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"We have to rethink the way we look at life and evolution because there is a great simplification."

Daan van Schalkwijk, from Amsterdam University College, at the ICS, bet on taking up the idea of timelessness to "overcome the mechanistic vision and understand once again what it means that life is self-movement".

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PHOTO: Carlota Cortés
21/10/14 18:21 Carlota Cortés

"We have to rethink the way we look at life and evolution because there is a great simplification." So said Daan van Schalkwijk, researcher of the Amsterdam University Collegeon the occasion of a seminar that he gave at the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra under the degree scroll 'Timeless in Life and Evolution'. The activity was organized by the group Mind-Brainwhich receives funding from the Obra Social La Caixa.

Today there is a lot of talk about determinism," he said, "for example, genetic determinism, which postulates that genes determine the whole organism. However, there is a biological current -systems biology- that bets that there is dynamism: there is feedback in the organism at many levels, even from the organism to the genes. Mechanisms are being discovered by which the organism can change and regulate its own genes. Therefore, causality in biology is not a straight line from the genes to the rest of the organism: we have to rethink vital causality in depth".

Eternal truths

In his seminar, the researcher proposed to recover the idea of "timelessness", a concept that the philosopher Leonardo Polo considered as the first philosophical finding : "It leads philosophers to search for eternal truths and that involve a deviation from the time in the mythical and changing vision of the universe".

Van Schalkwijk explained that "this timeless perspective puts an end to mechanicism, which only understands causality in time. It also allows an overall view of the system, which makes it possible to see where the system is going to go without knowing exactly where status starts. In terms of non-linear mathematics, which is used to describe biological systems, we speak of a 'stable attractor'. In philosophical terms, one can speak of an intrinsic directionality or finality in the system".

Recovering the notion of a final cause," he said, "also allows us to understand once again what it means that life is self-movement: what is characteristic is not that the living being initiates movement, but that some of its movements have a purpose in the organism itself. For example, the beating of the heart creates a movement of the blood that stays inside the organism. A robot does not have that".

 "In the Anglo-Saxon world the idea is present that in evolution everything is determined by random mutation and selection at the genetic level. I think that this idea cannot be maintained, neither biologically nor philosophically," he concluded.