A Calculus of Purpose
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0020164
Why is the sky blue? Any scientist will answer this question with a statement of mechanism: Atmospheric gas scatters some wavelengths of light more than others. To answer with a statement of purpose—e.g., to say the sky is blue in order to make people happy—would not cross the scientific mind. Yet in biology we often pose “why” questions in which it is purpose, not mechanism,that interests us. The question “Why does the eye have a lens?” most often calls for the answer that the lens is there to focus light rays, and only rarely for the answer that the lens is there because lens cells are induced by the retina from overlying ectoderm.