Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science
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Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
6 (2), June 1976

Table of Contents

Papers Based on the Symposium on Science and Human Values at the 1970 Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Introduction to the Symposium on Science and Human Values by Ralph Wendell Burhoe

I am pleased to introduce this symposium on science and human values, which has been made possible by the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We are meeting under the auspices of the Section of the History and Philosophy of Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. …
Ralph Wendell Burhoe, professor of theology and the sciences, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, was chairman of the symposium on science and human values at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago, Illinois, December 29, 1970.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00706.x

Thermodynamics of Flow and Biological Organization by A. Katchalsky

The fundamental questions facing mankind since time immemorial, “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “Where am I going to?”, continue to haunt modern man, despite his scientific sophistication. We are still suffering from pain, from phobias and frustrations, and looking for reassurance and comfort, for hope and inspiration, in our struggle for existence. As pointed out by Durkheim, the major problem of prescientific man was to overcome the hostile forces of nature in order to survive. The advent of a scientific technology made man a master of nature, but in the process he lost interest in life itself, and the new mastery only increased his insecurity and frustration.

Previous generations found consolation and guidance in mythological beliefs, which reinforced man’s ego and provided life with meaningful mission. There is, however, at present no retreat to the mythological world, and anyone who has been infected with the analytical method of science is doomed to the search for cognitive solutions for meaningful behavior, without the support of mystical revelation. It is this recognition which drives many honest thinkers to raise the classical problems of value and humanistic attitudes also with the scientists—and it is the presence of the inner struggle within our generation which underlies our symposium on science and human values. …
A. Katchalsky is director of the Polymer Research Laboratory, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00707.x

The Larger Cybernetics by R. B. Lindsay

It has not been uncommon for men who have made great contributions to special fields of science to take an interest in broader issues as they grow older and, indeed, become in a measure what we may properly call philosophers. Examples abound: Poincaré in mathematics; Planck, Einstein, and Bohr in physics; Haeckel in biology; William James in psychology—all come to mind. Here I should like to call attention to a great French scientist who followed a similar route. Some may be surprised at the mention of the name of the physicist known to all from the practical unit of electrical current: André Marie Ampère (1775-1836)—one of the founders of electromagnetism. His profound mathematical memoirs of 1820-25, amply confirmed by careful experimental research, laid the foundations of what came to be called electrodynamics and, when supplemented by the later discoveries of Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry, provided the technological basis of our modern, electrically oriented civilization.

Later in his career (in 1834) Ampère wrote a brilliant document, “Essai sur Ie philosophie des sciences,” in which he took a particularly broad view of the philosophy of science, including social and political studies as well as the better-established natural sciences, in his discussion. It was in this memoir that Ampère first introduced the term cybernetique to refer to the science of government. He evidently felt that this was appropriate terminology since κγβερντεσ is the Greek for helmsman or governor, the one who controls the direction of the ship. This may be considered the beginning of the formal recognition of the science of control, though it does not appear that Ampère’s definition gained much attention in the nineteenth century, nor in our own century for that matter, until Norbert Wiener resurrected the term in his book called Cybernetics, published in 1948, and attempted to put the subject on a more formal basis.

From the humanistic point of view, I am naturally tempted to pause here to consider the possible relation of cybernetics as the science of control to the motto of Phi Beta Kappa, the honorary scholastic society now approaching the bicentennial of its founding. For this motto, Philosophia Biu Kubernates, is usually translated: “The love of wisdom is the helmsman of life.” There is little doubt that the founders of this fraternity, so celebrated in American collegiate annals, felt very strongly the appropriateness of the motto. And on the whole, down through the past two centuries it has seemed to have a meaning for those who, by devotion to academic studies, have convinced themselves that such studies can lead to that wisdom which serves as the best guide to the conduct of life. It is true that in some academic quarters today doubts seem to be arising about the validity of the motto. …
R. B. Lindsay is professor emeritus of physics, Brown University.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00708.x

Disorder as a Built-in Component of Biological Systems: The Survival Imperative by Van Rensselaer Potter

We are living in a time of disorder, which I mean to imply is a high frequency of random, unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable events. In the next three decades there is likely to be a feeling that the disorder goes beyond the capabilities of governments to predict, control, and respond to events in a way that promotes the general welfare. Indeed, there are many thoughtful people who feel that we have already reached that sorry state. Thus, it is not surprising that a simplistic view is rather widespread: disorder is bad and order is good. This oversimplification is only the first phase of a more involved discussion, and it will be my purpose to emphasize two points: (1) that disorder, that is, random, uncontrolled events, is built into biological systems and into the natural world at virtually every level, and (2) that disorder as defined has some features that are worth examining and preserving because they contribute to survival.

We tend to prefer order and to react instinctively to resolve disorder into some kind of rational order because in the process of surviving, the human species had to have a fairly accurate ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. To give an example, a young child learns by experience the reality that a hot stove burns his fingers and henceforth knows that a hot stove can burn his fingers without additional experience. Beryl Crowe has concluded that in dealing with more involved problems, mankind has developed an instinct that favors order and is repelled by disorder because “one of the basic elements of man’s nature is a low tolerance of ambiguity.”¹ He goes on to say that this trait probably has survival value for the species, for once man lost a large portion of his instinctual behavior, the species had to be motivated somehow to reduce an intolerable and random-appearing environment to some tolerable and predictable order. But in the course of his cultural evolution man developed scientific principles that were at odds with previously elaborated religious beliefs with the result that, again quoting Crowe, “If one of man’s primal responses is the resolution of ambiguity, then any ethical system that raises ambiguity to a high level and makes resolution of that ambiguity impossible will produce pathological behavior both at the social and at the individual level. This is the very set of conditions that Protestantism in general, and Calvinism in particular, imposed on Western Man,” Later he explains what he means, as follows: “I would suggest that most of us, as heirs to the Protestant tradition, are asking ourselves who we are and what we are worth, and our answer is framed in terms of compulsive consumption. … This pattern of consumption is socially pathological because we now have the power to overload our environment. And it is individually pathological because there is no saturation point in our attempt to find personal worth in our consumption of things, to the point where we are committing collective biocide.” Here I should emphasize that there is nothing in Calvinist tradition that requires compulsive consumption, although Crowe is probably correct in regarding it as a natural outgrowth of the work ethic that was molded in a time of scarcity.

If Crowe is correct in his basic assumption that “one of the basic elements of man’s nature is a low tolerance of ambiguity,” or in other words an instinct that favors order and is repelled by disorder, it is high time that considerations of the relation of science and human values should focus in on Wallace’s theme and attempt to derive and disseminate a sophisticated perception of the uses of disorder.² Among these uses I include the implementation of the survival imperative. …
notes
¹ Beryl Crowe, “Whose Hidden Hand Is Destroying the Environment: Victoria Regina’s or Adam Smith’s?” (paper delivered at the First Congress on Optimum Population and Environment, Chicago, Ill., June 7-11, 1970).
² Anthony F. C, Wallace, “Perceptions of Order and Richness in Human Cultures,” published elsewhere in this issue of Zygon. Wallace’s paper was read in abbreviated form as “Perceptions of Order and Disorder in Human Cultures” at the symposium on science and human values during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chicago, Ill., December 29, 1970.

Van Rensselaer Potter is professor of oncology and assistant director, McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00709.x

Perceptions of Order and Richness in Human Cultures by Anthony F. C. Wallace

Thermodynamics, entropy, and evolution seem to many of us intuitively to be relevant to questions of values and ethics.¹ But it is not clear to me why this should be so. In this essay I would like to shift attention from the phenomena of physical and informational thermodynamics to the observers of these phenomena, who see in them the lineaments of a natural and absolute system of ethics.

The most general, conceptual measure of the phenomenon which interests us is quantity of organization. The concept applies broadly to physical and to informational (thus including cultural) systems and recognizes that organization is a function of both the orderliness of a system (i.e., of the predictability of events) and of its richness (i.e., of the number of alternative events that can happen). How do human folk cultures—and in this discussion I think it fair to include scientists as part of the folk—view the constantly varying levels of organization in the universe? How do they think about the relative values of law-and-order and of freedom and richness of experience?

First of all, I think it is plain that everywhere in the world, from time out of mind, people have observed much the same problems of order and disorder, of boredom and enchantment. They see birth and growth and sickness and death. They notice how unexpected events interrupt the best of plans. They see tools rust and wear out, they see wood rot, fabrics unravel, pots break, buildings fall down. They see that rules are unfairly administered, that many people are ignorant and all of us mistaken, and that priests and rulers are often evil and corrupt. They note that messages are all too often garbled and meanings lost in repetition. They see human relationships blossom in the rich uncertainty of courtship and deteriorate in the boredom of simple, uncomplicated wedlock. They see institutions, communities, and whole nations built up, come unstuck, and then get reorganized again. They note that poverty, oppression, and deprivation are not merely angering but, if long continued, destructive. They see the perverse enjoyments of chaos again and again seduce men from a narrow but virtuous life.

Although these things are phrased and conceptualized somewhat differently from society to society, there seem nonetheless to be common features. I shall approach the discussion of these common features first by briefly introducing the world view of a “primitive” people in regard to the matter of order and disorder, of richness and monotony. Then I shall review what seem to me to be a few generalizations that can be drawn from the past generation of anthropological studies of religion, in which folk thinking is expressed. Third, I shall consider factors which affect the accuracy of both folk and scientific estimates of the varying levels of organization in human affairs. And finally and briefly I shall speculate about the importance of a hypothetical “instinct” in men and animals to maximize both the orderliness and the richness of their experience. …
notes
¹ See, for instance, Polgar’s 1961 review of the literature on the subject (“Evolution and the Thermodynamic Imperative,” Human Biology 33 [1961]: 99-109), as well as the contributions of Lindsay (“Entropy Consumption and Values in Physical Science,” American Scientist 47 [1959]; 376-85), Bronowski (“New Concepts in the Evolution of Complexity: Stratified Stability and Unbounded Plans,” Zygon 5 [1970]: 18-35), and Burhoe (“Potentials for Religion from the Sciences,” Zygon 5 [1970]: 110-29).

Anthony F. C. Wallace is professor of anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00710.x

Commentaries

Life, Thermodynamics, Creativity, and Pollution by John W. Mehl

Today’s environmental crisis is viewed by many as a manifestation and proof of man’s alienation from the natural world. Knowledge, the groping for a rational approach to the rest of nature, and increasing power over his environment are viewed as the cause of man’s alienation. However, this sense of alienation certainly antedates any substantial development of technology. It is so generally a part of mythology and, religion that it must have its origins in something much deeper than the particular manifestations of present-day society. Man’s sense of alienation may more likely have its roots in the conflict between a continuously evolving, rational basis of behavior and an instinctive or emotional basis of behavior. We have great difficulty coping with genetically programmed behavioral responses and with responses conditioned by earlier social structures in the face of the capacity for and fact of rapid social evolution.¹ These problems, or the environmental degradation associated with the development of highly technological societies, are not, however, the result of any suppression of our biological heritage, but are the consequence of that heritage.

For some years now, it has been clear that a distinguishing sign of life, on our planet at least, is that of a system which is directed toward preserving and increasing information.² The living organism is devoted to a struggle against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, at least as far as its own domain is concerned. Generally speaking, it takes less highly ordered atoms and molecules and increases their order, casting them in new patterns to yield both a decrease in entropy and an increase in free energy within the system.

An inorganic molecule contains the information which specifies the way in which crystallization will take place under the proper conditions. Living systems make use of this same kind of information, particularly as it may be incorporated into more complex molecules. A virus contains information at this level which determines the way in which it will crystallize; and the macromolecular subunits of a virus contain information which specifies their mode of assembly. However, the virus contains information of another order, which can be expressed in an appropriate living system. As a part of a living system, it can utilize energy from its environment to protect the information which it contains and to reproduce that information. …
notes
¹ Ralph Wendell Burhoe, “Values via Science,” Zygon 4 (1969): 65-99.
² Erwin Schrödinger, What Is Life? (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1956).

John W. Mehl is deputy division director, Biological and Medical Sciences, National Science Foundation.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00711.x

Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Biology by Barry B. Edelstein

I think the purpose of this session is to try to draw some guidelines for ethics and sociopolitics which are motivated by scientific theory. The anticipated progression is by a hierarchy from the theories of physics to those peculiarities and modifications necessary for biological systems, and then, by analogy, from biological systems to ethics and politics. There are two steps in the transition. I shall not comment on the second, except to point out the danger of selecting a favorite ecological or ethical consideration and then constructing a transition from physical to biological theory that will lead to the appropriate ethical interpretation. …
Barry B. Edelstein. with a grant-in-aid from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is a postdoctoral fellow, Department of Theoretical Biology, University of Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00712.x

From Thermodynamics to Values: A Transition Yet to Be Accomplished by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The main question raised by this symposium appears to be an old epistemological (or at least methodological) question, namely, how relevant are natural science laws to the understanding of human behavior? On the first page of his contribution, Professor Katchalsky states that experience has discouraged people from addressing questions concerning the foundations for a moral system to philosophers or to psychologists, and that “there has been a growing tendency to regard science itself as a philosophical foundation … which could provide the dictum for a meaningful, satisfying, and decent life.”¹ The other scientists on the panel heartily subscribe to this notion. Yet on the evidence of this symposium, it is difficult to see how people will avoid being discouraged by the answers that natural science can give to their quest for meaning.

It is often the case that whenever a physicist, chemist, or biologist points to a natural law from his discipline as being relevant to human values, he usually does so with the hope that in some miraculous fashion the law he knows so well will be applicable, with minor modifications, to the realm of human phenomena. This hope is understandable since we all like to achieve the maximum effect with the least effort to ourselves, but in realistic terms it is obviously unattainable. Katchalsky quotes Mayr regarding the “enthusiastic but poorly informed physical scientists” who are trying “very hard to squeeze all of biology into the straight jacket of a reductionist physical-chemical explanation,”² yet he himself seems fairly enthusiastic about trying to squeeze social and psychological phenomena into a biological straitjacket. Not without some ambivalence, however; later he justifiably warns against “the danger of projecting the concepts of one discipline Into another and of using analogies instead of careful analysis of the system under consideration,” and rails at “the vague vocabulary of those speakers looking to natural sciences for authoritative support.”³

It seems that natural science can help in developing a value base for human decisions in basically two ways. The first is by providing information about natural processes which man must take into account if his decisions are not to conflict with the realities of his environment. In this sense the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Hardy-Weinberg law of genetics are “givens” that one must reckon with in shaping a course for human action. The second form that the natural scientist’s contribution can take is the attempt to reduce human problems to the level where they can be handled by natural laws. So that when scientists offer their help for solving the problems of the world, they rarely wish to limit their role to a relatively modest advisory one. They usually expect that the discipline in which they are competent will serve as the basis on which human values will directly rest—hence the various survival imperatives, thermodynamic imperatives, etc., which claim to contain axiomatic truths from which a network of laws affecting behavior can be derived. This is, of course, an old hope of mankind; at least since the time of Newton and Leibniz (and a long time before people began turning to the social sciences for answers), it was believed that one should somehow be able to derive normative laws from natural laws. Why this hope keeps being disappointed can perhaps be explained by using illustrations from the contributions to this symposium. …
notes
¹ A. Katchalsky, “Thermodynamics of Flow and Biological Organization,” Zygon 6 (1971): 99-125.
² Ibid., p. 101.
³ Ibid., p. 122.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is associate professor of human development, University of Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00713.x

Function, Organization, and Selection by William C. Wimsatt

One might believe, from the language of many of the symposiasts, that the concepts of “order” and “organization” have provided a unifying theme for the different perspectives presented here. In my opinion, this would be a mistake—at least if this belief is taken to imply that the kinds of order that were primarily discussed, thermodynamic order and the spatio-temporal organization produced by simple dissipative structures, are likely to shed much direct light on the nature of biological or social order, or upon valuational or normative concerns arising from them.

Csikszentmihalyi¹ has already raised doubts concerning the usefulness of such results in the characterization of social organization. But in the light of the remarks by Katchalsky² and Edelstein³ it might seem that the study of a theory of dissipative structures would yield a direct analysis of the nature of biological organization. In spite of substantial agreement with their perspectives, I wish to disagree on this point and to try to indicate what I think is missing. …
notes
¹ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “From Thermodynamics to Values: A Transition Yet to Be Accomplished,” Zygon 6 (1971): 163-67.
² A. Katchalsky. “Thermodynamics of Flow and Biological Organization,” Zygon 6 (1971): 99-125.
³ Barry B. Edelstein, “Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Biology,” Zygon 6 (1971): 160-62.

William C. Wimsatt is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, the Committee on the Conceptual Foundations of Science, and the College, University of Chicago.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00714.x

Coda

On Science as a Guide to Understanding the Order amidst the Diversity of Life by Paul A. Weiss

A wave may depict fluctuations of our physical environment or of an economic cycle or of the moods and motives of the minds of men, swinging upward and downward on and on, about a median band of stationary equilibrium. When left alone, waves will subside, as in the calming of the sea after the storm, the damping of an oscillating string, the cooling off of tempers after quarreling, the trend to compromise in bargaining. This is the natural course of natural events in inorganic nature and of conciliatory human behavior. Thermodynamics teaches us that without reinforcement the swing loses motive force inexorably, as energy to entertain it is dissipated as tribute to the growing pool of entropy. But there are instances in which that downdrift is temporarily reversed. They are a prime distinction of living systems. An organism can borrow dissipation-bound energy in one place or period to spend it at another place or time to feed movement or other energy-requiring work. A living being thus not only can keep a wave in motion but, properly timed, can make it swell. Yet, to profit from this game with nature, man must know its rules and play it right. For instance, stored energy, when added to the upstrokes only of a rhythmic motion, makes the momentum of the whole swing grow. Man’s productive and creative faculties. but also his powers of destruction, hinge on the ways in which he exploits this principle; for as it enables even frail men to toll a heavy bell, it also makes it possible for political villains to foment vicious mob action by the reiterative reinforcement of an insidious rumor. In fact, even erstwhile beneficial excursions can become ruinous when driven to exceed a given tolerable range; for then the following is bound to happen. …
Paul A. Weiss is member and professor emeritus, Rockefeller University, New York.

Editor’s Note: This paper is the reprinting under a new title of the “Foreword” of Paul A. Weiss’s Life, Order, and Understanding: A Theme in Three Variations, published in 1970 as volume 8 supplement of The Graduate Journal of the University of Texas (Austin, Texas, $5.00 [hardcover], $2.50 [paperback], 157 pages). We reprint this paper here for two reasons. The first is that its beautiful, scientifically grounded imagery of living systems in relation to wave dynamics provides a significant supplement to this issue of Zygon on human values in the context of thermodynamics. The second is that it is hoped this foreword will serve better than would a book review to introduce Zygon readers to the philosophical and scientific wisdom contained in Life, Order, and Understanding.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1971.tb00715.x



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