The mind of the universe
The mind of the universe
Author: Mariano Artigas
Published in: Inaugural lecture of the 1996-97 academic year at the University of Navarre
Date of publication: 1996-97 academic year
I admit that I have chosen a somewhat provocative degree scroll . Indeed, the expression "the mind of the universe" seems to place us before the following dilemma: either we identify the universe with a living being staff, but then we should endorse a pantheistic subject perspective that will be fraught with difficulties, or we recognise that the universe is a collection of very different beings, many of which are not persons and some of which are persons different from each other, and then we do not see what sense it would make to attribute to it a mind, in the singular. However, I have chosen that degree scroll because meeting advantages outweigh its possible drawbacks: above all, the current scientific worldview suggests that the universe is permeated within it by a rationality that must refer to an intelligence staff.
There are basically five possible attitudes to God as the ultimate explanation of the universe: atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, deism and theism. But the first four pose notable difficulties. This is easily noticed in the case of atheism, since there is and can be no proof for the non-existence of God. The Withdrawal of agnosticism is, to say the least, inconsistent with the scientific and rational spirit that leads us to seek explanations for everything that exists, even if our answers are always limited and partial. Deism gives a reason for the existence of the universe, but it is not coherent to affirm that an infinitely good, powerful and intelligent God gives existence to the universe and then abandons it to its own fate. And pantheism claims to answer the ultimate questions we ask of the universe, but even if we admit the active presence of God in the whole universe, it is not possible to identify God with any creature or with all creatures as a whole, because all creaturely dimensions are limited and therefore cannot be identified with anything divine in the strict sense.
Theism therefore appears as the only rigorous option for those who do not Withdrawal seek an explanation of the universe. Neither the universe as a whole nor its partial aspects can be identified with anything properly divine. However, the rationality of the universe strongly suggests its connection with divine intelligence.
We find in human history, since ancient times, expressions of wonder at the power, order and beauty that appear in the universe. This awe has taken the form of a wide variety of doctrines which, nevertheless, coincide in seeing the universe as something related to divinity. One of them, both philosophical and somewhat religious, was Stoicism, which has known different variants over the centuries and is sometimes related to pantheism. And it was precisely the Stoic Seneca who used the expression "the mind of the universe" to refer to God, with these words: "What is God? The mind of the universe. What is God? The all that you see and the all that you do not see. His magnitude is attributed to him, greater than which nothing can be thought, if he alone is everything, if he sustains his work from within and from without" * (1).
These words of Seneca were used by one of the classics of Christian spirituality and Spanish literature, Fray Luis de Granada, who took them practically verbatim and added some slight nuances, without raising any major problems; on the contrary, he used it as a part of the argument that leads him from nature to its Creator. These are his words: "What is God? Mind and reason of the universe. What is God? All that we see, for in all things we see his wisdom and attendance, and thus we confess his greatness, which is so great that no greater can be thought of. And if he alone is all things, he is the one who within and without sustains this great work that he has done" * (2). Luis de Granada then notes that he has used Seneca's words.
Many centuries after Seneca, and several centuries after Luis de Granada, I use the expression "the mind of the universe" because it seems to me very appropriate to address the problem of the explanation of the universe at the present juncture. I will try to explain it, although in order to do so it is necessary to follow a path consisting of several stages. The first, logically, is the consideration of the image of the world proposed to us today by the sciences.
We now have, for the first time in history, a complete, unitary, scientific and rigorous worldview of the universe, in which aspects related to rationality, information and creativity stand out. Such a worldview subject has only been achieved in the last few decades. Therefore, I do not hesitate to say that this is a far-reaching historical achievement with profound implications.
I claim that the current worldview is complete, not because it exhausts all that can be known, but because it extends to all levels of nature, from the microphysical to the astrophysical to the biological, and includes fundamental elements about each of these levels and their mutual relationships. Of course, there is much we do not know, and each new breakthrough opens up even deeper insights. However, today we know quite a few basic mechanisms of each level with sufficient approximation. The standard model of basic forces and particles is well established. We know what the basic components of the subject are and how the successive physical, chemical and biological levels are constituted and function. We know the basic functioning of stars, as well as the mechanisms of their birth, evolution and decay. Above all, knowledge has greatly advanced the fundamental mechanisms of life. These levels are closely interrelated, forming a mutually conditioning network , which is why I say that this worldview is unitary. It is also scientific, because its constituent factors are, to a large extent, well corroborated scientifically, and that is why I also add that this worldview is rigorous.
This is a new status in human history. We have arrived at it through a step-by-step progress that required successive steps. There were no shortcuts. Each step has only been possible when certain points along the way have been reached. For example, molecular biology could not make serious progress until a very solid foundation of physics was available and Chemistry; and the same can be said of Chemistry with respect to physics, of astrophysics with respect to nuclear physics and Chemistry, of nuclear physics with respect to other branches of physics. Some steps could not be taken without others having been taken beforehand, which are their necessary condition. Now, the picture has an overall appearance which it could never have had before. I hope it will be understood why I say that we now find ourselves, for the first time in history, with a complete, unitary, scientific and rigorous world view of the universe. This is not a rhetorical phrase, but a fact that has very important implications.
In referring to these implications, I have said that today's worldview foregrounds aspects related to rationality, information and creativity.
Above all, the current scientific worldview emphasises rationality, both in nature and in the scientists who exercise this rationality in their research. In this respect, I will limit myself to a few comments which, it seems to me, are sufficient to illustrate my assertion * (3).
Regarding the rationality of nature, Paul Davies has written that "The success of the scientific method in uncovering the secrets of nature is so astonishing that it can blind us to the greatest miracle of all: that science works. Even scientists normally take for granted that we live in a rational and ordered cosmos, subject to precise laws that can be discovered by human reasoning. Yet why this is so remains a tantalising mystery (...) The fact that science works, and works so well, points to something profoundly significant about the organisation of the cosmos". Indeed, scientific activity and the current worldview that is the fruit of its great achievements rest on "a crucial assumption: that the world is both rational and intelligible (...) The entire scientific business is built on the assumption of the rationality of nature".
Regarding human rationality, as manifested in scientific activity, Davies himself has written: "The amazing thing is that human reasoning is so successful in reaching explanations about parts of the universe that cannot be reached directly by our perceptions"; and also: "The success of the scientific business can often blind us to the astonishing fact that science works. Although most people take it for granted, it is both incredibly fortunate and mysterious that we are able to penetrate the workings of nature using the scientific method".
The rationality of nature is closely related to the concept of information. I will not go into an analysis of the different meanings of this concept. I only wish to say that, in the context of nature's rationality, one can speak of information as materialised rationality. For example, the information Genetics consists of a complex programme of instructions that unfold from agreement with the different circumstances and demands of the living being from its generation; this information is stored in some chemical Structures , in a material support, as encoded, and is decoded, unfolded, integrated, through the multiple natural processes and interactions. Something similar can be said of the different natural organisations, from the smallest to the most complex levels. An atom has information stored in its structure, behaves agreement with it, and interacts with other systems in such a way that the respective information is integrated. Obviously, although I will not dwell on it, the information that exists in nature makes possible the existence and progress of the sciences, which represent an attempt to get to know natural patterns better and better.
Moreover, the current worldview is processualist and evolutionary. It places us before a nature that has been formed through a long evolutionary process in which new patterns have emerged. New patterns continue to emerge today, both through natural and technological activity. We can therefore say that nature is creative. Although the training of new individuals belonging to existing types is a creative process, the creativity of nature is even more evident when we consider the historical and dynamic aspect of evolution. This aspect is highlighted by today's worldview as one of its most characteristic dimensions. At the same time, scientific activity requires a strong dose of creativity on the part of scientists, since problems must be correctly posed, new hypotheses must be proposed, and these hypotheses must be put to test through experimental control, which also requires creativity because it requires planning the experiments and evaluating the results. It is not difficult to see that creativity in nature and science has interesting implications.
To properly appreciate the implications of today's worldview, it is useful to set it against the backdrop of the major worldviews that have been formulated in other eras. Broadly speaking, three major worldviews have been proposed in previous phases of human history: the organicist, the mechanistic and the evolutionary.
According to the organicist worldview, the universe constitutes a unitary whole which, in some extreme cases, has come to be regarded as a kind of single living thing. There are theistic and pantheistic variants of organicism. The Aristotelian worldview is a concrete case of organicism: all parts of the universe are related to each other; the celestial bodies, which are ingenerable and incorruptible, are subject to only one subject of change, which is the perfect circular motion, and exert an important influence on the bodies of the sub-lunar world, which are generable and corruptible, and are composed of the four elements that have their natural place to which they tend: fire towards the celestial spheres, air between the celestial bodies and the earth, water towards the surface of our planet, and earth towards its centre. In this world view, purpose plays a central role: everything that happens is ultimately result of tendencies, update of potentialities tending towards specific goals.
It is understandable that this worldview, purified of certain elements that offered difficulties (especially the eternity of the world), could be used in the age average by Thomas Aquinas as a point of support for his philosophical and theological synthesis. Indeed, it emphasises everything that has to do with finality. It is therefore very appropriate for explaining the divine government of the world. In any case, the organicist worldview is widely represented in antiquity, for example among the Stoics. Still in the 16th century, Louis of Granada devotes the first part of his Introduction to the Symbol of Faith to show, with arguments taken from this worldview, how the different parts of the universe, as well as the universe as a whole, lead to knowledge of the power and wisdom of the creator God staff whose existence is affirmed in the first article of the Creed. Moreover, the ancients easily saw the finger of God in everything. We need only recall the famous phrase "Everything is full of gods", attributed to Thales of Miletus by Aristotle* (4), to see this; something similar is true today for those belonging to ancient civilisations still surviving in different parts of our planet: it is natural for them to contemplate nature as a manifestation of God's power and wisdom.
With the systematic birth of experimental science in the 17th century, the status changed completely. Modern science was born in the midst of a fierce polemic against the ancient worldview, and from the very first moment it sought to replace the philosophical physics of the previous centuries. In fact, it succeeded in doing so, and it was a complete substitution, throwing into the dustbin both the useless and the valuable elements. Indeed, the new science that was being born was mainly mechanics, which was accompanied by a philosophical component, philosophical mechanicism, i.e. the mechanistic worldview. The material world, according to mechanicism, is reduced to a mechanical machine: pieces of subject that move, push, and combine, with no place for some of the central ideas of the organicist worldview, such as the ideas of substances, forms, and ends. The enormous triumph of the new mechanics and, later, of other new scientific disciplines, meant the triumph of mechanicism, although this triumph was never complete, because from the very beginning there were concepts in the new science, such as forces and energy, which could hardly be integrated into the mechanistic outline .
However, the mechanistic worldview in no way implied a turning away from God. At first it was realised that many aspects of nature, previously mysterious, responded to natural laws that we can know through science. But this was interpreted not as an argument in favour of atheism but, on the contrary, in favour of a God whose existence must be assumed in order to explain the existence of laws that we do not create, but which nevertheless have a highly rational character and explain the existence of the marvellous order that reigns in the universe. Classical physics gave rise to a new natural theology, which found in the new science new arguments in favour of the existence of God.
Subsequently, towards the middle of the 18th century, the naturalistic tendency of subject materialism became increasingly strong. Mechanistic dualism, which opened a gulf between a subject which was the object of the new science and a spirit which remained in the realm of the subjective, meant that, as experimental science developed further and further, materialism pushed the spiritual world into the background. A civilisation was born, strongly marked by the progress of experimental science, which possesses a peculiar reliability and seems to provide a firm basis for judging what can be inter-subjectively demonstrated and therefore considered as goal, as valid for anyone irrespective of personal convictions. This has led to a long process of progressive affirmation of naturalism.
Scientific progress seems to have contributed significantly to the bracketing of God. Laplace's famous reply to Napoleon is an index of a status that became widespread at the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century: God had become an unnecessary hypothesis not only in physics, but also in biology and anthropology. God was being systematically bracketed in all fields of scientific knowledge. And since it was doubted that there was any other way to obtain objective and reliable knowledge, a representation of reality was proposed in which God would play no role at all: it became a new edition of the "idle God", the "unoccupied architect" of deism, but this time it did not even seem necessary to have recourse to Him to set the universe in motion.
In these circumstances, the biological evolutionism of the second half of the 19th century seemed to provide what was lacking to achieve a naturalistic explanation closed to transcendence. The world of the living, which still retained a certain air of mystery because of the perfection of its design and its functionality, was included within naturalistic explanations, and the divine plan, which still seemed necessary to explain the order and perfection of the universe, was replaced by the blind forces of nature: the combination of random variation and natural selection would suffice to produce all subject results, and since only those best adapted to the circumstances would remain, there would be nothing unusual about the results appearing to be the fruit of a higher plan, even if this were not true.
The evolutionary worldview has penetrated deeply into contemporary thinking. From the first third of the 20th century onwards, biological evolution was complemented by cosmic evolution, so that a complete evolutionary representation of the universe was reached training . It is important to note that, while there were from the beginning naturalistic interpretations of evolution, which regarded it as an enemy of metaphysics and religion, and sought to extend this naturalism especially to the case of the human person, reduced to a link in the blind evolution of forces Materials, many scientists, philosophers and theologians realised that the evolutionary perspective was not really at odds with metaphysics and religion: Why could evolution not be seen as God's means of bringing to completion a creation that did not exist from the beginning in a finished state? Even the evolutionist perspective would seem to be more logical if God wants to count on the partnership of the creatures for the realisation of his plans, from agreement with the potentialities that he himself has placed in them. There would only be a conflict if evolution were to be interpreted in an abusively materialistic way, which is no longer at the level of the scientific method, if we abandon the rigorously scientific level.
Naturalism has occupied an increasingly prominent position in contemporary culture, either because it is Withdrawal to raise metaphysical problems, or because it seeks to answer these problems through science. agreement For example, in relation to the explanation of the universe and the problem of creation, there is even talk of an alleged "self-creation" of the universe that would have arisen, according to the laws of physics, from a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum: although it is noted that the quantum vacuum is not nothingness, there is no lack of arguments to interpret the origin of the universe according to scientific cosmology as if it were a "creation without Creator" that makes it unnecessary to resource the God staff creator and the divine government of the universe.
Our culture is informed by a science that seems to leave no room for spiritual and supernatural explanations; even if one admits that its agnosticism is only methodological, it is easy to move from "as if God did not exist" to the complete oblivion of God or the denial of his possible action in the world. From the nature-man-God trilogy, we have moved on to a monolithic vision in which it seems sufficient to count on nature: after all, science seems to allow us to dispense with God, and that same science, when applied to the explanation of the human person, seems to progress continuously, achieving an increasing expansion of the explanations of the human at core topic materialist. Ultimately, we are faced with a naturalism that permeates our culture on all four sides. From the "Big Bang" to the present day, everything seems to be explained by a gigantic process of cosmic and biological evolution described by the sciences, and it would seem possible to show that the very beginning, the big bang, would either be the result of a previous phase of contraction, or a partial moment within an eternal cycle of expansions and contractions, or the product of a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum that could explain a self-production of the initial universe without the need to postulate a Creator.
At final, we are witnessing a hegemony of naturalism, which in the contemporary Western world appears to be closely linked to the positivist mentality. Certainly, positivism and its neo-positivist version are officially dead and buried. However, it would be a mistake to consider them definitively gone. Although many of the interpretations they proposed have been devastatingly criticised and their inadequacy has become evident, their basic thesis have not only survived, but have acquired such a persuasive force that they are not even discussed, although they largely condition current ideas. It is a new case of "reigning after death".
In academia, naturalism is presented in a new guise, but its basic thesis remains strong. It is claimed that, in the Philosophy of science, a new post-positivist consensus has now emerged, a new paradigm, one of whose characteristics would consist in being a non-reductionist naturalism * (5). The existence of different levels in nature as well as in science is admitted, and it is Withdrawal to reduce them to a basic level; for this reason, naturalism is also presented under the degree scroll of non-reductionist physicalism: but no room is left for dimensions that fall outside the scope of scientific naturalism. Anyone who looks into current discussions, especially in the field of anthropology, finds refined elaborations around new concepts, such as "supervenience", and old concepts that are reshaped to fit the current status , as is the case with the concept of "emergence". In these discussions it is stated, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, that it is a matter of defending a materialistic perspective in which there is no place for spiritual dimensions * (6).
Naturalism is linked to the de-enchantment of nature. Friedrich Schiller already referred to it by speaking of a de-enchantment of nature ("Entgötterung der Natur"), and Max Weber, a century later, spoke of a de-enchantment of the world ("Entzaüberung der Welt").
Our scientific civilisation undoubtedly has many positive values, and some of them are closely linked to natural science, which emphasises the importance of reasoning, the search for explanations, and the need to subject these explanations to appropriate criticism. In this context, we can ask ourselves: what is the sense of affirming, nowadays, the existence of a God Creator of the universe, can it be argued in its favour, or is it a possible object of subjective belief, which each person can admit if he or she deems it appropriate, but which has nothing to do with objective arguments, and does the current scientific worldview have anything to say about it?
As a reaction to the dis-enchantment of nature and science, proposals for the re-divinisation and re-enchantment not only of nature but also of science are proliferating. But these are generally unsatisfactory attempts: they usually succeed in their criticisms and in some positive formulations, but fail to address the underlying questions in a satisfactory way. I will refer to some particularly significant examples.
On the one hand, some leading scientists propose a new worldview that would encompass both science and Humanities. In this context, mention can be made of the new alliance mentioned by Ilya Prigogine* (7). This expression is intended as a reply to Jacques Monod, who claimed at the end of his famous book Chance and Necessity that the old alliance between man and nature, seen through the eyes of the metaphysical and religious person, had been broken, and now, at last, we know that we are completely alone in the face of a nature that is indifferent to us.
What is the new alliance proposal by Prigogine, which would restore the meaning of human life in the framework of today's science? The answer may be disappointing, although Prigogine's scientific achievements, and the philosophical interest of their implications, are indisputable. Prigogine received the award Nobel Prize from Chemistry for his work on the thermodynamics of irreversible processes, which allows us to understand scientifically, in some cases, how order arises from previous situations of disorder; in that sense, it can be said to be a morphogenetic theory, since it refers to the genesis of new forms. Along the same lines are René Thom's catastrophe theory and Hermann Haken's synergetics. These theories have opened up new scientific perspectives that are of undoubted interest, and lead towards the explanation of nature in terms of self-organisation: from the microphysical level to the astrophysical and the biological level, nature could be explained scientifically as the result of a grandiose process of self-organisation in which, from agreement with the Darwinian outline , new forms would be produced and only those would remain that are sufficiently adapted to the existing status at any given moment.
These perspectives lead Prigogine to speak of a metamorphosis of science: the new science overcomes mechanicism, affirms the importance of temporal dimensions, takes into account holistic factors that refer to natural systems as such, and emphasises the synergistic or cooperative dimensions that exist in nature. All of these are undoubtedly important factors in today's worldview. However, if everything remains there, no serious progress will have been made on the underlying problems.
There is also talk of a post-modern science that would be characterised by the Withdrawal of certainty, that would also attach great importance to indeterminism, and that would recognise the existence of interpretative factors in scientific objectivity* (8). In this context, it is claimed that there is no fundamental difference between the objectivity of the natural sciences and that of the human sciences. But neither the judgement of scientific truth is exact, nor is the conclusion of agreement with the peculiar objectivity of the natural sciences. Indeed, it seems obligatory to recognise that in experimental science there is a special intersubjectivity, impossible to achieve in other fields, precisely because it is limited to those aspects of reality that can be related to experimental control: therefore, to those aspects that refer to patterns Materials, to Structures spatio-temporal patterns that are repeated. It is no disgrace that this intersubjectivity cannot be achieved in the human sciences, whose object of study includes spiritual dimensions that cannot be treated like those of Materials, without this implying that there cannot be rigour in the arguments of these sciences.
Along these lines, a genuine reform of the natural sciences is sometimes proposed* (9), but it is frankly difficult to know what this reform might consist of. It seems, for example, that the sciences should be reconstructed according to the dictates of ontologies that present themselves as scientific (notably Alfred North Whitehead's "Philosophy of process"), but it remains to be seen whether such a business is possible. On other occasions, an amalgam is proposed in which science, as well as Philosophy and theology, are reformulated in a synthesis that can hardly be recognised as authentic by any of the parties * (10).
The development of experimental science poses challenges that cannot be solved by simply extrapolating some new scientific achievements or by utopian attempts to change the basic methods of science.
In order to address the problems posed by science today, it must first of all be emphasised that the natural sciences have their own autonomy. Undoubtedly, they use cognitive resources that can be applied in any other field of knowledge, but it is no less true that they use peculiar methods to study nature by focusing on repeatable spatio-temporal patterns: this is why it is feasible to build models that can be subjected to experimental control.
Therefore, although there are important coincidences between experimental science and philosophical reflection, there is also a methodological gap between them that must always be respected. The natural sciences seek a knowledge that can be subjected to experimental control, and no extra-scientific written request can set itself up as a judge of its results. Philosophical reflection, for its part, studies the conditions of possibility of the sciences: it studies their assumptions and their implications (and, no doubt, other problems: here I am only referring to the Philosophy as it relates to the sciences). Therefore, if we stick rigorously to the possibilities of the respective methods, we will not find problems that can be strictly qualified as borderline questions between science and Philosophy or theology.
Under these conditions, a dialogue between the sciences and Philosophy would seem impossible. However, status is not so hopeless. In fact, I have just indicated a path that is of great importance for such a dialogue: the study of the assumptions and implications of the sciences. Indeed, although the sciences are autonomous at their own level, they nevertheless use assumptions that are a necessary condition for science to be possible and meaningful. Moreover, further scientific progress has implications that can have an impact on these assumptions. In these conditions, it seems to me possible to propose the following thesis : sciences are based on philosophical assumptions, and scientific progress retro-acts on these assumptions: it retro-justifies them, expands them and makes them more precise. The following reflections aim to explain this thesis and to explore its consequences.
When I speak of philosophical assumptions of science, I am referring to the general assumptions of science, i.e. those that are common to all scientific activity. For example, any scientific discipline assumes that there is a certain order in the realm of nature that it seeks to explore, otherwise such an exploration would not be possible. I am not referring, on the other hand, to the specific assumptions of the different disciplines or theories: for example, one can say roughly that biology assumes physics and Chemistry, and that Chemistry assumes physics, and that Genetics assumes molecular biology; but, in these cases, these are strictly scientific assumptions.
The general assumptions of the sciences can be classified into three main types: ontological, epistemological and anthropological assumptions. Ontological assumptions refer to the existence of a nature independent of our will, which has its own consistency and possesses a specific order: a structure in different levels related to each other in a unitary way. Nature must also be intelligible, i.e. capable of being conceptualised logically and coherently. Epistemological assumptions refer to the human capacity to confront nature as an object, to construct models and to test their validity through experimentation: it is therefore assumed that the subject possesses an argumentative capacity, as well as a cognitive structure that allows him to link the Materials and intellectual aspects. The anthropological assumptions refer to the objectives sought in the scientific activity; therefore, to the values that determine those ends, and to the means to achieve them. The main goal is knowledge, and experimental control constitutes the basic condition that theoretical constructs must fulfil in order to be admitted into the realm of experimental science. Experimental science makes sense as a search for truth that allows the mastery of natural conditions and, therefore, progress in the living conditions of mankind.
These assumptions express authentic conditions of possibility for the sciences, because their validity is indispensable for the sciences to exist. They do not impose any specific approach on the sciences: they express nothing more (and nothing less) than dimensions of nature and of the human person without whose existence scientific activity could not exist. In fact, science not only exists but is making remarkable progress, and this can be used as test for the validity of the above assumptions. In that sense, scientific progress retro-justifies the existence and validity of those assumptions. Moreover, as this progress opens up new vistas, both in the representation of nature and in the modalities of its knowledge, it can be said that it broadens and clarifies the assumptions on which it is based. Indeed, the more science progresses, the better we know both the order of nature and our capacities to represent it.
Nor is it difficult to see that a systematic reflection on the assumptions of the sciences will lead to central problems of ontology, gnoseology and anthropology, and that if we carry our reflection to the end, the typical problems of natural theology will appear. Thus, philosophical reflection provides, on the one hand, the ground for the scientific research , and on the other hand, the complement that science needs so that its results can be integrated into a unitary worldview that includes the different dimensions of human experience.
To prepare for the consideration of the assumptions of science and the feedback of scientific progress on them, I will now refer to the classical metaphor of the book of nature, which has been used throughout the centuries* (11). It is one of the most fruitful metaphors to express the problems that concern us: how can we read this book, what are its characteristics, what is the value of our reading, what is its origin?
Any book is written in a language that uses symbols whose meaning must be interpreted; some interpretations are fixed by conventions or generally accepted stipulations, and others remain open: the same text can admit different interpretations. Therefore, when applied to nature, this metaphor underlines that science is a true hermeneutic activity. It has been repeated for several centuries that modern experimental science was born when scientists began to observe nature without prejudice, collecting facts and relating them by formulating laws. This idea is a central part of the positivist mindset. However, it provides a veritable caricature of real science. Dedicated to observing without preconceptions and interpretations, men would not have become scientists, but owls, and not exactly of Minerva. Nevertheless, this image of science has exerted an influence B and continues to do so today.
That science is an interpretative activity is strongly emphasised in contemporary epistemology, sometimes to an extreme that is too forced to conclude in relativism, by making the scientific knowledge dependent on paradigms whose truth could never be tested.
The wonderful thing about experimental science is that it combines the interpretative aspect with a rigorous evaluation of the validity of the models used. It is never a matter of applying a univocal language in a routine way: there are no automatic methods that guarantee creativity, either in proposing new hypotheses or in testing their validity. Note that I deliberately stress the importance of creativity not only when it comes to formulating new theories but also when trying to test their validity: the analysis of current scientific programs of study sample ad nauseam that scientific tests are often enormously sophisticated, and have little or nothing to do with the routine application of pre-established logical methods.
The analysis of the book's metaphor also provides the occasion to point out that nature is not written in any specific language, mathematical or otherwise subject. Nature does not speak, nor is it structured agreement with any human language. The metaphor of the book, in this case, assumes that there is an interlocutor (us), capable of creating a language that allows, at the same time, to express the properties of nature, to formulate a coherent speech , and to propose arguments about the validity of that speech. It is we who make nature speak. By obeying it, no doubt, but also by forcing it to reveal its secrets through very subtle interrogations. In fact, modern experimental science was systematically born when, thanks to slow work that went on for centuries, a very subtle combination of mathematics and experimentation was finally found that allowed interesting questions to be asked and some answers to be obtained from nature.
Although nature does not have a specific language, it possesses characteristics that allow the construction of scientific languages. The knowledge we draw from it is expressed in our language, but, when well verified, it reflects real characteristics of nature, although not always as a simple photograph.
This last consideration already places us in the realm of the ontological assumptions of scientific activity, which I will now analyse.
One of the most remarkable features of nature is precisely that, being constituted by "blind" components and forces, it can be studied through coherent rational languages. The rationality of nature is one of the ontological assumptions I alluded to earlier, and I have also pointed out that it is one of the most remarkable facts in the field of science: as befits an assumption, it is usually taken for granted that nature is rational and intelligible, but this is far from trivial. Moreover, scientific progress provides more and more confirmation B of the extent of that rationality and of its highly sophisticated character: the more science progresses, the more order we discover in it, for all progress means more laws, more Structures, more order.
The intelligibility of nature is closely related to the existence of order. There are many types of order in nature, but I am particularly interested in underlining the existence of Structures spatial and temporal order. A structure consists of different components that form a unity; therefore, it expresses a subject of order. Moreover, some spatial and temporal Structures in nature repeat themselves; in that case they can be called patterns: spatial patterns are configurations, and temporal patterns are rhythms.
It is not difficult to see that spatio-temporal structuring extends to all levels of nature, and moreover, that although not everything in nature are patterns, everything is articulated around patterns* (12). This explains precisely why we can study nature scientifically, which requires the development of theoretical models that can be subjected to experimental control: that these models represent aspects of nature, and that the experiments are repeatable, is possible because there is a high level of organisation in nature Degree .
This is not necessary: there might not be such an organisation Degree . Of course, in that case, we would not exist. But this is precisely a point that must be stressed: for most of the existence of the universe as we know it today, humanity has not existed, and the minimum conditions for it to exist were not present; moreover, there will come a time when the conditions necessary for our existence will not be present, at least on earth and in our solar system: if humanity still survives then, it will disappear, unless it has learned to travel to another habitable place in the universe. Therefore, when I state that there is a high Degree of order and organisation in the universe, I am referring to its present state which, in our immediate environment, is a veritable springtime for life. I am not claiming that, in any case, the universe necessarily possesses much order. The order we know today has not always existed and will cease to exist in the future.
All this means that in nature there is a contingent order* (13), which consists of a very sophisticated and stable organisation. There are different natural levels which are interpenetrated in such a way that some are components of others, or are a condition of possibility of others as external conditions (for example, the microphysical level enters into the composition of all the other levels, and on the astrophysical level, the sun is a condition of possibility of life on earth). If we also take into account the evolutionary dimension, we notice that this organisation has been built up step by step, slowly, through an enormously long and complex process in which many random factors have intervened, which could not have happened.
Under these conditions, the progress of the sciences sample, on the one hand, the existence of many kinds of order and organisation; and sample also that nature has arrived at its present organisation through a myriad of morphogenetic processes in which genuine novelties have arisen. Nature can therefore be said to be creative in a twofold sense: on the one hand, because it is continually, also at the present time, producing new beings, individually different from all others, but also, secondly, because in the course of its history it has produced a great variety of types of organisation that did not previously exist.
We now see why I have said that scientific progress retro-acts on its philosophical assumptions in three ways: it retro-justifies, expands and specifies them. We see, in fact, that this happens in the field of ontological assumptions, on which we are now focusing our attention. The rationality of nature is a basic ontological assumption; scientists admit it from the very moment they begin to work as scientists: otherwise, science could not exist, nor would its possibility make sense. But this initial assumption, which was originally closely related to and supported by the Christian cultural matrix that favoured the birth of modern science in the 17th century* (14), receives a kind of feedback from the further progress of science. Specifically, the current scientific worldview retro-justifies this assumption, because sample that nature not only possesses rationality and order, but that it possesses a high level of organisation that includes the existence of levels between which there is continuity, graduality and emergence. Therefore, scientific progress expands the content of the initial ontological assumption. It also makes it more precise: it introduces the processual, evolutionary, emergent dimension, which was previously practically unknown and which is of enormous importance for the knowledge of nature.
The creativity of nature is astonishing. Despite enormous scientific and technological progress, we still do not know how life arose on earth, nor how the major plans for the organisation of living things came into being. There are plausible hypotheses about these and other aspects of the emergence of new natural forms, but these hypotheses place us, time and again, before three possibilities: either morphogenesis is very simple and probable, and so it is astonishing that it is so probable; or it is very improbable, and so it is astonishing that there are so many coincidences that have made it possible; or it is due to a confluence of factors, some more probable and some more improbable, and so it is astonishing that such a complex and multifarious process, developed over a very long time, has led to the highly organised results that we know.
It is even more astonishing when we realise that nature's creativity is not limited to the beings we already know. The development of science and technology has made us aware that there are many, many possibilities that are not realised in nature; many of them have already been produced artificially, but there are undoubtedly many more. In this area, nature's creativity meets human creativity, which I will now consider.
The next step of my exhibition focuses on the epistemological assumptions of experimental science. The existence of experimental science depends on epistemological assumptions concerning the human capacity to know nature. There are thousands of animal species that are very well adapted to environmental conditions and successfully carry out a varied and sometimes astonishing activity; but on earth, only humans are capable of scientific activity: despite our great biological proximity to other species, experimental science is a privilege of ours. This is due to the peculiar combination of sensitivity and rationality in the human being.
Sensibility puts us in an immediate relationship with nature. Undoubtedly, man is a natural being. Our communion with nature is not an extrinsic relationship, since we are part of it. But, at the same time, we transcend it, because we possess dimensions that are beyond the limits of the strictly natural: intelligence, will, freedom, morality, are embodied in a subject that exists in spatio-temporal conditions, but transcends those conditions.
In order to be able to do science, the peculiar combination of sensitivity and rationality that is found in the human person is required. Indeed, in experimental science we seek a knowledge of nature that can provide a controlled mastery of it, and therefore, we deal with theories that must possess, as a necessary requisite, the capacity to be submitted to experimental control. Scientific activity pursues this double goal, theoretical and practical, in such a way that these two aspects are intertwined: the theory has to be constructed in such a way that it is possible to devise experiments that submit it to test, and experimentation can only be carried out if we have a rational plan for carrying it out and for interpreting its results. All this means, for example, that neither empiricism nor idealism is able to account for the existence and progress of experimental science.
Again, we find here a retro-action of scientific progress on the epistemological assumptions on which it is based: the existence of experimental science and its progress is compatible with a certain spectrum of philosophical positions, but it is incompatible with others, namely those that cannot include the epistemological assumptions mentioned.
As was the case on the ontological level, so too on the epistemological level we can affirm that scientific progress not only retro-justifies philosophical assumptions, but also expands and clarifies them. Indeed, new developments in the sciences reveal new aspects of our capacities at knowledge. One need only think, for example, of the very existence of experimental science as it has developed since the 17th century: it is easy to see that it was an enormous novelty, to such an extent that the difficulties in interpreting the value of the scientific knowledge existed from the beginning and have been perpetuated to the present day. There has never been a generalised agreement , even nowadays, about the value of the scientific knowledge . Experimental science departed from the classical ideal of science and constituted a new subject of science, the peculiarities of which are still widely debated. What is clear is that these peculiarities are neither few nor small.
I am interested in underlining that, among these peculiarities, there is one that is of particular interest for my argument: scientific creativity. Undoubtedly, in experimental science we seek the knowledge of a nature that, in its own dimensions, is independent of our will: we cannot create the laws of nature at our whim, although we can produce new entities that will unfold their dynamism through processes that are also new. What I wish to point out, and on this point there is a general agreement among philosophers of science today, is that the progress of experimental science demands that we formulate new hypotheses that go beyond the available data , that we design new experiments to submit these hypotheses to experimental control, and that we also formulate new criteria for interpreting the results of the experiments.
Contemporary epistemology emphatically underlines that new hypotheses are not obtained by a simple generalisation of the available data ; or rather, that this case, which is always possible, is not enough to explain the most significant advances in science, which require bold theoretical constructions. And it also underlines that the experimental control of these hypotheses requires no less audacious doses of creativity. An important example of both aspects is to be found in the study of the microphysical domain, far beyond the possibilities of the ordinary knowledge . Theories about subatomic particles and basic forces would never have been formulated if scientists had adhered to the positivist canons that experimental science should be limited to relating observable phenomena. Positivist prejudices, partly aimed at achieving rigour in science but sometimes also due to the desire to annihilate all cognitive claims outside science (and especially metaphysics and theology), have never been followed in real scientific activity: indeed, it is impossible to take them to internship without halting scientific progress. Suffice it to recall that in the latter part of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, an illustrious physicist tenaciously opposed the atomic theory that was already bearing serious fruit in science, because this theory did not conform to positivist canons.
Creativity is once again a factor closely related to science and its progress. In this case, it is scientific creativity, that is, the ability of scientists to formulate new hypotheses and submit them to experimental control. The retro-action of scientific progress on its epistemological assumptions means that this progress retro-justifies the initial assumption that refers to the human capacity to know the natural order, and furthermore, it broadens and specifies this assumption. It broadens it because it manifests new modalities of our knowledge that previously only existed as possibilities or capacities that had not been updated. And it specifies it because it eventually allows us to correct too narrow, primitive or unilateral ideas about the possibilities of the human knowledge .
Thanks to scientific progress, we know better the central role that creativity plays in science through the construction of bold hypotheses that go far beyond the available data , and, in general, through the construction of models whose value depends on two factors: on the one hand, that they simplify reality so that we can study it under controlled experimental conditions and in such a way that the theories are accessible, and on the other, that we succeed in capturing in the simplified model the aspects that are genuinely relevant to our purpose. The construction of models has played an essential role since the systematic birth of modern science, and the variety of possible models, reflecting to a large extent the creative capacity of scientists, has extended from the first mechanical models to much more abstract ones, reaching simulations that allow us to study, under experimental conditions, the behaviour of complex systems.
If the creativity of nature is astounding, scientific creativity is no less so. The birth of modern science in the 17th century came about thanks to the pioneering work of geniuses whose achievements will be hard to surpass, when considered in proportion to their starting point and the resources they had at their disposal. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton, among others, deserve enormous admiration as geniuses who were able to venture into a business that was exploratory and discovering, but at the same time eminently creative, since scientific discoveries are only possible thanks to a large dose of theoretical and experimental creativity. For this reason, the admiration aroused by these geniuses, as well as those of later times such as Lavoisier, Maxwell, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg and so many others, regardless of their personal ideas, is fully justified.
I have considered the ontological assumptions of experimental science, which refer to the conditions of possibility of science on the part of its object, and the epistemological assumptions, which refer to those conditions on the part of its subject. I will now examine the anthropological assumptions, which refer to science as a whole as a human activity directed towards certain goals.
Despite the notable differences in contemporary epistemology, it can be stated that in scientific activity a knowledge of nature is sought that can be subjected to experimental control and, therefore, allows for a controlled mastery of nature. Disagreements among philosophers of science concern the value of scientific theories. Many claim that the truth of any particular theory can never be demonstrated with complete certainty, and therefore that all theories are provisional and revisable; moreover, they consider that this evaluation corresponds to the strictly scientific attitude and should be admitted in other cognitive endeavours as well. Others attribute to truth a more secondary function, because they affirm that theories are paradigms that are admitted for their fecundity, but are replaced by others without a strictly rational comparison between the new paradigms and the old ones, since they would respond to incommensurable points of view. Other, more minority positions could be added. However, these discrepancies do not prevent us from recognising that, at least as a regulative ideal, the truth of knowledge plays an important role in scientific activity, and it is even more evident that science serves as a basis for technological applications.
I assert that, in this case too, scientific progress retro-acts on the anthropological assumptions of science: it retro-justifies them, expands them and makes them more precise.
That progress retro-justifies the double goal of experimental science is obvious to anyone who looks at scientific achievements. If we were to list the knowledge we possess about nature, we would see that most of it has been achieved thanks to the development of science; therefore, although there are discussions about the value of scientific knowledge , it is undeniable that science allows us to achieve enormous advances in our particularised knowledge of nature, and that we could not achieve these results in any other way. If we think, on the other hand, of the practical goal , the magnitude of the achievements is even more overwhelming and indisputable: scientific progress has made possible a technological development that has completely transformed the living conditions of humankind. To be sure, it has also been accompanied by problems and threats; but this negative aspect is not opposed to the controlled mastery of nature, but is a consequence of it.
In asserting that scientific progress retro-justifies the goals of science, I do not mean to say that it justifies them morally, but only factually: that is, sample the possibility of achieving them, because they are in fact achieved. Whether it is desirable to continue to develop these goals or not, and in which directions, is a different ethical problem. In any case, Bacon's prophecies about the impact of the new science on human life have been more than fulfilled, and this sample that scientific progress widens the scope of scientific goals; that scope, in principle, can continue to expand permanently, since our knowledge and mastery of nature are always very limited and can always increase.
In my opinion, it can also be said that progress specifies the objectives of scientific activity. It seems to me that this point is extremely important, which is why I am going to break it down into two aspects: the ethical standards promoted by science, and the new responsibilities that scientific progress places before us.
With regard to the first aspect, I would argue that scientific activity involves a whole set of ethical values and that its progress contributes strongly to the promotion of these values. This is a topic which, although not new, is currently receiving particular attention * (15). Without claiming to be exhaustive or orderly, these values include the following: the search for truth through procedures subject to intersubjective control, both theoretical and experimental; the rigour that all this implies; intellectual modesty, which recognises the limits of the points of view that are adopted; critical capacity, because theories are always open to further counter-examples and corresponding modifications; cooperation with other researchers, which is absolutely necessary in scientific activity, because we depend on the knowledge provided by others and, moreover, much research is only possible through a collective work ; improvement of the quality of life, since theoretical progress allows for the development of new technological applications that can improve human life.
Disregarding the somewhat scientistic sense they have in their author (a scientism which, moreover, can be seen in the following quotation ), these values are clearly expressed by Mario Bunge in these words: "The universal adoption of a scientific attitude can make us wiser: it would make us more cautious, no doubt, in the reception of information, in the Admissions Office of beliefs and in the formulation of forecasts; it would make us more demanding in contrasting our opinions, and more tolerant of those of others; it would make us more willing to inquire freely about new possibilities, and to eliminate established myths that are only myths; it would strengthen our confidence in experience, guided by reason, and our confidence in reason contrasted by experience; it would stimulate us to plan and control action better, to select our ends and to seek standards of conduct consistent with those ends and with knowledge available , rather than dominated by habit and authority; it would give more life to the love of truth, to the willingness to acknowledge one's error, to seek perfection and to understand inevitable imperfection; It would give us a vision of the world that is eternally young, based on tested theories, rather than on tradition, which stubbornly shuns all contrast with facts; and it would encourage us to hold a realistic view of human life, a balanced view, neither optimistic nor pessimistic" * (16).
The second aspect of scientific activity that I wish to highlight concerns the new responsibilities that scientific progress places before us. Indeed, science and its technological applications are continually confronting us with new ethical horizons that require us to make responsible choices. This is probably one of the most important challenges facing civilisation today.
Here again we find topic of creativity. Indeed, although there are moral principles which must always be respected, these principles must be applied to situations which, as far as science and technology are concerned, involve major new developments and therefore also require new solutions. Suffice it to mention ecological problems, which are closely related to science and technology; in this area, problems arise from new situations in the history of mankind, which even call for a new sensitivity: for example, to the responsibility towards future generations. It would be easy to mention other problems, but that would take me too far away from my present goal . I will only add that, obviously, responsibility for the effects of nuclear techniques is one of the main responsibilities of political leaders, who must inexcusably develop all the creativity necessary to minimise the enormous risks that still exist today for the whole of humanity.
But creativity also affects the values inherent in scientific activity. After all, the cultivation of values is always the result of responsible decisions, because it belongs to the ethical level. It is important, for example, that scientists develop a love of truth that not only leads them to act cleanly in their scientific work (which is required by the very organisation of that work), but also to act with scrupulous rigour in the field of knowledge dissemination, being aware of the authority that their status as scientists gives them in the eyes of many people. And, in general, the cultivation of an attitude of rigour and intellectual modesty would have enormously beneficial effects on a society which, otherwise, is in serious danger of being manipulated by a propaganda that has increasingly effective and subtle means, achieved precisely thanks to the progress of science and technology.
Many social ills of the past and present are due to attitudes of closed-mindedness and intolerance. The cultivation of the values inherent in scientific activity could and should lead to positions of openness and partnership. In this case, the feedback of scientific progress on its anthropological assumptions not only exists, but can be decisive for humanity.
In examining the current worldview, as well as the assumptions of experimental science and the feedback of scientific progress on them, I have stressed the importance of rationality, information and creativity. I now ask what implications this has for the problem of the ultimate explanation of the universe. I will answer this question by focusing on theism, and making, where appropriate, references to alternative answers.
First of all, the current worldview sample that the universe in which we live is permeated by a kind of unconscious intelligence. I do not intend to take this expression literally, because an intelligence can only be conscious, even self-conscious. It is, however, a very appropriate metaphor to express that in nature there is a dynamism that unfolds as if it possessed an intelligence, and a rather sophisticated one at that.
The current worldview emphasises the existence of self-organisation in nature, in a complex process in which, through multiple steps, information is unfolded and integrated in such a way as to arrive at highly sophisticated results. Each step, and the process as a whole, responds to natural processes, to the unfolding of natural dynamism that produces successive types of organisation; but the results are not simple aggregations: genuine integrations are achieved that give rise to new unitary systems that possess genuinely new properties, and these systems, in turn, contain new virtualities and unfold them through new dynamisms. The resulting universe possesses a very high Degree of organisation, directionality and co-operativity.
All this indicates that nature's creativity is very much B. Indeed, in the course of this grandiose process of self-organisation, some novelties are produced that provide the basis for others, and in such a way that we arrive at a universe that makes our existence and our properly rational and creative activity possible, thanks to a myriad of very specific and coordinated natural dynamisms. This result, and the processes that have produced it, are possible because, from the microphysical level, there are components and forces that have enormously specific characteristics. I will not go into the analysis of what has been called the anthropic principle, because there are different formulations of it that would require a detailed discussion; suffice it to note that, behind these formulations, there is an incontrovertible fact: that the universe we know possesses highly specific basic characteristics and, thanks to them, the concrete conditions that make our existence possible have been formed. And with us, rationality and creativity in the strict sense of the word have appeared on earth.
It is often insisted that experimental science is not in a position to say that life in general, and human life in particular, must necessarily arise once the basic conditions of our universe were in place. It is interesting to note, however, that some leading scientists do not share this view. I will refer to some reflections of Christian de Duve, who received the award Nobel Prize for his research in the field of biology. This scientist states: "The thesis that the origin of life was extremely improbable is false (...) Given the nature of the subject and given the conditions on Earth four billion years ago, it was inevitable that life would emerge, in a form not very different, at least in its basic molecular properties, from its present form". And, speaking not only of living things, but of living things endowed with consciousness, he states something similar, so that he concludes: "Life and mind seem to be cosmic imperatives, inscribed in the fabric of the universe" * (17).
Such a view is consistent with the existence of a divine plan. It could be objected that, under such a perspective, the creativity of nature seems to be reduced to an appearance, because, at bottom, we would be dealing with a determinism in which the results are foreseen in advance. However, it should be noted that the civil service examination between nature's creativity and the existence of a divine plan does not correspond to reality. Rather, it seems logical to admit that the creativity of nature, which develops in a rational way and makes possible the appearance of properly rational beings, requires divine action as the only adequate explanation: the alternatives are either some kind of pantheism that recognises rationality but blurs it in a nature that is not a rational subject, or agnostic positions that renounce the search for rational explanations, or a deism that affirms God but does not recognise the attributes that God must necessarily possess. None of these alternatives seems satisfactory. Theism stumbles into mystery, but it is a mystery that is logical to encounter when we speak of God, and which provides a satisfactory rational explanation.
Although in this case, as is always the case when we look into the divine action, we encounter mystery, we can nevertheless venture analogies that shed some light. For example, let us think of what will happen to an aviator who is at the North Pole and sets off on his flight by deciding his course at random, by means of a roulette wheel; we can be sure that, sooner or later, that aviator will reach exactly the South Pole: although the paths he may take in various attempts may be different in their trajectory and duration and in many other circumstances, and the course has been decided at random, the end will be exactly the same * (18). In the case of God's plans, a fundamental factor is added: that God, as the First Cause of all that exists, knows everything perfectly differently from us, and therefore there is no difficulty in combining divine omniscience and omnipotence with the existence of chance factors in natural events.
Christian de Duve himself affirms, in a graphic way, that God can play dice with the certainty of winning. The basic idea is that He plays with tricked dice, that is, with a subject in which He Himself has placed virtualities whose development will eventually lead to conscious life. Jacques Monod stated that we are the result, not foreseen by anyone, of blind forces that unfold through the combination of chance and necessity; according to his perspective, "Our issue came out at the Monte Carlo casino". Albert Einstein, on the other hand, held a rather deterministic position with a certain pantheistic air; he famously said: "God does not play dice". In contrast to these two great scientists, Christian de Duve, award Nobel Prize winner like them, affirms that God plays dice without, therefore, falling into uncontrolled chance, and expresses it with this phrase: "Yes, He plays, since He is sure to win". Monod's conclusion was: "Man now knows that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from which he has emerged by chance"; Christian de Duve comments: "This is, of course, absurd. What man knows - or at least should know - is that, with the time and quantity of subject available , not even something resembling the most elementary cell, not to mention man, could have originated by blind chance if the universe had not already carried them in its bosom". He adds: "Chance did not operate in a vacuum. It operated in a universe governed by precise laws and constituted by a subject endowed with specific properties. These laws and properties limit the evolutionary roulette wheel and limit the numbers that can come out. Among these numbers are life and all its wonders, including the substratum of the conscious mind. Faced with the enormous sum of lucky games behind the success of the evolutionary game, one might legitimately ask to what extent this success is written in the fabric of the universe. To Einstein, who once said: "God does not play dice", one could reply: "Yes, He does, since He is sure to win". In other words, there may be a plan. And it began with the big bang" (19). * (19).
I have spoken of the function of information in today's worldview; this is especially important in the realm of the living. I have said that information can be considered as materialised rationality, because it contains instructions that are stored in Structures Materials and unfold through equally natural processes. This information is stored, encoded and decoded, transmitted, integrated. All of this sample that nature contains a rationality that is also highly sophisticated and efficient.
These statements can be illustrated ad nauseam with examples taken from recent scientific progress, and this subject of examples has one great advantage: that there is nothing to fear from future progress, but quite the contrary: indeed, further progress will provide more and more and better illustrations, because it can be said, graphically, that the more science, the more order: all progress means a better knowledge of the organisation of nature. I will now refer to a subject of examples, limiting myself to a few quotations, so that my statements do not remain too abstract.
The example I have chosen concerns the cellular speech and the role played by G-proteins. On 11 October 1994, the press reported the award of the award Nobel Prize in medicine to Professors Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell for "the finding of G-proteins and their role in signal transmission in cells". The quotations are taken from a article by Gilman which was published in 1992 * (20).
Of course, G-proteins are not ghostly entities. Like other proteins, they consist of amino acids linked by peptide bonds. Proteins are large groups of atoms arranged in long chains that fold into characteristic patterns, and they play important roles in the body: for example, hormones are involved in the regulation of metabolic processes, and enzymes act as catalysts for reactions that take place in the body.
Rounding up the figures, there are about 10 trillion cells in the human organism, distributed in about 250 types (nerve, blood, muscle cells, etc.). The cells are very small: it is estimated that a cube with an edge of 2.5 centimetres would hold about a billion cells of subject medium. However, each cell is a miniature marvel; it contains in its nucleus all the information Genetics, and lives, so to speak, its own life: it receives substances from outside, transforms them to obtain energy, throws out waste, manufactures the components that the organism needs and exports them to the right place, reproduces itself by processes in which genetic material is duplicated and divided. The functioning of a single cell is enormously sophisticated.
Cells depend on each other for their existence and function. This is where a whole set of processes come into play, whereby cells act in a very specific way. They need to "know" what kinds of molecules are around them to let them in or to block them. They need to "know" what to do with incoming material. They also need to "know" the state of the organism, in order to act accordingly. It is a fascinating world that works on the basis of "information". And this is where the G-proteins play an important role.
In Gilman's words, G-proteins "are multifaceted molecules that, housed on the inner face of the cell membrane, coordinate cellular responses to numerous signals from the outside" * (21). In order for us to act and simply exist, the cells in our body must communicate with each other, and that speech is done through chemical messengers. But few messengers need to penetrate cells; Gilman continues: "most get the information to its destination through intermediaries. On the surface of the target cell are proteins that serve as specific receptors for them: binding to them becomes a command". The receptors then "transmit the information in turn to a series of intracellular emissaries, which finally pass it on to the final executors".
Many of the extracellular messengers that have been discovered rely on G proteins "to direct the flow of signals from the receptor to the rest of the cell". Our Nobel Laureate award adds: "We continue to be fascinated by their abilities and the central role they play in a wide variety of cellular functions, which seem to be expanding every day.
It is interesting to note that scientists are still in awe of nature. They even, as we have just seen, speak of fascination. Why is that? At first glance, it seems that advances in science should rather eliminate admiration. One admires something when one does not know how it works, but if one discovers its mechanisms, there seems to be no more room for admiration. However, it is possible to see things differently. Indeed, if the mechanisms that are discovered are very sophisticated, it is logical to be surprised that nature, on its own and acting "blindly", is capable of performing such subtle and complex operations at the same time. This is what happens with G-proteins. When describing their activity, scientists speak of information, commands, messengers, emissaries, executioners, coordination, speech. All this would be nothing special if they were people. But they are chemical entities. We can go even further into this strange world by looking at other statements in the article guide .
In the late 1950s, the processes of cell signalling began to be understood. "We now know that a wide variety of cellular receptors echo the instructions of hormones and other extracellular first messengers by exciting one or another G-protein. Attached to the inner surface of the cell membrane, these proteins in turn act on intermediaries also attached to the cell membrane, which are called effectors. The effector is often an enzyme that converts an inactive precursor molecule into an active second messenger, which diffuses through the cytoplasm and can then carry the signal beyond the boundaries of the membrane. The second messenger triggers a cascade of molecular reactions that results in a functional change in the cell; for example, it starts secreting a certain hormone, or releasing glucose, into the environment.
We are dealing with a world in which signals and instructions are transmitted through messengers that take over from one another. Of course, first and second messengers, as well as proteins and effectors, are not spirits or ghosts: they are physico-chemical entities. But they act in a way that we could simply describe as intelligent, if we consider that we are dealing with very specific and coordinated processes thanks to which the functions of organisms exist. Of course, we will not find anyone directing the traffic or indicating what should be done at any given moment.
The list of discoveries is continually expanding. official document Gilman tells us that it is now known that G proteins "act as switches and timers, determining when and for how long the pathways of speechopen or close". Of course, they don't think, nor do they have clocks, nor have they studied Chemistry or biology. Moreover, "G proteins also amplify signals. For example, in the highly efficient visual system, one rhodopsin molecule almost simultaneously activates more than 500 transducin molecules. Its action is therefore multifaceted and effective. Gilman warns that there are still many enigmas to be unravelled, but, on reflection, this means that current knowledge is only a fraction of the wonders that make our bodies work.
One might think that, after all, the world of molecular biology is no different from any other area of nature, and that the employment of terms referring to information, instructions, and the like, is merely a response to the need to somehow explain processes that have nothing mysterious about them. But, in any case, it is striking that, when trying to explain their discoveries, scientists are compelled by the need to use a language full of meanings reminiscent of intelligent actions.
It is a double layer that separates the cell from its environment and, at the same time, makes possible the entrance and the exit of Materials, as well as the speech with other cells. Gilman says: "the cell membrane is undoubtedly a highly complex control panel, receiving a variety of signals, assessing their relative strength, and transmitting them to second messengers that will ensure the cell's appropriate response to a changing environment". And also: "the cell membrane is a kind of control panel that can mix different signals, or redirect similar signals along different pathways, depending on the needs of the cell".
The processes thus develop according to the needs of the cell. But nature does this on its own. No doubt this is all partly in the language we (in this case, scientists) use ourselves, and perhaps it could be expressed differently. But what is meant will not change. Not everything depends on language.
G-proteins are just one example; there are many others that are even more sophisticated. Any one of these examples applies to me purpose. I am not afraid that further progress in science will make them obsolete; on the contrary, we can be sure that the more science progresses, the more obvious the reason for admiration will become. Nature manifests a power and wisdom which, the more science progresses, the more we know in detail. In this sense, new discoveries do not suppress wonder at nature, but, on the contrary, increase it. And, unless we are prepared to admit a kind of pantheism that is ultimately contradictory, contemplation of the power and wisdom of nature leads hand in hand to the affirmation of a God staff creator who, although shrouded in mystery because he transcends completely the level of creatures, allows us to understand the grandeur of creation.
At final, the current scientific worldview is very consistent with the existence of a creator God staff who governs creation. Do not think that by saying "is very consistent with" I am undervaluing my assertion. On the contrary, as is well known, many scientific achievements of the first magnitude are presented in this way: by saying that the data obtained in the experiments "are consistent with" the theory they were trying to test. In our case, the coherence of theism with the scientific worldview is very great; but there are other factors, from subject staff , that always influence the consequences that each person can draw from that coherence. It can be noted, however, that this worldview is not very coherent with atheism and agnosticism. On the other hand, it is quite coherent with pantheism and deism, but these positions lack internal coherence.
On the other hand, if I may speak of our "models" of divine action (this terminology is currently used by fully credible theologians), the "model" of divine action suggested by the current worldview is very interesting. Instead of thinking of divine creation as referring to an originating event in which the whole universe as we know it is produced, and of divine conservation as referring to maintaining in being the kinds of beings that already exist, the current worldview suggests a theological explanation which, of course, maintains the complete dependence of all creatures on God, but stresses certain nuances that deserve careful consideration.
Indeed, it seems logical to affirm that the world has not always existed in its present state, but that it comes from previous states in which it possessed Degrees lesser organisation, and that going back into the past, we would arrive at a primitive state enormously different from the present one and from what can be produced with present means in laboratories. We do not know with complete certainty whether the model of the "big bang" is true; and even if it were, we could not say that it coincided with the creation of the universe: it could have been the result of earlier physical processes. But it seems clear that there has been a cosmic and biological evolution in which beings endowed with successive Degrees of complexity have appeared.
In such a case, it would seem logical to admit that God did not want to create everything that exists all at once, but preferred to create the universe in an incomplete state, with the capacity to unfold virtualities whose update leads to new states which, in turn, possess new virtualities, and so on, until the present state is reached. This representation implies that the creative plan seems to extend over enormous periods of time, also counting on the continuous partnership of creatures. The creativity of nature would go hand in hand with the divine action that makes it possible and at the same time uses it to reach the desired results. This model of divine action seems to go more agreement with a God who, because He Himself has willed it, wants to count on the action of the creatures of agreement habitually with the virtualities that He Himself has given them.
The production of novelties in the course of this process attracts the attention even of those who do not adopt a religious attitude in the usual sense. Many of them, such as Karl Popper, speak of the "emergence" of novelties. Popper openly acknowledges that the main moments of this emergence, especially in the case of the human person, are very mysterious and probably always will be. Konrad Lorenz, on the other hand, proposes to use the term fulguratio (fulguration), used by ancient authors to refer to the creation of new things by direct divine intervention, although Lorenz dispenses with divine action and only intends to stress the emergence of unpredictable novelties. Both Popper and Lorenz stress that a multitude of ontological novelties have occurred in evolution, some of them particularly significant* (22).
If we add to this the fact that, to refer both to the whole process and to each of its parts, we usually speak of self-organisation, it might seem that naturalism has won the battle. Are we not perhaps proposing a representation of divine action that reduces it to something superadded to the natural, like an ornament that could be dispensed with at any time?
The danger is undoubtedly real. But it is not new. More than seven centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas proposed a characterisation of nature that seems to me simply masterful, and almost inexplicably appropriate for my purpose. It reads as follows: "Nature is nothing other than the plan of a certain art (namely, the divine art), impressed on things, by which the things themselves move towards a certain end: as if the craftsman who makes a ship could give the logs to move of their own accord to form the structure of the ship" * (23). Of course, Thomas Aquinas was not thinking of an evolutionary worldview. However, his words apply perfectly to today's worldview and explicitly allude to self-organisation. It seems to me that this Thomistic characterisation of nature is far superior to the one usually used, taken verbatim from Aristotle. It is a masterly characterisation. And sample that divine action goes hand in hand with the action of creatures. To discover God, the ordinary way is the ordinary development of natural activity. Divine providence manifests itself when appropriate in extraordinary ways; but it usually does so through the ordinary. And scientific progress provides us with an ever more detailed knowledge of nature and its ways. An objective look at this progress will lead to admiration and to the question of its radical explanation.
All this takes on new relevance when we consider that the course of nature has led to the emergence of successive novelties which are truly sophisticated patterns and types of organisation, and which have resulted in the production of the conditions that make human life possible. The creativity of nature, which implies high Degrees of rationality and organisation, can be understood in the light of the divine action that continually embraces all creation. With the emergence of the human person, a natural being who at the same time transcends nature, a new subject of creativity begins to exist. It can be said that scientific creativity is a palpable manifestation of human uniqueness, and therefore to reduce the human person to the purely material or natural is to make him an undeserving victim of his own products, going against all logic. Scientific progress sample, rather, both the creativity of nature and, on another level, human creativity (and perhaps it is possible that the former is a condition of the latter). Moreover, we encounter a new level of creativity when we consider moral problems, which place us at the level of humanity proper to the human person. Scientific progress places us, time and again, before ethical challenges that we have to face with creativity and imagination, which are always necessary qualities, even if it is admitted that these challenges must be faced on the basis of basic moral principles.
There are new challenges, and very important ones indeed, involving ever larger parts of humanity and even humanity as a whole, both now and in the future. Progress has been made in many areas, but it can be reversed at any time. Awareness of our creative capacity leads to greater ethical responsibility, to the realisation that our actions have good or bad consequences for which we are responsible, to the recognition that God is counting on us, on our freedom, on our responsibility, on our creativity, to realise his plans.
Seen in this light, it seems to me that it is clear in what sense we can speak of "the mind of the universe". God is transcendent, distinct from the universe, but at the same time immanent to it, present in the whole universe and in each of its parts, continually giving them being and all their virtualities, and making possible the unfolding of these virtualities, also in the production of new ways of being and, ultimately, of new human persons who have in their hands the responsibility for their present and their future. This perspective financial aid helps us to understand that belief in God has nothing to do with an attitude of resignation or passivity: on the contrary, it encourages responsibility and creativity.
- Seneca, Quaestiones naturales, I, 13: "Quid est deus? Mens universi. Quid est deus? Quod vides totum et quod non vides totum. Sic demum magnitudo illi sua redditur, quia nihil maius cogitari potest, si solus est omnia, si opus suum et intra et extra tenet": edition of Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1961, tome I, pp. 10-11.
- Luis de Granada, Introducción del Símbolo de la fe, parte primera, capítulo I: edited by J. M. Balcells, Chair, Madrid 1989, pp. 129-130.
- Quotations from this section are taken from: P. Davies, The Mind of God. Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning, Simon & Schuster, London 1992, pp. 20-21, 24, 148 and 162. I subscribe to the ideas quoted, although I find the aspects of Davies' work that refer directly to God and religion rather confusing.
- Aristotle, De Anima, I, 5, 411 a 7.
- R. Boyd - P. Gasper - J. D. Trout (eds.), The Philosophy of Science, The MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1991, "Introduction", pp. xi-xiv.
- See, for example: A. Beckermann - H. Flohr - J. Kim (eds.), Emergence or Reduction? Essays on the Prospects of Nonreductive Physicalism, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York 1992; J. Kim "Concepts of Supervenience", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 45 (1984-1985), pp. 153-176; D. Papineau, Philosophical Naturalism, Blackwell, Oxford 1993; M. Stöckler, "A Short History of Emergence and Reductionism", in: E. Agazzi (ed.), The Problem of Reductionism in Science, Kluwer, Dordrecht 1991.
- I. Prigogine - I. Stengers, La nueva alianza: metamorfosis de la ciencia, Alianza, Madrid 1983 (original: La nouvelle alliance. Métamorphose de la science, Gallimard, Paris 1979).
- D. L. Madsen - M. S. Madsen, "Fractals, Chaos and Dynamics: The Emergence of Postmodern Science", in: S. Earnshaw (ed.),Postmodern Sorroundings, Rodopi, Amsterdam 1994, pp. 119-132.
- D. R. Griffin (ed.), The Reenchantment of Science. Postmodern Proposals, State University of New York Press, Albany 1988; J. B. Cobb Jr., "One Step Further", in: R. J. Russell - W. R. Stoeger - G. V. Coyne (eds.), John Paul II on Science and Religion. Reflections on the New View from Rome, Vatican Observatory Publications, Vatican City State 1990, pp. 5-8.
- F. Capra - D. Steindl-Rast - T. Matus, Pertenecer al universo. Encuentros entre ciencia y espiritualidad, Edaf, Madrid 1994. David Steindl-Rast and Thomas Matus are Benedictine Camaldolese monks from Big Sur, California. Fritjof Capra became famous for his 1975 work The Tao of Physics, in which he sought to bring modern physics closer to Eastern religions; he now shows a new interest in integrating his perspectives with Christian ideas.
- O. Pedersen, The Book of Nature, The University of Notre Dame Press - Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Notre Dame (Indiana) - Città del Vaticano 1992.
- An explanation of these two assertions can be found in: M. Artigas, La inteligibilidad de la naturaleza, 2nd edition, Eunsa, Pamplona 1995, chapter I.
- T. Torrance, Divine and contingent order, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1981.
- This connection was extensively documented by Pierre Duhem, in his monumental work Le système du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic, 10 volumes, Hermann, Paris 1913-1917 and 1954-1959. Of particular interest in this line: S. L. Jaki, Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe, 2nd edition, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1986.
- In this respect, see the work of Javier Echeverría, Philosophy de la ciencia, Akal, Madrid 1995, which is devoted precisely to the study of the values implied by scientific activity.
- M. Bunge, La research científica. Su estrategia y su Philosophy, Ariel, Barcelona 1976 (original: Scientific Research, Springer, New York 1967), p. 51.
- C. de Duve, "Las restricciones del azar", research y Ciencia, nº 233, February 1996, p. 96.
- I base myself on a comparison by Carsten Bresch, collected in: R. Isak, Evolution ohne Ziel?, Herder, Freiburg in Br. 1992, p. 380. In this case, the spherical shape of the Earth provides the conditions that limit chance.
- C. de Duve, La célula viva, Labor, Barcelona 1988 (original 1984), pp. 356-358.
- M. E. Linder - A. G. Gilman, "G Proteins", research and Science, No. 192, September 1992, pp. 20-28.
- The quotations on this section refer to the above-mentioned article by Linder and Gilman. The italics are my own, and I use them to highlight everything that refers to the information.
- J. Corcó, Novedades en el universo. La cosmovisión emergentista de Karl R. Popper, Eunsa, Pamplona 1995, pp. 188-189.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, book II, chapter 8, lectio 14: "Natura nihil est aliud quam ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus, qua ipsae res moventur in finem determinatum: sicut si artifex factor navis posset lignis tribuere, quod ex se ipsis moverentur ad navis formam inducendam".