Team:Heidelberg/Human Practices/Notebook/Philosophy


This is the notebook for both philosophical papers (term-paper means the paper according the terms used by SynBiologists ("The Unplumbed Depths of SynBio"); experiments-paper means the paper according the animal testings conducted by the team ("Like Buying a Pig in a Poke")).


After joining the iGEM team we had the first human practice meeting (just with Dominik and Rike). We got together and cleared our needs as well as our expectations.


Today we had the first real human practice team meeting where I introduced the team to the basic methods of philosophy. Further, we discussed first possible ideas for my papers. The team consists of Laura, Philipp, Jan, Dominik, Rike and me. The meeting was great especially because the biologists had not a clue how social scientists and particularly philosophers work. Philipp's face verifies impressively the mediating problems.
Philipp is confused about philosophy

April to July

Besides the university I elaborated in the following months the first ideas and discussed them on several occasions with philosophy fellow students and iGEM members. Most of the time, I tried to get a grasp what the claims, approaches and methods of synthetic biology are; of course, a business of huge dimension.


After the team has decided to conduct animal testing I got the possibility to work in this wide and interesting field that is more related to "classical" bioethics. I elaborated a first sketch in the last days to mediate my ideas and to discuss them with the team. We all agreed that I should definitely write a paper concerning the animal testing of the team because it will be a great possibility for me to apply my theoretical knowledge about bioethics. Furthermore, animal testing has an outstanding character within the competition. The first sketch looked like the following:

  1. introduction into animal experiments in the context of the bioethics
  2. outlining the two major positions
    1. freedom of research
      1. elaborating the legal status in Germany (Binder: Rahmenbedingungen) and US - comparison
      2. main arguments
    2. rights of animals
      1. status-quo: experiments, meat-production, etc.
      2. elaborating the legal status
      3. ethical concepts:
        1. Peter Singer
        2. Hans Jonas
        3. Is there any ethical 'theory' which refers to our every-day behavior? Maybe Descartes!
    3. first conclusion
  3. outlining iGEM-project and wetlab
    1. what is the aim? outlining the main parts
    2. what would be the advantage/benefit for men?
    3. what will be precisely done with the mice? will they feel pain? will the experiment kill them?
    4. how necessary is the use of mice for the project? are there alternatives and if it so why they aren't they realized?
  4. appreciation
    1. the common definitions and positions will be related to the specific situation in the wetlab


Moreover, I would like to work on a more philosophical field. So I decided to write a paper which deals more with the special character of SynBio. I select six possible approaches which will be promising and meaningful to conduct within the iGEM competition and began to look for literature. In the following days, I outlined them so that I could present them in front of the team.

Societal apprehensions and objections

Some parts of the society have obviously doubts in changing the nature. In many countries civil movements growing fast and getting more and more affect on the social and political behavior of a society (Greenpeace, NABU, Bündnis90/Grüne, ecological movement, etc.). Those groups criticize the genetic interference of plants or animals and boycotts the usage of GMOs.

  • What extent has the apprehension of those groups in the basic fields of the SynBio?
  • Is it possible that those groups also object or oppose SynBio?
  • And how can rejection be avoided?

Problems: Mostly sociological analysis; no reflection on if it is "right" to object the SynBio.

Definitions of "life" by the team members

Collecting the ideas and definitions of what "life" is within the Heidelberg iGEM team. Adding the basic ideas of all team members to each other. Clearing the similarities.

  • Do those definitions or the basic similarities implicate any ethical problems?
  • What kind of problems are this?

Problem: Restricted point of view; maybe the definitions are so complex and multi causal that it won't possible to examine similarities.

Critique of a common argument about SynBio

Looking for an accepted and well-known ethicist or scientist who have wrote an influential paper about the ethics in SynBio and reconstructing and discussing his argument.

Problem: SynBio is a very young discipline, so that there is no classic or well-known ethicist who hold the lordship over the interpretation.

Analysis of the laws

Looking for the laws which deal with SynBio (or more common with genetic engineering). Analysis the image of SynBio in those texts. Sourcing the image of SynBio to the current research.

  • Do the laws display actual research?
  • What kind of image does the law sketch concerning SynBio?
  • Are there problematical ethical implications of those laws (maybe a too soft regulation or a distinct definition of life (too technical, too analytic, etc.))?
  • Do the text of a law refer to our associations of the used words (different definition of "life", etc.)?

Problem: None.

Self-perception and "life"-definitions

There are different definitions of "life" in the world. Reconstructing the most influential of them. Similarities: all differentiate between nature and technology. SynBio annihilates such a distinction ("living machines", "artificial cells", etc.).

  • What kind of influence will SynBio has on our idea of "life"?
  • How fatal are the consequence of the annihilation of the border between nature and culture/technique?
  • In which direction is the self-perception changing when the homo faber gets a homo creator?
  • Will it be possible to avoid an impact of our ideas of self-perception, bioethical standards and the "value of life"?

Problems: None

Analysis of terms within SynBio community

SynBio uses a lot of technomorph terms who insinuate that the products of the SynBio are new entities. Such terms "constitute a new world of objects".

  • Are there such technomorph terms?
  • What do they imply?
  • Do they pretend to make something to something what it is not?
  • What are the aftermaths of the bearish usage of language?

Problem: None


Presenting the first thoughts and concepts for possible ethical reflexions on the human practice-meeting (Dominik, Rike, Jan). Afterwards we had a broad discussion and decided to cancel the first four ideas. All agreed about that the last two ideas are the most interesting and expandable. I will prove if there is a possibility to combine the both ideas in the following days.

Decision late at night: I will focus on the last idea about the problematic terms within the SynBio community and, if there is a good crossing between the two ideas, I will connect them, but just (!) if we are not running out of time.

Mind map to get an overview and connect the crucial parts of the paper.

Until 23.08.2010

Elaborating concepts for both projects with literature, main ideas and the basic arguments. The first paper will deal with the animal testing conducted by the team, because there seems to be a serious necessity for that ... and I am happy about the huge assortment of literature about animal experiments *smile*. I have also presented the main ideas of both concepts to the whole iGEM team.

In the previous days Lorenz has joined the human practice team silently and enhance it in the most positive ways.


Discussing the detailed concepts with the HP-team in a separate meeting. The team has given me new input and some good critical points: that I should focus my reflection of the animal testing more at the specific iGEM character. We elaborated that the experiments-paper should twist around the question if it should be allowed, that students work with animals just after 3 months. Moreover, we discussed philosophical problems related to ontological fallacies and the terms-paper. the meeting was great and we have had a promoting and broad discussing with at l(e)ast some bottles of wine.

See concept term-paper and concept experiments-paper.

Until 13.09.2010

Extending the concepts to a first working paper which looks more like a rag rug than an scientific report. Having a human practice-meeting in the evening and discussing my elaboration.


A lot to do in this week. The "happening" (execution of the psychological study) take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday (18 Sep) what paralyzed all other work. The lectures and introductions has to be elaborated and practiced. Letters has to been written to the participants. Catering and everything else has been organized, so that the whole human practice team has to do enough and was very pleased when the study ended (as obviously visible in the happy faces of Rike and Philipp).
Philipp and Rike happy about the end of the study and some long day

Until end of September

I elaborate the first factual paper concerning the terms used by SynBiologists. I have discussed it with fellow students in philosophy and decided not to lend it to the team members at that moment but to set it apart and think about in the following days.

Until 11.10.2010

In the last two weeks, I have elaborated the first working paper concerning the animal testings. I have passed it to the human practice team for criticism. Laura was so kind to deal with the paper most intensively and passed the criticism to me ... some were really good and philosophical *smile*.

Until 18.10.2010

Afterwards, I reworked and developed the terms-paper until its final state in long nights and through pizza-orgies as well as singing evenings in the lab. In the night, I send the paper to the human practice team for criticism, whereby Lorenz was so kind to agree to attend to the paper according its scientificalness from a natural scientific point of view.

Until 20.10.2010

Finally, I finished the experiments-paper and lend it also to the team, whereby Philipp was so kind to agree to attend the paper as Lorenz did for the terms-paper. In the evening and night I celebrate this ... appropriate.

Until the wikifreeze

I did many several things. I looked for applicable pictures to underline the papers. On Saturday, I retrieved the criticism for the experiments-paper, met with Philip to agree on the scientific method and incorporate the criticism or rather reworked the paper in a way that the argument is clearer. On Sunday, I got the criticism for the term-paper, met with Lorenz and did the same as to the experiments-paper. Afterwards, I revised the papers repeatedly until the wikifreeze. In between, I updated the wiki, enhanced the layout, wrote the introductions together with Rike, made a plan to conquer the world with Heidegger and did a lot of blemish.