Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Biology Will Become the Primary Paradigm in this Century

Biology rather than physics will become the primary paradigm or model of thought
in this century.  This is in part due to the genome project and the influence that it will have on scientific research.  It will also, however, be a result of a much broader understanding of co-evolution and our interaction with the world in which  we live.

“By natural selection we are not indifferent to our fate.”
It will be driven by our need to incorporate human values and also our need to live in a pluralistic global community.  Biology will not become the new paradigm, however, until it develops a methodology and multidimensional understanding of human nature that is  broad enough  to include not only the life sciences, but also the other basic sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.

Epistemology is the study of ways of knowing and biology is an epistemological process.  Unlike physics and chemistry, biology also relates to information, which in human biology is both genetic and cultural.  In evolutionary biology and in culture the transmission of information is also historical.  Life means the presence of intrinsic and functional values.  Biological diversity and complexity are based on information about how to compose, maintain, reproduce, and transmit life processes.  This is the type of self-affirming information that is lost in the reduction of biology to physics and chemistry.

There are emergent properties, synergies, and functional and cultural values that are lost in the translation to the basic elements.  By natural selection we are not indifferent to our fate. We are also, to some degree, capable of modifying our environment and transcending nature with our human individual and cultural values. It has been noted that life is a countercurrent to entropy and culture may be a countercurrent to natural selection.  

Ecology is the interaction between an organism and its environment.  Adaption is an ecological word. One could surmise an entanglement of a factual realism based on literal correspondence and a practical and sometimes metaphysical realism that incorporates our desire for both survival and well-being.  In moral terms these would include both a Socratic quest and a humanistic commitment.  The Socratic quest, however, can result in an unproductive and pedantic skepticism without a humanistic commitment.  A humanistic commitment, whether secular or religious, on the other hand, also needs to some degree to be open-ended and questioning to avoid what Eric Hoffer, after World War ll and in response to fanaticism of all kinds, described as the “true believer.”