I picked up this very odd phrase from Gregory Bateson
, probably in his book Mind and Nature
: A Necessary Unity
After years of mulling it over, I still don't know what he meant by it, but I've adapted some meaning from it nonetheless. Bateson's odd take on life could be summed up as cybernetic anthropology, basically applying General Systems Theory/cybernetics-type observations to biological systems, most specifically human systems. Control and feedback-loop kinds of concerns, looking at things as dynamic systems that change in their internal and external relationships.
Most biological processes seem to be stochastic in nature. Gerald Edelman captures this aspect of neurophysiology with his concept of classification couples and classification n-tuples. Basically, these are the neural mechanisms by which perceptions occur. More specifically, he talks of the necessity of isofunctional yet non-isomorphic neural mechanisms in order for perception to happen. (Diveristy as the core of consciousness?) And in turn, these classification couples and n-tuples are involved in a larger stochastic system called a global mapping, which is how perceptions get bundled up into the pinnacle of mind, consciousness.
Back to diversity, not as an aside. Diversity is the core engine of life. Consider Stuart Kauffman's autocatalytic polymer sets theory of the origin of life. Chemicals (polymers) A, B and C catalyze the production of chemicals D, E and F, which in turn catalyze G, H, I and so forth until ultimately chemicals X, Y and Z catalyze the production of A, B and C again, only in larger numbers. Voila! You have a simple system that actually reproduces, obviating the need for stories of the hand of God animating life. The simplest real-world autocatalytic set is called the Brusselator, named after the Brussels group that discovered it (including, I believe, Ilya Prigogine.)
So what would a biological epistemology entail? Open systems built on diverse repertoires, with recursion and feedback both internal to organisms and also throughout ecosystems.