The Dean of a Liberal Arts College decides to hold a special seminar for honor students on the subject of evolution. He believes that new questions should be asked about the subject. He wants his institution to be among the first to explore those questions with faculty-student participation. This is a frontier, he says, and it should touch the thinking of faculty in all departments. He has assigned readings on Natural History and Human History to prepare students and faculty and he has a “perspective” to propose for their consideration.
Welcome. I give greetings to all of you. I am Richard Barth, Dean of our College of Arts and Sciences. It’s a pleasure to be with you on this first day of class.
This course on evolution is designed for honor students on this campus. And I should say that it is an honor for me to be with you for the semester. We are pleased to invite you on a new adventure for all of us.
A faculty committee on Liberal Arts outlined the structure of this course. Faculties in different departments will lecture, but they hope that you will ask questions and help shape the subject as we go along during the semester. You (as students) can tell us whether we (the faculty) are getting too technical.
Professors from different departments will visit us as lecturers and resource persons. They will give us their expertise as we –faculty and students -- explore this subject together.
I will be the facilitator and explain what this committee has outlined for discussion. You have reading assignments each week, which are noted in the syllabus. Faculty members will lecture on their approaches to the subject of “evolution.” Then we will discuss the implications of what they say in your major field.
With us today we have professors from physics, literature, anthropology, and philosophy. They will help answer your questions and clarify some of the issues that may come up in our discussion.
Will each professor raise his or her hand as I mention your names? Professor Immanuel Whitehead, over there, is in Philosophy. That’s William Hopkins in Literature in the striped blue shirt in the back row. Professor Margaret Benedict, in Anthropology, is to my left. And in front here is Professor Albert Hawking, in Physics. I want to thank you all for being here today.
Professor Benedict! We talked before class. Could you bring us up to date on where faculties are on this subject of evolution? You know the issues better than the rest of us.
Prof. Benedict: Thank you.
Here is our problem.
The idea that human beings “evolved from the apes” was a shock to the public when Charles Darwin published his Origin of the Species in 1859. Debate about it started immediately. William Jennings Bryan crusaded against Darwinism, and the whole American debate culminated in the famous Scopes Trial in 1925. Bryan was worried that Darwinism was making grounds not only in the universities, but also within the church itself. The jury decided to uphold a state law against teaching evolution in the schools. And the debate has gone on and on ever since, without legal resolution.
In 2005, a theory called Intelligent Design was proposed for teaching the subject in public schools. The question was taken to a Pennsylvania court and judged to be opposed to the constitutional separation of Church and State. Public schools would not be allowed to teach Intelligent Design. But the U.S Supreme Court has never fully answered the question of whether teaching scientific evolution is legal.
Today there is more to this scientific debate than just Darwinism in biology. In 1929 the astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered a “red shift” in the stars. A red shift occurs when the electromagnetic radiation emitted from an object changes towards the (less energetic) red end of the electromagnetic spectrum. There is a technical explanation here but for us it means basically that the universe is expanding.[i]
This expanded the theory of biological evolution back in time to the Big Bang. Our ancestors are not just animals but molecules and atoms as well. So the question has become: How could human beings trace their ancestry all the way back to the beginning of time?
Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection helps to explain biological evolution, but it does not extend back to the formation of atoms and stars. Quantum Physics helps to explain what happened after the Big Bang but does not carry forward through life on Earth.
Let’s go one step further. Historians and social scientists explain what happened in the evolution of civilization and society, but their theories do not conform to or fit those of physics and biology. All of these theories are completely different from one another.
The Course of Evolution
Big Bang------›› Earth Life-------››Homo sapiens----› Civilization
Physics Biology Anthropology Social Science
Quantum Natural Selection Socialization Institutions
Particles Bacteria Symbols Societies
So here we are. We want to discuss the course of evolution with you. Our discussion intends to evoke your imagination. We need you to participate with our faculty on this quest for answers.
Dean: Thank you, Professor Benedict.
So this course is new to all of us and your participation is vital to its success. Without your ideas, the course will not work. No one knows the answers as to how all this happened. We are all moving into new territory.
Prof. Benedict: Before class, Dean Barth and I talked about the purpose of this course for students. We should say something about this now. What is it we all beginning to explore? Dean Barth?
Dean: Yes. Well, two questions are foremost in our minds for this course: Who are we? And how did we get here?.
Prof. Benedict: And one further thing we discussed: Why should faculty venture into this new territory?
Dean: In a liberal arts college, that is what we do.[ii] Each of us has a special reason for thinking about this subject, but we also have a joint reason. I have asked Prof. Hawking to give his reason for participating. Prof. Hawking, our senior member, Why are you here?
Prof. Hawking: Well, back in 1959, a British scientist and novelist by the name of C. P. Snow gave a lecture entitled The Two Cultures. What he said startled me.
In higher education, he claimed, there is a breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities. At that time—and it still today—faculties have developed such different languages. They can no longer talk with one another much less research any common subject.
Dean: Tell us more.
Prof. Hawking: Snow was an eminent scientist who became a novelist. Suddenly, he realized that he had entered an entirely different world. He noticed a difference in his own life. He argued with colleagues that this separation of humanities from the sciences is “a major hindrance.” It will not help us solve the big problems in the world today. So as a professor in physics, I look forward to starting a dialogue.
Dean: Thank you. The subject of evolution belongs in both cultures—science and the humanities. Our faculties are here to consider this subject, and we want you (nods toward students) to join us. The subject brings together all that you have learned on campus. It is at the heart of our core curriculum.
We have proposals to make about how to cross the barrier. And so we begin here today. This is going to be a real trip.
Is everybody ready? (Heads nod yes.)
Remember, you as students will guide our discussion. So again, please ask questions. No question is wrong. Every question will enlighten us. Are you ready? (He grins broadly. “Yes!” Professor Hawking calls out, as the students laugh.)
There are dozens of ways to begin this first lecture, but I am going to start with Aristotle. (The Dean writes on the blackboard:
Aristotle had a mind that will start us moving across these two cultures. For him, the subject of poetry and drama was as interesting as biology and physics. (Aristotle lived from 384 to 322 BCE and it would be fun for you to read his work even though we are not assigning it.) I want to talk with you about some of his ideas that apply to our subject.[iii]
Aristotle believed that everything in nature had a potential to become something more than itself. A block of marble has the potential to become whatever shape a sculptor gives it. A seed has the potential to grow into a living plant; an embryo has the potential to grow into an adult.
He differed from his teacher Plato, who believed that abstract ideas were the reality behind all things. For Aristotle, reality was grounded in direct experience. He studied the anatomy of fish and animals, like the octopus, cuttlefish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. He studied the social organization of bees, the character of winds, earthquakes, thunder, lightning, rainbows, and meteors and comets. He worked from firsthand experience.[iv]
Prof. Whitehead (nodding toward him), prior to class we talked about the reason for starting with Aristotle. Perhaps you could elaborate here.
Professor Whitehead: Well, Aristotle saw everything in terms of “being” and “becoming.” Aristotle’s Metaphysics is about how “substance” may be defined as a category of “being” for all subjects. We won’t go into detail about this idea now, but in our study of evolution we are interested in change. Change for Aristotle meant that something was becoming new. And that is what evolution is about. [v]
In his book on Physics motion means any kind of change. Everything in nature has the potential to actualize itself, to become something more than it is originally. The substantial form (or essence) of a thing defines not only what it is, but also what its purpose is, and what it may become. So to be something is to become something. An acorn, for example, is a seed whose purpose is to become an oak tree. I will let the Dean take it from there.
Dean: The acorn seed that I am holding in my hand carries the potential for becoming a huge oak tree with roots, trunk, bark, branches, leaves and all that it can be. You cannot see the actual tree in this tiny seed but it is there, potentially. It has its purpose even though it may not make it all the way to that end. It could land on poor soil or get blown down by great winds, or just die from draught.
Think of that! The Great Seed parented us. We can trace our family history back to it.
Now think of this: the Great Seed as our source also means that all our colleges and universities were packed potentially into that original parent seed. And all subjects in our college can trace their history back to this Great Seed. We are part of a family – from poetry to physics, from chemistry to choreography.
What am I saying? The Big Seed is the mother of all fields of knowledge. So, faculties on campus should take a look into this subject together. The story of evolution is not just the subject of science. It is the subject of the humanities and the arts as well. This is the question our faculties are asking: How could we come together and explore our common family history?
(He stops. The students are quiet, attentive.)
We have come a long way, but where are we going? Who are we?
We know that the five-million-year transition from primates to Homo sapiens produced a threefold increase in brain capacity and a six-fold increase in the prefrontal cortex. And that same brain is still actualizing. It is still realizing itself so to speak through the humanities and science. Are faculties and students in this college able to study our own history?
Are we in a position today to shape our destiny? Are we able to guide our own evolution? That’s a big question. Scientists say we are creating smarter-than-human minds. We are producing bio-nuclear technology that could destroy the Earth -- like an asteroid that exploded here some 65 million years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs. If we have come this far with such vast changes from teeny particles to great societies, where are we going? Who are we? [viii]
What do you think?
(One student whispers out loud: “Singularity.”)
Prof. Hawking: Well. Singularity is the big word today. It refers primarily to the Big Bang. But it also refers to any other location of infinite power. And in trying to model it, that’s where physics breaks down. The center of a black hole is so dense that its gravity is infinite. Nearby matter and energy are drawn into that black hole and an “event horizon” separates the region from the rest of the universe. It is a rupture in the fabric of space and time. Indeed, as we shall see when we come to look at evolution in terms of mathematics, “singularity” suggests “infinity,” or “the explosion of value.” Mathematicians say this occurs when someone divides a constant by a number that gets closer and closer to zero.[ix]
Professor Benedict: Whooa. I think you may be getting ahead of the students. We need to know how the humanities fit into this study of evolution along with science, right?
Dean: Right. If the humanities also came from this Singularity, artists and musicologists should join us. They, too, have genes (so to speak) from that Big Seed. If we are all children of this infinite power, we should all be able to research it together.
So this is what we plan to do. We will have lectures from professors in each of our departments during the semester. We will all be learning together.
One lecture, for example, will be on music, where we learn how neurologist Oliver Sacks is convinced that music is hard wired into our brain. He sees a natural passion for music, and it goes deep into our body. Music, he says, is built into our whole neurological system. It moves us to action, sets off feelings with rhythms that stick in our memory. He explores the cortical circuits by which music is created.[x]
(The Dean presses a button under the podium that sets off the music of Elvis Presley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” and everybody is shocked but laughing with the Dean for about 30 seconds until he lets music fade out and says:) Do you feel that rhythm?
Bob: (A student, jokingly). I got the rhythm.
Dean: Lectures on music will help answer questions about our “family history,” but now I ask: Is there a method that allows faculties in the humanities and sciences to study the subject together? (He writes on the board:
The term “methodology” refers to the logic for researching any subject, whether it is molecules, mammals or music. If we can think of the humanities as an offspring of the Big Seed, how do they work with science? The two faculties are “relatives” so to speak. How do they study their “parent” together?”
Prof. Hawking (Joking): “If the Big Bang is our mother, I want to see her! (Students laugh again, delighted to hear at least one of these professors joking. But they are starting to get worried about how technical this subject may become.)
Dean: Professor Hawking, is it a She? (Prof. Hawking throws up his hands as if to say, “Who knows?”) We will also explore this question. But first I want to talk about methodology for the humanities. (Next time we will talk about the methods of science.) We will see how faculties in these two cultures – these two great fields of learning -- might study their common origin.
(Dean writes on the blackboard)
Dean: Everybody knows the branches of the sciences (like physics, chemistry, and biology), but what are the humanities? I will tell you my thoughts.
Many educators see the humanities as being at the core of a university. Scholars will differ in their answers to this question, but in the humanities I would include such fields as archaeology, anthropology, religious studies and theology, ethics, history, language, linguistics, literature, poetry, jurisprudence, philosophy, literary criticism, aesthetics, and the qualitative work done in psychology, sociology and political science. Also, for our purposes, we include the arts, like music, dance, painting, and sculpture. [xi]
Why take courses in the humanities?
Professor William Hopkins is with us. He teaches literature. What do you think Prof. Hopkins?
Prof. Hopkins: Well, the humanities help us understand who we are. They carry the questions of human existence. They help us learn who we are as human beings. (Pause.)
Dean: But tell us more. Why are they helpful?
Prof. Hopkins: Well, they help students to find their creativity… They introduce students to people they have never met before… They take students to places they have never gone before… They teach students about ideas that they have never imagined before… Students learn how other people in distant times and places have lived. The humanities help us decide what’s important in life.
Dean: Okay, for starters. (The Dean looks at his notes.) In his book Principles of Psychology, the psychologist William James said the mind becomes "a theatre of simultaneous possibilities." In effect, we think that the humanities build “sets for an interior theatre and fill the stage with vivid, memorable characters that mingle in memory with the people of our lives.” (Some students want him to repeat that phrase but they are still too shy.)
So the humanities have a place in the study of evolution. Here you learn about intuition, feeling, and empathy -- different from science, which is grounded mainly in reason and facts.
By the way, what is intuition?
(No hands go up in the class.)
No one wants to hazard a guess. Well, intuition is not based on our senses. It’s not just our senses, like empirical. So we can start with this. Intuition is the way we know something without any thought or reason. Let’s say, you hear a song like the one we just played, “Rock Around the Clock,” and your body is acquainted suddenly with its rhythm without thinking about it. Your body knows it intuitively.
Or, let’s say, you see a rose like this (the Dean lifts a rose out of a vase on the table next to him). You are excited by its color and shape and delighted by its fragrance. (He sniffs it, and his eyebrows lift.) You have a sense of its beauty without thought.
This experience is real. You are not just classifying the rose with other flowers in some system. What else is based on intuition?
Let’s say some composer hears a new song “inside” without any logic; it just comes. Mozart said he could hear a whole symphony in his head while riding in his carriage; and then he would go write it down.[xii]
Prof. Whitehead: I have talked with Prof. Benedict about this method of study, and it does link to my field. Fieldworkers must balance “intimacy” (closeness) and “distance” (detachment) to understand people in a particular culture. So it’s a matter for us, as for them, of looking at the subjective and objective side of things. [xvi]
Dean: From that I can explain something more about our plans.
In this class, with the help of members of the faculty from different departments, we will look at the culture of our Arts and Sciences. We will look at the symbols, ideas, and themes – something in the way that anthropologists look at tribes. Each department is different, having its own truth and its own way of thinking. We will talk with professors about evolution in all departments.
And as we do so, I’m suggesting we need to think like anthropologists, that is, to feel our way into each discipline and then find a way to observe each subject in the context of the larger culture of the college.
Professors Benedict and Whitehead have talked together about participant observation. I wonder if one of you could lead us further into this question of epistemology. (The Dean knows that this is a big word but students will catch on in a few minutes.)
Prof. Whitehead: We are proposing that “participant observation” is the primordial condition for knowing anything. It is in the basic construction of all knowledge. Philosophers call this type of “construction” epistemology. (The professor writes on the blackboard:
Dean: Yes. Would you all write that word down? I’d like to ask is anybody here majoring in philosophy?
(Students look shy but a student named Alice speaks up:
Alice: I am, and I think it has to do with the origin of knowledge.
Professor Whitehead: That’s correct. It has to do with the origins of knowing anything, our reason, our senses, intuition and more. It has to do with subjectivity and objectivity. We keep this in mind as we go along in the course: that there is a tension between subjectivity and objectivity, and this tension is represented in these two sides of participant observation.
The class looks puzzled and Prof. Whitehead looks at Alice.
Alice, can you help me out here? This is not easy. What is subjectivity? Guess at it.
Alice: “Subjectivity” is how we feel about something. “Objectivity” is how we think about it.
Prof. Whitehead: Well, that will do for now. We will look at this difference even more when we get to philosophy, but I’ll elaborate a little about what we mean here.
The terms subjective-objective are almost opposite of one another. In philosophy, there is a word for paired opposites of this sort. They are called “antinomies.” Antinomies” are not only related to each other as opposites, they are also mutually involved with one another. In philosophy, for example, many pairs of opposites are studied— like Mind-Body, Matter-Spirit, Freedom-Order, Inner-Outer, and so on. We will explain how members of pairs look like opposites, from one perspective, but from another they are also mutually involved.
(The class looks worried about the complexity.)
Don’t worry. All of this will become clear as we go along. This is an introduction for what will be explained in more detail. But, again, let me make this point for now. I said before that subjectivity and objectivity are “antinomies” or opposites that carry a tension between them. The practice of “participant observation” in anthropological studies lives on this tension of differences between subjectivity and objectivity. Alice, are you with me,?
Alice: Uh. I think so. (Her eyebrows are knitted.)
Prof. Benedict: Acting as a “participant” means I join in with others and even try to take on their role. I want to understand how they feel apart simply from how I feel. I go so far as to identify with them, for example, and try to become more like them.
Imagine, say, that you are an anthropologist, working out in the field, studying a tribal culture. For a time, you live with the tribe, familiarizing yourself with them, getting to know everything you can about them. You eat and talk with them, learn about what they have to do to survive, hear their stories, and in doing all of this and more, you begin to imagine the feelings and moods of these people. So as you are participating in a totally different way of life than your own, right there with the members of this group. Can you understand this idea?
Alice: You are closer to the subjective side of their life.
Prof. Whitehead: Right. Now this is different from adopting an objective point of view in which you remain detached, just standing aside and acting as an observer. From a more objective perspective, you are not limited to looking at this tribal culture, the tribe you’ve been living with, say. Instead, from this larger viewpoint, you can begin to get a bigger picture, and so be able to compare a variety of cultures. You are now looking at different tribal cultures from a broader position than simply the local people with whom you were able identify. Does that make more sense?
Derek: How does this connect with our study?
(The class looks somewhat more relaxed.)
Prof. Whitehead: In this course, we are going to be like fieldworkers. I want you all to learn how faculties in each department feel about their subject. You will need to know what professors in each discipline believe to be true about evolution. You don’t need to know all the formulas and details in their work but you want to get their feeling for ideas.
On the other hand, as an observer, you want to stand back to see the whole landscape; you want to look at how the “subjects” in different departments contrast with one another. Now you are becoming objective. You want to see how disciplines might come together in one culture. Alice, how about that?
Alice: I get it. But it sounds pretty big… (She sounds unsure. )
Professor Benedict: What about you, Derek?
Derek: I’m not sure yet.
Professor Benedict: A fieldworker must look both “inside and outside.” The “inside” is subjective, which for us will mean learning how faculties think and feel. The “outside” is objective, which will mean learning how departments in the whole college are landscaped together. It means comparing very different fields like physics and poetry and then wondering what they have in common. That’s what’s new about this course.
Derek: You mean it’s traveling into a new country.
Prof. Benedict: Exactly. This class should bring you to a sense of what is happening all over the campus. Indeed it is a step toward knowing who we are – and who you are. That’s our mission in the liberal arts.
Dean: So each department carries a truth. And each subject links into another subject, which we will begin to study objectively. We can ask: How do we learn who we are through the subjects we study? (The Dean pauses a moment and looks around at the students.)
Derek: I think you lost me.
Dean: Well, if we are participant observers, we move into the “language” of each field. We identify with different faculty members; we learn how they look at the world. We won’t go faster than you can understand.
Prof. Whitehead: There is still time to drop the course. (He grins, and someone snickers.)
Dean: So this leads us to a corollary on this premise of participant observation. I’d like you to write down this sentence: Everything that we know is known by human consciousness.
When you make an inquiry into the nature of anything, like a stone or a song, the “subject” becomes part of your consciousness. This premise will be a challenge. Let Professor Hawking explain.
Prof. Hawking: Scientists do not see stones as being conscious. But the only way they can know anything about a stone is by being conscious. Right?
Now an idealist would say that the stone exists only in my mind, but I am a realist and say that, while my mind is involved in knowing it, the stone is actually real and exists outside of my mind.[xvii]
Dean: Okay. So here is our challenge.
We all believe that stones like this are not conscious. (He holds up a small piece of granite.)
But the problem is that in order to know this stone, which is outside us, we can only act through our consciousness. We weigh it, feel it and measure its dimensions. It’s real. But stones cannot be known without our being conscious.
That’s the bottom-line: “consciousness” is the source of all knowing.
Prof. Whitehead: This was once an old debate in philosophy. Alice, do you remember what did Immanuel Kant say about knowing this stone?
Alice: (hesitantly) “I’m not sure.”
Prof. Whitehead: What did he mean by “noumena.” (The Dean writes the word on the blackboard.)
Alice: Ah. Kant wrote about “phenomena” as opposed to “noumena.” Scientists study stones as phenomena. But Kant says that nobody can tell the real essence of a stone by empirical research.
Prof. Whitehead: Yes. The stone appears solid to our senses and to our mind. We can name and study it, but no one can know the stone as a “thing in itself.” Alice, you tell me if I’m wrong.
Alice: You’re right. Those are Kant’s words. (Several members of the class crane their heads to look at Alice, now that she sounds like an authority.)
Prof Whitehead: Some philosophers thought that everything has a mind, or a soul. (Their belief was called “vitalism.”) They thought that a stone is separate from its physical chemistry. (The Dean tosses him the piece of granite he’s been holding, and he catches it.) Now would anybody like to tell us what is this stone’s true nature?[xviii]
Nobody raises a hand. The Dean notices that one male student is restless.
Dean: Would you tell us what you think about this stone? And what are you majoring in?
Derek: Psychology. I dunno. (He gives an embarrassed laugh.) If you pitched that stone at me, it could break my head. (Everybody laughs.)
Dean: Right. This piece of granite is not just in your mind. It’s real. But we do not know the full truth about it. The whole truth cannot be known just through science; I mean, not just through sensation and physical analysis. This stone remains a mystery. Now let’s see. (The Dean studies his notes for a moment.)
Peter Brugger, head of neuropsychology at University Hospital in Zurich, says there is a chemical involved in too much idealism, what we might call too much magical thinking. That chemical is Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter the brain uses to tag experiences as meaningful. It “floods” the brains of schizophrenics, who see consciousness in everything. Paranormal believers (whose brains have a high concentration of dopamine) are more prone to believe in things that are not present to the senses. That’s not you, Derek. (Students laugh.)[xix]
This means that we should be cautious when we claim to know exactly what represents reality. Later, when we look at physics, we will see how our body is limited in its capacity to interpret nature and the universe. The body and human consciousness can receive just so much information via our senses.[xx]
(The Dean stops talking, and as a moment passes, the students quiet down, wondering what he is doing. Then, abruptly, he asks:) Can you hear that music? (Everybody looks around; they don’t hear anything.) Well, that is because your ears are not tuned to hear it. Listen again. (The Dean switches on a radio beneath the podium, which is linked to the speakers in the room. Suddenly Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony surrounds them, shocking the class again. He lowers the volume.) All I did was turn on WBGH, our local radio station. The music was already passing through this room, but your ears are not structured to hear it. So look out. Who knows what’s in the air! (He grins mischievously.)
Now, our last corollary: Consciousness cannot be studied empirically without altering it.
This is tricky. When consciousness becomes an object to itself, it changes into something different. Can you understand that?
(Alice and Derek say quietly in unison) “I don’t get it.”
Dean: Well, first, we can say it is impossible to look at you in a mirror without changing yourself.
This is what you do if you ask yourself the question: Who am I? If you think about this process of looking at yourself, you will see how you are no longer merely a “subject”; you become the “object” that you are scrutinizing. Professors Whitehead and Benedict have talked about this before class. I will let them tell you more about this. (Nods).
Prof. Whitehead: Well, we exist in a tension between two sides: subject-and-object. Our consciousness is what we would call the “subject” but it also can become a thing (an object) which we see when we are looking at “it”. This is what happens in participant observation.
Dean: Does this make sense? (The Dean pauses and looks at a student directly ahead of him in the front row named Mary.)
Mary: I’m not sure.
Dean: Think about whether there is a difference between how you feel when you say, “I,” and then how you feel when you say “me.” When you say “me,” you are looking at yourself as an object. In that case, you may look at yourself more like an “it.” Now you are acting like a scientist analyzing yourself. So, who are you? (Mary looks quizzical.)
Mary (self-conscious): I’m just me.
Dean: Well, that’s interesting. The “I” is the subjective side and the “me” is how you think others see you from the outside.
To speak in scientific terms, you are an “it.” There is a tension between those two parts of your self (the “I” and “it”) that is also the tension between “subject and object.” And this tension will follow us all semester in our study of nature -- from physics to poetry. We will bring it up again in anthropology.
Prof. Whitehead: Before we continue, we should clarify this point. The sociologist George H. Mead looked at the difference between the “I” and the “me.” He found that when we ask --“Who am I?”—we think impulsively as an individual. When we think of “me,” we think about how others see us. At that point, you are in the tension between the subject and object the Dean has been talking about.
Alice: Oooo! Why can’t I just be “myself”?
Prof. Guilleman: Well, when you ask this question, you are speaking from the “I” as a subject. But you express the objective “me” as an object seen by others. As we shall see, we are changing -- subjectively and objectively – all the time. How much are you the person that you were in first grade, say? Are you the same shape and size? We can assume that you are not and ask, how are you aware of the differences in who you are now and who you were at any other point in your past?
Dean: Later, we will look into how we are like “nature” in some ways. For example, you could say that each of us is like the Big Bang: we all start from within and expand outward. For now, I will ask you to be patient.
To sum up, this “self” we have been referring to carries a great potential. “It” wants to actualize “itself,” i.e., wants to become more than it was in the past. You are actualizing right now into a world of new thoughts and feelings.
Mary: (Impulsively.) But who are “we”?
Dean: Nobody has a complete answer to that question. But it looks like “we” are transcending our past. You will learn more as the discussion progresses. Right now we need to go back to our methodology. [xxi]
Professor Benedict, could you help us out with this?
Prof. Benedict: To answer Mary, we can start with “participant observation.” We are “conscious” human beings, but later we will see how “symbols,” and “meanings” shape who we are.
Dean: (glancing at the clock) It’s getting late. Let’s look ahead now to our next discussion. (He writes on the board)
Moving toward the Perspective of Science.
Natural history is different from human history. Natural history is about past events in nature, about the world outside us—like animals and plants—indeed, about the earth and the whole universe.
Human history on the other hand is about past societies and our relationships as human beings toward each other. Human history is a time-bound, fact-based, linear story of civilization.[xxii]
Prof. Hawking: I always used to define natural history as part of biology, but now the story is in my field of physics. There is a history that goes from particles to molecules.
Dean: Right. Natural history began in biology, but it is transitioning into physics with a long time-span. And it carries deep questions about the realm of Nature.
Prof. Benedict: So after the Big Bang, how could calcium develop into constellations— or into cougars, for that matter—and finally into civilizations? These are the questions addressed in the Big History. Since we have proposed that this Big History cannot be assigned to science alone – by going into the story of civilizations -- it is time for the members of our other departments also to think about the “whole darn process.” What would you say Prof. Hawking?
Prof. Hawking: This subject is timely. Something new is happening in science today. Symposiums are held on “physics and consciousness.” New research is being advanced on artificial intelligence. New ideas are about what we call “types of information” generated in the universe.
Theorists have been looking at evolution from the standpoint of an Anthropic Principle, from the viewpoint of humankind. This Anthropic Principle could be a starting place for a dialogue, but I’m not sure.
Dean: Let’s look for a moment at the Anthropic Principle before we propose a different perspective. How would you describe it?
Prof. Hawking: An astrophysicist by the name of Brandon Carter coined the phrase back in 1973. It was at a conference held in Poland to celebrate the 500th birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus. The “Anthropic Principle” explained how “the constants of physics and chemistry” are fine-tuned to permit human life to exist. It asserts that the constants are precisely the values needed to have a universe capable of producing life. [xxiii]
In other words, Carter proposed that the universe is structured just right to support life here on earth. Gravity, for example, is roughly 1039 times weaker than electromagnetism. If gravity had been 1033 times weaker than electromagnetism, the “stars would be a billion times less massive and would burn a million times faster.” Without that exact form of evolution, life could never happen.[xxiv]
Dean: But has this principle been fully accepted or is it debated?
Prof. Hawking: The Principle is debated by top scientists, and its logic is so strong that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is getting involved.
NASA is calling for a new interdisciplinary collaboration to study “the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.” And our Government is asking: Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?[xxv]
The source and meaning of this “Singularity,” or “Big Seed,” is now a worldwide detective story! How do things evolve? Who set things in motion? Where is the whole thing going? Who are we?
Dean: But our perspective is different from this Anthropic Principle. Could you explain how it is different?
Prof. Hawking: The Anthropic Principle assumes that science is the basis for understanding the universe. We assume, on the other hand, that what we are calling the Big Seed led to the humanities as well as to science. It led to symbolic thought. We are all children of this universe.
Second, some followers of the Anthropic Principle say that we are the most significant inhabitants of the universe, but we do not know this for sure. We do not know what else exists in this field of cosmic energy. We do not even know if there are parallel universes that are different from our own.
But we cannot avoid interpreting the universe from a human perspective. This is the bottom line. Even if we were to discover aliens from some other planet who we would call “non-human” -- because they appear with a different face or a body with a different chemistry -- we would still be seeing them from the perspective of our own bodies and interpreting what we see in the framework of our own language. It is unavoidable that we assume a human perspective on the universe.
Dean: Yes, and it raises new questions. The humanities bring us a larger picture of who we are. This picture could include the questions of civilization that the Greeks once proposed—such as Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It could also include much more, as we dialogue between two cultures.
Prof. Hawking: Okay, we’re together on this idea.
Dean: So, in our next class, I will ask you and the students: Could scientific concepts have meaning in the humanities? Could faculties in the humanities and the arts discuss the subject of evolution? Any questions before we conclude?
Alice: Would you say a little more about intuition and the two cultures?
Dean: Artists, playwrights, novelists, and painters depend on intuition. They work by inspiration. They are moved by visions, images, and dreams, by feelings and emotions.
Alice: How could this source of information combine with science?
Dean: Let me propose a key idea for exploring that question. It looks like the direction of evolution on earth has been leading more toward “interiority,” i.e., to knowing ourselves inwardly. And yet, there is a constant inner-outer cycle of learning in which we are progressing more deeply into the meaning of this whole process of evolution.[xxvi]
More later. Our time is up for today.
Next time, we will see how these two types of culture—sciences and the humanities—not only differ but how they are related. In fact, all forms of knowledge are related. The attempt to segregate any one form in a single department and keep it separate from the others is, I think, artificial. So it is time for us to consider how such different types of knowledge about nature connect in our discussion of evolution.
Prof. Hawking: I am of course still skeptical. You can’t get answers about who you are -- with just ideas. You cannot intellectualize Nature. Nature can blow you away.
Dean: What do you mean?
Prof. Hawking: If you fly too close to the sun, it will melt your wings. You will fall down to Earth.
Dean: We will be careful.
Prof. Hawking: Last year my wife and I hiked up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. We did not know that the highest wind recorded at the top of the mountain—231 miles per hour—was also the highest surface wind ever recorded on earth. On a sunny day in June, we were hiking toward a cabin run by the Appalachian Mountain Club called Lake of the Clouds—this wasn’t remote—when all at once we saw storm clouds rising up. Suddenly we were in a freezing sleet storm. We were whipped against piles of stone and could hardly breathe. (That’s where that piece of granite came from I gave to you.) The temperature dropped to freezing in a flash with an icy wind battering us at 80 miles an hour. Our clothes ripped, and we could hardly speak. Only a foot apart, we couldn’t hear each other. It was so dark; we completely lost our way.
We figured that our lives were over. I came to a sign that said, “Do not enter! Many people have died here!” We were getting hypothermia. But just when I thought we would die, we saw the bottom edge of the cabin that we had seen earlier a mile away. We climbed inside, exhausted, frozen to our toes. We learned that the cabin had been built in honor of two professional hikers, who had died there many decades ago on the same day in June that we attempted our hike.
So people can be very professional in what they do, but we must still face nature firsthand with all its reality. Nature has a power that goes beyond ideas. It can be just indifferent to us.
Dean: Thank you. We will keep your point in mind as we continue. No, nature is not just an idea.
Class, next time, we will see how ideas in science connect with the humanities. In the meantime I want you to read again those essays I assigned on evolution. My assistant is handing copies out to you now. If you lose these papers, you can find them on the Dean’s webpage. But you must read these histories—the first essay on Natural History, the second on Human History—before we meet again. They will give you the background you need for the next class.
Have fun reading. See you next week.
(The Dean waves his hand on his way out.)
[i] More generally, redshift is defined as an increase in the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation received by a detector compared with the wavelength emitted by the source. This increase in wavelength corresponds to a decrease in the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation. Conversely, a decrease in wavelength is called blue shift.
Any increase in wavelength is called "redshift", even if it occurs in electromagnetic radiation of non-optical wavelengths, such as gamma rays, x-rays and ultraviolet. This nomenclature might be confusing since, at wavelengths longer than red (e.g., infrared, microwaves, and radio waves), redshifts shift the radiation away from the red wavelengths.
[ii] The term “liberal arts” refers to a college or university curriculum providing general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities. It stands in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum. Liberal arts include the study of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science, but scholars have their differences on what should be included. Its curriculum may cover three main branches of knowledge: the humanities (literature, language, philosophy, the fine arts, and history); the physical and biological sciences, mathematics; and the social sciences.
[iii] Aristotle understands change through the difference between potentiality and actuality. Something that exists can change into something that previously it was not. A can change to B. Aristotle argues that A cannot change to B if it does not in some sense contain B within in it. Thus, in nature there is no sudden change from one state to the next. We say that B is potentially in A, or that A actualises its potential B when it actualises itself in the state B. Thus the acorn has the potential to become an actual oak tree, but only because there is a cause, whether external or internal, which leads it to this development. This leads us to Aristotle’s theory of causation. Aristotle. A New Aristotle Reader. Ed. J. L. Ackrill. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.
[iv] Where Aristotle differed from medieval and modern thinkers was in his belief that the universe never had a beginning and would never end; it was eternal. Change, to Aristotle, was cyclical: water, for instance, might evaporate from the sea and rain down again, and rivers might come into existence and then perish, but overall conditions would never change.
[v] Aristotle. "Metaphysica," translated by W. D. Ross, in The Basic Works of Aristotle. Edited by Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941. Some philosophers say that the concept of "being" has no meaning at all because it does not have attributes.
G. W. F. Hegel distinguishes between the being of objects (being in itself) and the being of people (Geist). But he could not describe any "meaning" of being, because it had no predicates.
[vi] Aristotle knew nothing about this earlier history but his broad ranging mind is an inspiration for university studies. Aristotle. The Complete Works of Arisotle. ed. ,Jonathan Barnes. Princeton UP: Princeton, 1984.
[vii] Most physicists are uncomfortable with the proposal of a multiverse because it is so speculative and untestable. The different universes within the multiverse are sometimes called “parallel universes,” "alternative universes," "quantum universes," "parallel worlds," "alternate realities," "alternative timelines," etc. Universe or Multiverse? ed. Bernard Carr, Queen Mary, University of London (Year?)
[viii] The mathematician Vernor Vinge coined the term "Singularity." He said, “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” Vernor Vinge, Department of Mathematical Sciences, San Diego State University (c) 1993
[ix] Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in optical character recognition (OCR), writes that “singularity” is a unique event with profound implications. It is now the fashion word referring to the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence.
[x] Oliver Sacks, Musicohillia: Tales of Music and the Brain, (NY: Knopf, 2007). Ancient philosophers saw music in the universe, and composers are listening and looking into the rhythmic sounds of the body.
[xi] When the National Endowment for the Humanities was established in 1964, the U.S. Congress considered this field “a way of thinking about the world” with tools to examine and “make sense of human experience.” The humanities help students ask fundamental questions about value and life’s purpose and meaning -- in a rigorous and systematic way. The humanities enrich and ennoble us. They stimulate critical and imaginative thinking about the issues that confront people as human beings, offer reasoned and open-minded discussion of the basic values that are at stake in the policies and practices of major institutions of society. They provide an understanding and appreciation of the experiences of others. The humanities are concerned with the complete record of human experience—exploring, assessing, interpreting, refining, and adding to it. Advocates for the humanities believe that students who study in this area are given a chance to live a more “expansive, enjoyable and deeper life.” Students learn to appreciate the majestic chords and sounds of music, the elegant beauty of great paintings and wrestle with the wisdom in books that have lasted for millennia.” [Is the previous sentence a portion of the quotation? If not, I would add to the adjectives of the sentence, since great music is not only “majestic” nor paintings always, or only, “elegant.” –ed] Students can then reach around the globe for the art, the images and the stories they want for their own. [Do you mean in order to make their own?—ed]
[xii] Intuition is one of Carl Jung's four 'psychological types' or ego functions. In this model of the personal psyche, intuition was opposed by sensation on one axis, while feeling was opposed by thinking on another axis. Jung argued that, in a given individual, one of these four functions was primary in consciousness.
[xiv] Albert Rothenberg, The Emerging Goddess. The Creative Process in Art, Science, and Other Fields (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1979). Rothenberg says that the physical and social sciences, philosophy, the humanities, and the arts are endowed with a tendency toward wholeness. See also Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, 197-208.
[xv] We refer to clairvoyance in relation to intuition in the chapter on psychology. Clairvoyance is the art of “seeing” intuitively beyond the five senses, often called the “sixth sense.” Raymond Moody sparked popular interest in near-death experiences in his 1975 book Life After Life and after founding the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) in 1978. Kenneth Ring: “Heading toward Omega. In search of the Meaning of Near-Death Experience,” 1984.
[xvi] Severyn Bruyn, (1966). The human perspective in sociology: The methodology of participant observation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall (1993). Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies (Applied Social Research Methods, Vol. 15). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
[xvii] Alfred Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World is a critique of orthodox scientific materialism. It presents his version of the related fallacies of “misplaced concreteness” and “simple location.” The first fallacy is the error of treating an abstraction as though it were concretely real. The second is the error of assuming that anything that is real must have a simple spatial location. See also:
Process and Reality (New York: The Macmillan Company 1929. New York: The Free Press, 1978.)
The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962.) Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933. New York: The Free Press, 1985.)
[xviii] Piaget argued that children often confuse objects with their names, which he called nominal realism. He uses this term to refer to the way in which young children sometimes have difficulty in separating the labels that we give to things from the things themselves, as if such signifiers were an essential part of their referents.
[xix] Studies show that dopamine only “trickles” in people who are depressed. In one experiment, paranormal believers (who test high in dopamine) were more prone than nonbelievers to spot nonexistent faces when looking at jumbled images and also were less likely to miss the faces that really were there. Everyone spotted more faces when given dopamine-boosting drugs. Matthew Hutson, Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 2008
[xx] For a critical view, see T.I Oizerman, “Kant's Doctrine of the "Things in Themselves" and Noumena”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 41, No. 3, Mar., 1981, 333-350.
H.E. Matthews, H.E., “Strawson on Transcendental Idealism”, Kant on Pure Reason. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan, 1967, 1996) Volume 4, "Kant, Immanuel", section on "Critique of Pure Reason: Theme and Preliminaries", p308 ff.
[xxi] For our purposes a sign is anything that points outside to something in the immediate environment. Thunder is a sign of storm. A bird’s screech is a sign of danger to its flock. A symbol points to an inward meaning, leading people toward introspection.
[xxii] The historian’s commitment to rules of evidence normally separates “world history” from “universal history,” the latter idea associated especially with Arnold Toynbee. Universal history linked the study of the human past to religion and philosophy in a search for general historical laws and patterns that might reveal the total meaning and direction of the human venture. Universal history today no longer has many advocates. The last sweeping narrative was that of William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
[xxiii] Other scientists developed the idea of Weak and Strong Anthropic Principles. Patrick Glynn is the associate director and scholar in residence at the George Washington University Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. He notes how: 1. The nuclear weak force is 1028 times the strength of gravity. Had the weak force been slightly weaker, all the hydrogen in the universe would have been turned into helium (making the development of water impossible, for example). 2. A stronger nuclear strong force (by as little as 2 percent) would have prevented the formation of protons--yielding a universe without atoms. Decreasing this force by 5 percent would have given us a universe without stars. 3. If the difference in mass between a proton and a neutron were not exactly as it is--roughly twice the mass of an electron--then all neutrons would have become protons or vice versa. Patrick Glynn, God the Evidence : The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World, Three Rivers Press (March 30, 1999). See John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.
[xxiii] String theory is a model in physics whose building blocks are one-dimensional objects, rather than the zero-dimensional point particles that form the basis for the standard model of particle physics. Steven Weinberg, "Living in the multiverse". B. Carr (ed) Universe or multiverse? Cambridge University Press, 2007.
[xxiv] John D. Barrow, a cosmologist, and Frank J. Tipler, a mathematical physicist, claim that this idea has antecedents in the philosophies of Fichte, Hegel, Bergson, and Alfred North Whitehead, and in the Omega Point Cosmology of Teilhard de Chardin. The physicist Steven Weinberg said that the Anthropic Principle is a “turning point” in modern science because it can be applied to string theory. See John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler, John A. Wheeler The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford University Press, 1988). Steven Weinberg, "Living in the multiverse," B. Carr ed. Universe or multiverse? Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Not all scientists are in agreement about this Principle. The paleontologist Steven Jay Gould observed that the known causes and effects have been reversed in the Anthropic Principle. Gould compared the claim that the universe is created for the benefit of human life to the claim that that ships had been invented to provide homes for barnacles. Steven Jay Gould, "Clear Thinking in the Sciences". Lectures at Harvard University.
[xxv] The Committee on the Origins and Evolution of Life is charged with investigating ways to integrate the contributions of astronomy and astrophysics in astrobiology in NASA’s astrobiology program and in relevant programs in other federal agencies.
[xxvi] Many thinkers (among them, Bernard Lonergan, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Emmanuel Levinas) address “embodiment and self-transcendence.” There is a consensus among some anthropologists that self-transcendence characterizes an important aspect of human nature. Bernard Lonergan, for example, suggests that it is through our relation to the “other” that we come to know ourselves.
The theologian Bernard Lonergan says that subjects are confronted with themselves more effectively by being confronted with others. It is not by introspection but by reflecting on our living in common with others that we come to know ourselves. He also says that we become more authentically human through self-transcendence. The drive towards authenticity moves us beyond ourselves. “We are our true selves when we observe the transcendental precepts.
Lonergan generalized the notion of data to include the data of consciousness as well as the data of sense. From that compound data, one may ascend through hypothesis to verification of the operations by which humans deal with what is meaningful and what is valuable. He developed a "generalized empirical method" (GEM). What counts is a thorough assessment of the concrete situation, which will result in an intuition of what seems best. People have different intuitions about what seems best in particular situations. What is needed is a general principle that supports the common good. Lonergan accuses the whole history of epistemology has having neglected subjectivity. Lonergan, B. Understanding and Being. (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 89. Lonergan, B. Method in Theology. (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 57. Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight: A Study in Human Understanding (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 642. Bernard Lonergan later agreed that this notion could be identified with the notion of value: see A Second Collection, ed. William F. J. Ryan and Bernard J. Tyrrell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), viii.