I am a graduate physics student but also taking biology classes. I am new to the field of bio. Most of what we do in class seem like memorizations and stating-facts. I am wondering:

  1. How can I develop intuition for biology? (Aside from memorizing and practicing.) I am not even sure what intuition would be like in the case of biology?

  2. Where are all the known facts in biology (and chemistry) come from? Have to be from EXPERIMENTS though, I hope to understand the origins of the I-was-being-told-this-way facts such as the composition of DNA and the types of bonding. By understanding, I don't necessarily mean the exact experimental procedure, but the general idea of how everything came about. (I am mainly interested in molecular and cell bio). Much appreciation for any input!


closed as primarily opinion-based by Remi.b, Bryan Krause, anongoodnurse, canadianer, David Dec 9 '17 at 12:29

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ It feels different to learn biology than learning learning physics, just like it feels different to learn statistics than learning computer science. Every field is just a bit different! There's not much you can about it! That being said, of course, knowledge comes from experimentation. If your professor does not offer you explaination of how we discovered the things he present to you, then I am sorry but in the general term we cannot do much for you. Just learn for yourself. For example, on the structure of DNA, you might want to read about the experiments by Watson and Cricks. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 7 '17 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you are asking "why are things the way they are". Again, I am sorry if your professor does not offer you such knowledge but I am afraid we cannot answer that question in such general terms here. Maybe the study of evolutionary biology will give you a bit more of a feeling of answering the "why" question. There is a famous phrasing saying nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution. You might want to have a look at an intro course to evolutionary biology. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 7 '17 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic for the reasons explained above. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 7 '17 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who was trained in physics but is working in bioinformatics. I can only echo @Remi.b 's comments. Physicists tend to want big abstractions and simple rules, but biology is a maze of exceptions and edge cases, not to mention emergent phenomena. "In Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman", Richard Feynman describes a summer he spent working in a biology lab. He was amazed at how easy it was to ask questions that no one knew the answer to, and how hard it was to frame and conduct the experiments that tackled the question. $\endgroup$ – Charles E. Grant Dec 7 '17 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Most biology textbooks I saw in my days as a student used at least partially an experimental approach to describing the facts presented, since the purpose of learning about biology in a general sense is often to understand "how biology is done" (which seems to be your desire as well) rather than just the facts. If your courses/books aren't doing that, I'd suggest simply picking up a different textbook. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 8 '17 at 0:29

Googling "landmark experiments in biology" came up with a lot of hits, what was wrong with the experiments cited in any of those works? Mendel's pea experiments should be easy enough to understand.

Honestly I don't see how it will benefit you to know the organic chemistry work that went into determining the chemical structure of adenine.

  • $\begingroup$ don't close it yet, i'll explain to him that biology has 80,million species, 800 million proteins that are invisible and unkown, and organisms with 100ds of different tissues that vie in between all the physical forces of speed, heat, etc, and that he should at first study BioPhysics if that's what he's comfortable with. $\endgroup$ – com.prehensible Dec 8 '17 at 3:04

Not to be snarky, but I'm not sure what you are asking for. All of biophysics on an index card?

There are over 200 billion atoms in a single copy of the human genome and there are highly non-linear interactions between many of those atoms. Now extend that to the interactions between the 10 trillion copies of the genome in a typical human. Note that many of those copies are chemically interacting after some fashion. In your physics education have you every solved, even numerically, a system of 10^24 particles all with highly non-linear interactions? Simple rules like F=MA are not going to help at all because the emergent properties end up dominating everything.

The crazy thing in biology is that the emergent behavior of complex systems sometimes does offer incredible simplifications. I spend my days pretending that the human genome consists of strings of symbols that obey simple statistical properties. The incredible thing is that such an absurdly simplifying model sometimes does provide useful results and insights.

Biology is generally the study of these emergent properties, which are not generally derivable from simple rules of basic physics. That is why there is so much memorization. Intuition is not magic. Intuition is simply the inarticulate expression of our training and experience. That means there is no way to develop intuition without memorization or practice. You may have some intuition for some areas of physics, but that has presumably came after years of studying physics in secondary school, undergraduate, and graduate school. Intuition in some field of biology will have the same price tag.

I can offer some help with the experimental background for molecular biology. Read The Eighth Day of Creation. It's a well written, semi-popular history of molecular genetics and includes details on many of the key experiments.


Famous experiments roughly chronological:

1400's they gave elephants wine in the tower of london and belived in 4 elements and blood letting.

Human and animal dissections Observation of oxygen generated by plants in light Observation of red blood cells and micro-organisms First notions of the Cells, cell theory First microscopes at the same time as first telescopes Major experimental biology for inheritance of flower colors by Mendel Advanced medecine and use of electricity on corpses Theory of evolution using many specimens and case studies Methodical ecology treaties and reports for many animals by Fabre Methodical reports of ocean fossils and sea life, fossil biology First scientific reports of antisceptics Measures of plant O2 production as a function of light color and temperature Discovery of vaccines Discovery of penicillin and antibiotics Synthesis and measure of soil chemistry First precise measurements of pH Discovery of cell nucleus Discovery of virii Discovery of DNA First electron microscopes Beginning of centrifuge, spectroscopy,

Consider the diversity of animal species and cosmic bodies.

In cosmology you have 10-15 Clades of cosmic bodies, 50 of fundamental particles, 4 forces. There are only 100 common elements.

In biology, 80,000,000 species, 1,000,000 Clades of animals/plants/funghi, 100,000,000 different Enzymes and Proteins which are all invisible, and that beat supercomputers since 2003, 1000,000,000 different organic chemicals.

Microbiology flourished in tandem with Astronomy with the development of dutch lenses used for navigation. Cell theory is a biological equivalent to cosmology.

Biology has 3.9 billion years of cumulative encoding and additive development, as in that every being is like an SHA64 algorythm, that cumulative complexity is arranged into a tree.

Physics doesn't have friends and foes, cumulative memory, encryption, computation ability, 1 billion chemicals, cell walls and cells, number of legs, appendages, reproduduction, division, child rearing, it's a completely different recipe.

Physics is simpler. It's the same as being stuck inside one single protein, where the edge of the protein is the cosmological boundary, and being able to gather masses of data about the contents of that boundary and the nature of the physical universe. The maths formula to represent every protein is probably as big as the universe, there's no size and time boundary in either, except that we are seeing inwards that complexity.

biology is reined by chaos, so the maths of it has many billion degrees, you are talking about an equation with a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k, etc with billions of variables, and the maths formulas are billions of lines long. how are biologists supposed to deal with that?

Physicists are stunned by schrodinger's cat, probability issue.

What is the probablity of predicting where an animal will be on the same time on 2 different days? If you can write equations for that, then physics and biology will be the same. Biologists are not even going to try to write an equation for that kind of thing! they just have to use statistics all the time.

The maths of Biology are the biggest chaos system that man has ever peered into.

They are so incredibly confusing and unfathomable.

Try to write some equations in biology to predict movements of elements. you can't equate a bird like a photon, they are more chaotic and complex.

Biology has trees. Where do trees exist in physics? The biology tree has 80 million known branches.


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