causal dependencies that can be used to make some predictions about experimental outcomes, but tell us little about how causally relevant factors are organized together and how they interact with each other in order to produce a phenomenon. I argue that lab research relies on more elaborated types of interventions targeting in a controlled fashion multiple variables at the same time in order to probe the temporal organization of causally-relevant factors along distinct causal pathways and to test for non-modular interaction effects, thus providing crucial spatial-temporal constraints guiding the formulation of more detailed mechanistic explanations.
- Philosophy of biology
- Scientific explanation