A Perspective from Science
Dean: Greetings everyone! I’m glad we didn’t scare
you away on our first day of class. Welcome back.
Today we have with us
professor Linus Kornberg
from our chemistry department. He has offered to be a contributor and a resource
person. I have also asked him to be our “skeptic” for the day. (The Dean smiles, and the professor raises
his hand in recognition.) He will add ideas and pose tough questions --
along with all of you. Are you ready for our next session? It will introduce
you to some complicated matters. (The
Dean is excited, and students look around, expectant, and a little anxious.)
Did you read the two
essays on evolution I assigned at the beginning of the class? One was on
Natural History and the other on Human History? (Heads nod.)
From them, you will
understand better what I am going to talk about today. This perspective on evolution is not a
theory, but we hope it will evoke thought. I need your questions and your full
participation. When you ask a question, let me know your major field of study.
I have your names on my seating chart.
We want to talk about how
evolution could have happened in moving from particles to people. It is our way
of bringing faculty in the humanities together with those in science to discuss
this story. We know that evolution is not just a scientific subject. It is
equally a story filled with our own humanity.[i]
Here is a hypothesis we
can think about today: Evolution takes place by a constant synthesis of opposing forces.
I will propose that
evolution is an ongoing process of unlike things synthesizing and separating,
again and again. This synthesizing of differences has kept Nature moving
ingeniously into more and more complex stages. From this perspective, the
concept of evolution is a story of constant invention, a continuous “combining”
of opposing forces represented in part by the ideas we discuss today.
Put another way, we want
to talk about the meaning of the big history that went from nothing to
civilization. It is full of mystery. We want to explore what it means to us.
propose that key ideas in the science of evolution are “substantive.” This means that all those scientific concepts
explaining evolution develop a profound meaning as they cross into the
humanities. Scientific concepts lead us into a deeper sense of our history.
look at a few of these scientific concepts, and you’ll see what I mean. Scientists
include contrary “forces” in their depiction of evolution, such as attraction and repulsion, synthesis and
separation, symmetry and asymmetry,
continuity and discontinuity, complexity and simplicity, linearity and
cyclicity, hierarchy and equality, creation and destruction. Such contraries are
evident in the description of what happened during this natural and human history.
In other words, our own review of scientific studies on
the subject of evolution suggests that it is a process of creation and
destruction, a coming together (i.e., a synthesis)
and a “separation” (i.e., a parting)
of things and forces taking place from the beginning of time. Nature is
transforming itself slowly from stage to stage. And it tells us that nature is
not “finished” by any means.
is a corollary. All new things (e.g., atoms, molecules, cells, organisms) show autonomy, or independence, within a
larger interdependent universe of
things. Scientists say that each new thing appears to be relatively self-organizing and self-directing even while linked to other energies in the universe.[ii]
these scientific concepts are found equally in the humanities. (Many students are looking a little
you have questions? (Looks around the
class.) Please ask me questions.
am majoring in economics. This subject of evolution is new to me. Are you
saying that these ideas apply to my own field of economics?
Yes, indeed. The great economist Alfred Schumpeter said that capitalism is in a
process of creative destruction. Markets have been evolving since the beginning
of civilization and for Schumpeter the capitalist market looked to be one of
the most creative and destructive.[iii]
our perspective on the universe, we see that the driving force is creative
inside all the destruction that is taking place. The universe is a terrifying
creation, and we are part of it.
never made a connection before between evolution and the economy.
This outlook I’m proposing supplies you with a basis for anticipating the
future, not predicting it exactly. Economics is not a perfect science, and so
you would probably use the word “forecast” in your work rather than prediction.
It’s more like a weather report; there are too many variables for prediction at
I understand. Schumpeter said that the capitalist market would be transformed
at some point in the future. It would self-destruct and produce a different
system of exchange.
But notice we are part of this market now, helping to shape it ourselves. We
are co-creators of markets, shaping and being shaped. The market is partly
planned and partly spontaneous.
My professors tell me that this market is the most self-organizing in history.
And it is the most autonomous, standing apart from the state. Yet it is doomed,
like many animal species in the past.[iv]
Yikes. I hadn’t thought about it. This is new to me.
yes, but notice. Your field of economics also evolved. It has a lot of
antecedents that built it, similar to the way that molecules built cells.
Economics by that name never existed before the end of the 19th century.
I’d never thought about a connection between the economy and molecules.
Stay with me as we continue. You are trained to think analytically; economics
does a lot of theoretical work. You are skilled conceptually in thinking in
terms of this perspective. (Turns to
ponder, while James is waking up to what he is saying. Looks around for more
I am majoring in English Literature. I’m
curious. What are “substantive ideas”? What does that term mean?
Scientific ideas are “substantive,” because they show great complexity and
depth in crossing the disciplines; they are richer in meaning than if they were
left in science alone. They operate in all disciplines. (Pauses, thinking.)
can find these scientific concepts in your field of literature. Indeed, if you
have studied literary theory, you know about the concepts of construction and deconstruction. We will talk more about this when we get to
literature. Other questions?
Mary: (Boldly raising her hand again.) In the last lecture you
said that the course was going to be about our identity, like “Who are we?”
Dean: Yes, that’s the key
question for the whole semester, but the answer to it is not easy. We’ll all
have to be patient. (An easy smile lights
his face.) In physics, the Big Bang is like the creator of our universe,
and we do not know “its” nature. Theologians speak about God as the Creator but
this religious idea is not science.
These two fields (science
and religion) conflict in certain
ways. We will see what theologians say later when we get to the lecture on
religious studies. But for now, we’ll stay with science and the humanities.
Mary: What do scientists say
about “the creator”?
Dean: Scientists say that our
origin is in the Big Bang, but some physicists say that our universe may have
been created by a “Multiverse.” We will look at this question of parallel
universes in our lecture on physics. At this moment we know only that the Big
Bang created particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, and, eventually, people.
So we are looking for “who we are” in this history.
Prof. Kornberg: We need examples of how
scientific ideas apply to the humanities.
Dean: Thank you. I will
discuss these scientific ideas one at a time. Remember that in the essay you
read about Natural History,
atoms showed the powers of attraction and repulsion. We will start there. (The Dean writes on the board:
Attraction and Repulsion.
is a polarity. And it is polarity that appears through all fields in the
What do you mean by “polarity?”
A “polarity” is a pair of opposites. We can also use the word “antinomy”
for now. Scientific
ideas represent what is happening in nature and attraction-repulsion is one
example of a polarity. It stands for two opposing ideas that represent
different forces in nature.
But science is not just based on
ideas. Scientists study ideas empirically. (The
professor is a skeptic, like his
colleague Professor Hawking, but
he has a general idea of where the Dean is going and wants to support
Right. But these scientific ideas (points
to the blackboard) have quantifiable attributes like power, strength,
density, etc. Perhaps you could give us an example.
I am not sure yet where you are heading. You go ahead.
Dean: Gravity, as everybody knows, is a force in
nature that attracts. We can measure
that attraction. If we drop an object from a high place, we compute its
acceleration; we measure the distance and time that the body falls. Physicists tell me that gravity is the most
powerful force in the universe. Is
(Prof. Kornberg nods
and voices “Okay,” and the Dean looks
down at his notes to read.)
Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees describe how celestial objects can have a
“mass” up to billions of times that of our sun; these things remain detectable
only by the evidence that a powerful gravitational
force is swallowing up everything in its vicinity. They describe how huge
invisible objects develop in evolution. [v]
point is that attraction is a key
force in nature, operating all the way through evolution. It is in the nature
I agree that it
is in science.
In chemistry –– I’ve read how atoms with different “electronegativity” show
attraction. . (Glances again at his
Atoms bond “covalently”– to make “polar
molecules.” The degree of “polarity” in a molecule affects how strongly it is
attracted to other molecules in a substance. ” (You would agree with this, wouldn’t
you, Professor Kornberg?)
(For the moment, Prof. Kornberg
is nodding Yes. But since he is present as a skeptic as
much as a contributor, no one knows what he might say next. The Dean goes on.)
read how chemists can predict the polarity of a molecule if they know the
“electronegativity” of the atoms that compose it.
Yes. Not bad. But scientists do not think in these terms. Comparing ideas in
different fields is not our work. I’m a doubter, not a believer.
We should all be doubters as we work together. (He smiles at his colleague. His
enthusiasm is contagious, and students smile, too, but somewhat uncertainly.) Let’s look at biology
where “attraction-and-repulsion” is obvious. This polarity, or pair of opposites,
is studied in pheromones and gametes, for example. Have you learned anything
about pheromones? (A few students shake
their heads; some say an outright
pheromone is a chemical that goes through the air and attracts members of the same species. (It’s like a perfume.) It
also has the capacity in some cases to repel,
i.e., to release a “volatile substance” -- when some animals are under
attack by a predator. A negative pheromone causes a predator to go away.
Pheromones are a way for animals to communicate. They enter the brain through
the olfactory system. And yes! We are all animals!
laugh). So biologists study
animals that attract and repel, like predators and prey. My point is that such
forces were there right at the beginning of the universe. Right there in those
original atoms and molecules.[vi] (Looks
at Prof. Kornberg who listens quietly with
a stern smile, eyebrows knitted.)
neurology, axons show this force of
attraction-and-repulsion. (Then, quoting
from his notes.) “Axons are extensions of nerve cells that transmit
impulses outward from the cell’s body. They respond to signals provided by
extra-cellular cues. They are ‘transduced’.” (He looks up humbly) This means one type of energy is changed into
another. This occurs at the tip of one of these growing axons… (He pauses.) At this point, I will leave
the details to the neurologist who is the expert and knows the subject better
than I do. [vii]
What about the humanities?
The concept of “attraction” is in all human relations. Derek, what about in
psychology? That’s your major; how does
it happen in your field?
(Thinks) Mmm. You can see it when a child is lost, calling
for its mother. And you can see attraction when two people “fall in love.”
this is a big theme in novels and theater. (looking
toward Mary, majoring in English Literature, and Ann in theater, who nod back
indicates that falling “head over heels” in love affects the chemicals in the
limbic system. The limbic system is a set of brain structures—including the
hippocampus and amygdala and anterior thalamic nuclei and a cortex— that
support human emotion and long term memory. (Jerry
and Ann cast sidelong looks at each other, then knit their brows, concentrating...). Two neurotransmitters —
dopamine and serotonin — are key players in this “attraction.”
human emotions the “repelling” is obvious. Some people hate each other. I knew
a pair of newlyweds who had fallen madly in love -- went on their honeymoon --
and suddenly were repelled by each other. Yes! Romantic love can turn quickly! (He chuckles.) So there you are: a
particular polarity of attraction-and-repulsion continues through each stage of
evolution. The concepts mean the same thing
in different vocabularies from physics to psychology. They simply have a different context in each department. The energy of attraction-repulsion
applies all the way from stars to molecules, to cells, to animals and human
beings in their relationships.
you starting to follow me? (A few heads
What about music?
here is a special case. In music, this polarity is expressed as “harmony” and
“disharmony.” Musicologists study it, but this field also signals a different
kind of understanding about nature in evolution.
hear harmonious (attractive) chords and dissonant (repelling) chords and feel
them. This “feeling” is a different kind of “knowing.” It is not lodged
completely in the reasoning mind. It is rooted in the body in the way that your
feeling is interpreted by intuition; it’s not just in your head. This kind of
knowing -- by feeling -- is also evolving. More questions?
You mean that our body feels attracted and repelled by sounds. And feelings are
evolving? (The Dean nods Yes.) Would you tell us more about what you
As we shall see, new feelings keep developing in civilization. One way this
happens is through music. Early composers thought that harmony and dissonance
did not belong together. And as composers continued with their explorations,
they began to adjust these opposing sounds. The classic composers then created
masterpieces. We will look at how this happened.[viii]
Wow. I never thought of sounds and feelings as evolving.
Well, I am getting ahead of the story. We will look at music later in the
I suppose students could get used to this type of thinking, but I’m not sure
whether they are all following you.
As a faculty member, I would ask them: Are you students understanding what the
dean is saying? Anybody?
I am working on it.
think I’m starting to.
Okay, and we are just beginning. I appreciate your patience with our challenge
of bringing together subjects and fields of study that are usually kept
separate from one another.
forces of attraction and repulsion are not sufficient by
themselves to explain evolution. I must
go on to other forces.
polarity (or antinomy) cannot cause evolution without a synthesis, which is key. And this key appears in every discipline.
Once more, we see an opposition.
(The Dean writes these
terms on the board: Synthesis and
know a definition for “synthesis”? Anyone want to guess? (No response.) Well, dictionaries say
that “synthesis” means “combining separate elements to form a more coherent
whole.” It is “a creative mixing of different types of elements.” Let’s see how
this term moves across all disciplines. [ix]
before class we talked about what this means in chemistry. Would you tell us
now what you said?
Prof. Kornberg: Yes. I said that “synthesis” refers to the
construction of complex compounds from simpler ones.” Then you claimed that it also applies in
medicine, for example, synthesis
refers to what happens in healing. When physicians in research hospitals study
how wounds heal, they look at a synthesizing process -- how protein metabolism
is necessary for the repair of collagen. Physicians talk with chemists about
the syntheses taking place in organisms that provide the energy and nutrients
needed to sustain life. In philosophy,
synthesis refers to creating a more complete view of things. The idea goes back
to ancient China with Lao Tzu and forward in time to ancient Greece with Plato
and finally through modern philosophers like G. W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx in
the 19th century. (He looks up. Students
I don’t think that students know all the literature in these fields. What do
students say? (He looks out among the
(To the Dean.) We’re all familiar
with some part of the literature you’re referring to. I understand more about
the philosophers you just named, but also I think I’m getting the gist of how
you are seeing all these things as connecting. (Other students nod Yes, and a
couple say, “It’s okay for me.” The
Dean is happy to hear this.)
psychiatry, the term “synthesis”
refers to “healing the mind.” Psychiatrists speak of “synthesizing the competing parts of a personality.”
But they also describe the physical side of this phenomenon, i.e., the
chemistry of the brain that correlates with healing mental disturbances.
Physicians study the role of peptides and the molecular aspects of how
neurotransmitters are synthesized,
stored, and released. (The Dean looks
there any musicians here?
Uuh…, I play guitar.
terms of technology, I see that FM synthesis
is a technique for generating the sounds of musical instruments for MIDI
playback. Is that right?
The synthesis-term is also used for ring tones and low-end sound cards. In the field of speech and vocalizing
research, a “speech synthesis” is the computer-generated simulation of human
about poets? Is anyone here a poet?
I would like to hear about synthesis in poetry!
In poetry, “synthesis” is expressed
in rhetorical devices like “metaphors.”
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which two different images join to create a
new image. A word that designates one thing is used to designate another. Look
at Shakespeare, and you will find
myriad examples: “A sea of troubles”; and “All the world's a stage.” Metaphors bring images together that would otherwise have
nothing to do with each other.
to these images and how they shape your thinking. Language is the road map of a culture. (Pause.) Or, I am the
universe. Or, Time is a thief. In poetry, each metaphorical synthesis
produces a new image, a new meaning and a new feeling.
(Pause) Ask me anything!
I am majoring in linguistics. I’m not yet clear about how this all comes
together. You said these concepts apply all the way through evolution. How does
Atoms separate and evolve by attraction and repulsion, and then by synthesis
they produce molecules. In turn, molecules attract
and by synthesizing produce bacteria. Slowly over time in this same way,
animals evolve by sexual attraction and create a synthesis of different
chromosomes. This same process keeps going through human evolution as well. Now
what happens? (Pausing, he looks at
Derek, who seems curious.) What do you think? Derek: Say I am attracted to somebody; I marry; I get together with
my wife, and we have children.
There you are. Another synthesis: a newborn child. You have created something
new just as atoms created molecules.
Let me guess now. These are “principles of evolution” that you propose go from
the Big Bang to civilization.
Right. And if we have come this far with such great leaps in evolution, imagine where we all
might go in the future. (The class is
attentive as students are digesting what has been said.)
Jerry, you are in linguistics?
How did language evolve? Do you know?
Well, not off the top of my head.
Let’s think together. Language evolved by combining
different images through metaphors. That’s a synthesis. New images come
together inside the mind. In that way, evolution is producing an inner space
that had not existed before. We are evolving inwardly as languages evolve in
this manner: combining different words with new “images” with thoughts. We are
building an interior life.
Oh! So evolution is not just
happening to our bodies, not just happening physically?
New images develop inwardly along with feelings that go with the mind’s images.
Over time, people construct more inner space; and they find a deeper sense of
who they are. This is what philosophers call building “interiority.”[xii]
else have questions?
I need more help. Tell me once more, how does a metaphor cause language to
A metaphor combines two separate images to become one, which then produces
something new. It is a synthesis like two different atoms joining to produce a
molecule. (Mary is thinking.)
to this example; “The ship plows the
sea.” Here we have our image of a “plow” opening dirt in the ground – but it is being applied to a
ship opening water to create waves in the
sea. Notice the combined sense this creates, both of ground being broken or
furrowed and waves being sliced through.
when a metaphor forms a new image, the original image can be lost; it’s then
called a “dead metaphor.” The two parts become a new word, and you forget about
Can you explain
more about a dead metaphor?
That term is not in political science.
Look at this word: syn-thesis. (The Dean writes the word in two parts on
the blackboard.) You may never have noticed the two parts to this one word
“synthesis”; the Greek origin of the syllables of syn (“along or together with”) and of thesis (a proposition or theme put forth) are forgotten in pronouncing this word. It now has its own
meaning. Old words have been assimilated into a new word.
Oooo. (Catching on.) Old things die
into new things.
Aristotle might say old beings die
into new beings. Now carry this
thought back to atoms.
are lost from sight, so to speak, when they become part of a molecule. Atoms in
the body become invisible to the eye, and are forgotten, but they remain
by the trillions to
keep you alive. But I should ask you, Prof. Kornberg: How am I doing on this
number of atoms in each body?
Prof. Kornberg: Aah! Trillions
of atoms in the body? No, you’re off a wee bit.
Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon make up about 99% of the human body. A 70 kg
body would have approximately 7*1027 atoms. That is, 7 followed by 27 zeros.[xiii]
Thanks. So the basic elements of creation are retained in your body but can be
assimilated and “forgotten” by your conscious mind as they develop into more
and more complex forms. So don’t put down those atoms. They have a function and
great value. They are vital to your survival. You could not live without them.
We will talk more later about metaphors and death. [xiv]
Think inventively. How do these terms apply in your field?
The word synthesis means combining
things in a new way. So for me, the United States was composed of colonies and
they all came together and integrated into an entirely new body: the United
Whoopee! Yes. Yes. Right on. You are starting to think in a more synthetic way.
(He looks to the class.)
how she used the word “integrated.” Integrating is a synonym for “synthesizing.”
The idea of “integration” is close to “synthesis” but has a slightly different
meaning in this context than the one you are used to. It is used to describe
how dissimilar bodies join together. In biology, cells “integrate” as they
build an organism. In political science, as Barbara says, the American colonies
integrated into a confederation. And later we will see that they transformed
further into a federation.
There are other
variations around the concept of “synthesizing” used in different settings: fusing,
blending, combining, joining together, mixing, merging, uniting, and
amalgamating. Each has a similar meaning depending on its context.
What about my field?
James, look at the economy. The concept of incorporation
refers to “combining” different chartered businesses. And so synthesis is a key
idea for the changing market system. It is synthesis,
synthesis, synthesis, all the way.
What does my colleague
think? (Turns to look at Prof. Kornberg.)
Kornberg: What about this opposite
word: “separation?” (Points to the
The concept of
“separation” is equally important, all the way. You know the story of
how this happens in science but I’d like to tell the students. At the turn of
the 19th century, the meteorologist John Dalton saw the connection between
atomic weights and weight relations in chemical reactions. He could
explain--and I quote—“all chemical reactions” by the union (synthesis) and separation (differentiation) of atoms. His theory
has remained at the foundation of science ever since.
Kornberg: In science today, atoms are studied
with greater precision. Physicists are measuring small separations between two
Yes, and again, my point: this phenomenon -- separation and synthesis – is alive
in every field.[xv]
What about the concept of “separation” in my field of political science?
First, going back to your illustration with the American colonies: it was a problem
of how to separate
from England. And in modern stages of government, it is clear in the
“separation of church and state.” This separation is critical to American law.
What about my major field?
In psychology, it speaks to the “separation” of married couples; it is of
personal concern to counselors. And in sociology, it is studied as divorce
rates. Separation is active in each
(Boldly.) How does this help us
answer the question: Who are we?
If you ask who we are, you have to remember that we all evolved this way.
That’s one way to understand us.
We evolve by separation and synthesis – this is the process all the way to
infinity. The Big Bang occurred in what we have to call infinity. The more you
get to know your ancestors, the better you get to know who you are.
Other questions? (No hands are raised as students are
Okay. Let us look at two
other types of change that exist in stages of evolution. (The Dean writes on the blackboard the terms)
under them) Transcendence
Transformation refers to
a “complete change” in something. It indicates the total alteration of an idea
– or a thing, or a force -- into something new. It’s not just a “makeover” of
something; it is a bigger “inside job,” carrying much more potential. The
notion of a “complete change” and “going beyond the past” is its signature. Do
you follow me?
Kornberg: Tell me how you see
transformation applying to both science and the humanities.
Dean: (to the class.) Prof. Kornberg and I have also begun
talking about this large topic. Let us start with science. (The Dean adjusts his glasses.) Frankly, some of this is over my
head, but I can open the discussion.
In astrophysics, transformation refers to
how galaxies interact during collisions. Atomic elements are involved in these
“transformations,” which occur at different timescales and stages. They are
explored by comparing
“deep multi-band imaging” for a large fraction of the cluster galaxy
population. This transformation takes about a billion years to happen.[xvii]
We will be bringing an
astrophysicist to class to explain how all of this happens, and we will compare
In biology (reading from his notes to show authority):
“Transformation is the genetic alteration of a cell resulting from the uptake,
genomic incorporation, and expression of foreign genetic material.” Tom, am I
right? (Tom nods a slow Yes.)
A biologist will tell you
that the production of transgenic plants (maize, for example) requires the
insertion of new genetic information into the maize genome using a mechanism
for DNA transfer. This involves making a fundamental
change in its composition.” [xviii]
Kornberg: What about all those
fields outside science?
gave us an example with the American colonies transforming into the United
States. (Looks at Barbara) Isn’t that right?
Okay. I can tell you what the experts say in social science. (Smiles at her.) In sociology, transformation refers to a big structural change in
society. A society, for example, can undergo a complete change from being a
nation totally dependent on another nation to an independent self-governing
nation. And in the process it generates a new identity. (He picks up his notes and walks around the class.)
look. In psychology, transformation
occurs when a person alters aspects of his or her personality. For example,
people are “saved” in an evangelical church, and a new feeling completely
alters their lives. New feelings separate out from the old, and the person
transcends earlier habits and modes of attitude and behavior manifesting a new
Along with “transformation,” you wrote the word “stasis” on the board. What
Stasis is the opposite of transformation. It refers to a condition of stability,
The term comes from Greek; it is
as an state of standing, or stopping.
is a condition
of balance or equilibrium. All forces are equal and opposing or cancel each other out.
Tom, how about biology? Is the condition
of “stasis” evident there?
(He turns to think.) In biology,
Gould and Eldredge studied long period where things stayed the same.
Yes, stasis. The
theory is called
a period of little or no change.[xix]
Thanks. Let me go on. In medicine, “stasis” is a condition in which the normal
flow of body liquid stops. It can be the flow of blood through vessels or of
intestinal contents through the digestive tract.
In music, stasis is a technique in minimalist
music. It is also a style that
uses slow musical development.
Kornberg: Okay, we’ve begun to
see the different
and “stasis.” But you wrote the word “transcendence” on the blackboard, too. We
did not discuss that word when we talked earlier. What do you mean by it? It is
not in chemistry. It is not in science.
This term is not in science, but it could be there. This idea is in the
humanities. It could
be brought into science for research and that’s what we want to talk
If you are going to talk to me, you have to be precise.
understand. (Smiles.) In the humanities, by “transcendence”
we do not mean something religious or supernatural. We do not mean that an entity transforms into some higher space
beyond the world we know everyday.
The word transcendence represents something
surpassing (or exceeding) the past in such a way that it adds a new potential to
Something is transcendent
when an “individual” transforms by enhancing its capacity to evolve. Here we
begin to see some purpose in evolution.
Kornberg: Nonsense! Scientists do
not deal with “purpose.” Atoms have no purpose. (He laughs, but in good humor.) Scientists work with cause and
effect: There is nothing in nature that shows a purpose! (He
throws his hands up in amazement. .)
(The Dean laughs, happy to see the
professor so adamant, and animated.) Prof. Kornberg knows more than I do
about evolution in his field. I am learning from him. We are on this journey
let me think. (trying to repeat the Dean’s definition of “transcendence”) “An `individual’
transforms by enhancing its capacity to evolve in the larger environment.” How does this pertain to chemistry? Are you thinking about how molecules go beyond
atoms? They have a
greater complexity with more potential to evolve.
Yes. I would call it an increased “evolvability.” I mean a new ability
to generate more variation than ever existed in the past.[xx]
So each individual atom that
remains in a
molecule has a greater value than it did without the molecule. It is an individual piece vital to sustaining the
molecule. It adds value to the atom because it gives it greater potential to evolve.
You say that a molecule
greater likelihood to evolve. It can create a more complex cell. Atoms can’t do that.
cell follows after the molecule in time and
transcends (exceeds) its past. It transcends because it is more complex than the
molecule and governs its own activities. It transcends because it
becomes the basis for the next stage of evolution.
What do you think?
I’m thinking that we’ll need a break before long! I am waiting for the next
shoe to drop. We need a mediator!
(Looking at his friend and colleague.) Tell
me more about your feelings
on this matter.
Prof. Kornberg: I’m bothered by this word
frankly. It does
not lend itself to research. It lacks precision; it is subjective. Chemistry is not subjective. (The Dean looks closely at his friend,
patient. The professor continues:) What can I say? The idea sounds…
ethical. Chemistry is not an ethical science. (Students giggle at this.) Okay. So define transcendence more
precisely for a scientist.
First, in transcendence something undergoes a transformation, like atoms becoming water. We know water is going somewhere, but we do not know where. Atoms
become molecules and molecules become cells. We know each stage transcends when
we see it become the ground for the next
it transcends by adding
a structure with
a function. One atom, changing, adds another structure of atoms. It becomes a
students with me? Tom.
about new structures
(taken aback but thinking quickly.)
In biology, each stage
adds a new structure.
The eye of an animal evolves by adding
new structures to it,
step by step. And each structure has a new function.
I hear the latest story on reptiles is that they evolved by adding a wing
structure. (Tom nods agreement.) So in each stage we see a
new structure with a new function. This adds to its potential to evolve. It’s
not guaranteed but it is more likely.
How do you
determine that something has more potential to evolve? This implies a goal.
You must know where it is going.
When a land animal develops a wing it has more potential to evolve. It can fly away from
predators. The wing adds a new
capacity to keep evolving. A wing has a purpose.
(Tom is thinking harder than ever
before.) “Survival” is not the purpose of an animal
infer survival from the actions of animals.
Dean: So there
are no “goals” like “survival” or “hunger” in the animals themselves. They don’t
speak. These are abstractions in the mind of the scientist. Prof. Kornberg, can
you infer a purpose from the actions of atoms and molecules?
Atoms and molecules have no purpose, no direction, or goal. Atoms are not there to
survive. They are not there to
Dean: But they did evolve! The evidence is there! Look at the history.
Prof. Kornberg: It happened by chance.
They went beyond their past. They transcended step-by-step right up to
science is evolving?
Kornberg: Each science develops step-by-step. Each
adds to a
body of knowledge.
So the sciences are
developing but, you say, not evolving. We know the sciences don’t stand still.
They are not in a condition of stasis.
Tom: What is stasis?
It is a relative
concept. Ancient Greek thinkers like Thucydides believed
that there is always something stirring in every condition of stasis. Athenian
society went through regular phases of stasis, change, and transformation. You can
see it in
their history. They
went back and forth between tyrants and aristocrats.[xxi] (Looking
at Barbara) Do you agree?
Barbara, we have been looking at the creation of atoms. Have you looked at the creation of government? You saw
that in your assignment on human history.
Yes. Society evolved from a long historical period of tyrants, emperors,
pharaohs, kings and aristocracies.
Now think. The dynamics of
stasis in your field
are seen in rebellions against tyrants and emperors over time. There were slow
transformations that added new goals, like freedom and equality in the United
States, for example. New structures of democracy began to generate more
certainty to human survival. The electoral structure
in society evolved by something
stirring from within it.
I have read about the history of Switzerland with rebellions stirring
and repeating again and again. Those
pieces of democracy had to come together over time.
can see how the goals of freedom and equality evolved. They were built in those
inner dynamics of society. Would you agree?
Yes. The “structures” of democracy evolved piece by piece through Europe.
English nobles rebelled and demanded that their king sign the Magna Carta in
the 13th century. This is an example of one of those small steps in the
evolution of democracy.
Dean: I think that the “structures” of democracy evolved more
quickly than the time it took for land animals to get wing structures. The stages of
evolution are speeding up in time periods.
(Barbara is really getting into this way
of thinking, as she sees the word “structures” being used across such different
disciplines.) I wrote my senior thesis on the history of democracy. There
have been long periods of – I could say, “stasis” or “stagnation.” (The Dean looks at Tom, quizzically.)
Good. The Magna Carta was only one tiny step, as an evolving structure for
What did it do?
It required the King to
renounce certain rights he had by tradition. It specified legal procedures; the
King agreed to be bound by law.
Do you think democracy” is still evolving?
Yes, I think so. Each new structure adds a new value. The Magna Carta was new
at the time, giving society more potential to evolve into a democracy. It led
to constitutional law; and it shaped the development of common law. It led to
our own constitution.
And democracy is evolving
through civil society -- beyond
Look. When we cross disciplines, we move into a very complex subject.
am not persuaded.
Okay for now, but let’s come back to it later in the sciences. I am humanizing
“transcendence” just as I am doing the same for these words of science. We need
a common vocabulary to talk
between the sciences and the humanities. Let me go on.
propose that human consciousness goes beyond -- transcends -- animal consciousness. The human brain goes beyond the animal brain even though it was born there. Anthropologists show how human consciousness is bound up
with the human brain but also transcends
I doubt that.
Dean: Stay with us. We will talk about this
again in biology. The human brain
transcends the animal
brain by changes in its cerebral cortex. It then keeps going,
interiorizing. It builds inward through language, by a symbolic
order. Human consciousness is based on symbols that create a “meaning” beyond
scientific measurement. Human
consciousness is still in the brain but it is not wholly governed by the rules
of a brain. (Pauses, looking for
Jerry: Does human consciousness go beyond the brain like a
cell goes beyond a molecule?
Ah! Yes. Human consciousness has its own rules that are not explained in neurology. The new rules
have evolved as a symbolic order. It carries
meaning apart from the brain.
What are those rules of order?
Think about the rules of language, and of grammar. Grammar is full of rules that
are not all found in a
think of Robert’s rules of order. They are the common rules and procedures for
debate that keep the membership of a whole group on the same footing, speaking
the same language. All “business” is governed by the general will of the
membership - the right of the deliberate majority to decide. These rules are
in your brain.
What about the rules of government?
Dean: Think of the protocols in government and
society: fashions, customs, folkways, conventions, traditions and mores. They
create the order of a whole society. They are created through social and
political interaction. They are symbolic, not located in the brain. The conduct of
society is based on common rules, not on the brain’s physical matter. These rules transcend the brain; they come at a later stage
than apes, a higher order if you will.
A higher order? Are you saying that human consciousness is a stage beyond the
It exceeds the physical brain. But,
take this as
It needs research.
By all means it needs research! (He grins
So, I am proposing that transformation
(fundamental change) and transcendence
(surpassing the past by adding structures with new functions) operate all
the way through evolution. Each stage – or level – of “being” has its own
students have any questions? (They are
quiet as a group.) Ann, what do you think?
(Putting her hands above her eyes and speaking deliberately going back
to square one.) Tell me again: what do you mean by substantive?
Mmmm. These scientific ideas are “substantive” because they have more
significance and meaning when we connect them with the humanities. Some of us
think they apply all the way from astronomy to the arts. As we discuss this
topic, we add more meaning to what scientists are doing.
And we add value?
Yes, I think this discussion is broadening the mind, deepening our awareness of
where we have been and who we are.
I don’t want to run out of time. We have more concepts to talk about. (The Dean writes on the board)
Differentiation and Autonomy
anybody know what “differentiation” means? (Pause)
Jerry: It means like
Dean: Good. “Separating” has variations, such as
dividing, parting, isolating, unraveling,
removing, leaving, untying, sorting out, and extricating. But this term, differentiating,
signifies the way in which this happens in the larger
whole. If we were researching this process, we would see that “differentiation”
refers to how a new thing joins with a larger body. The new part integrates
with its larger body. (The Dean looks out the window thinking out loud like John Dewey
talking to a class about education.)
would put it this way, “Something distinguishes itself” in a larger community. (Nothing can be totally
So that this new thing
becomes autonomous, i.e., distinguished “in and for itself.” [xxii] (his
gaze shifts back to the students.)
has a new center within itself so to speak. Philosophers might say it is
“self-contained” in its own being. It is a new form of energy that is able to
realize itself, as it were, to “actualize”; Aristotle might use that word. The
psychologist Abraham Maslow would also say, “actualize.” What do you think? Questions?
How does this word “differentiate” apply to science and evolution?
Well, in physics, atoms differentiate. In chemistry, molecules differentiate.
In mathematics and chemistry, “differentiation” describes the changing cell
structure of ice. (Smiles while glancing
at his notes.) By using simple mathematics, I’ve read “Using simple
mathematics, an equation is derived which relates the volume of a hexagonal
cell, containing six H2O molecules, with the distance between the nearest
neighbor oxygen atoms.” [xxiii]
Again in mathematics, differentiation refers to finding a derivative; the
fundamental theorem of calculus states that “differentiation” is the reverse of
do not have the foggiest idea of what this means. (Class members double up with laughter at his confession. “Neither do
we!” one of them calls out.) However… it is important to mathematicians.
Okay, we will
mathematician to enlighten us later.
Tom, what about “differentiation”in biology?
Mmmm. In biology a cell becomes more specialized. A cell changes from a single
zygote to a system of tissues and cell types. Biologists study cell differentiation in adult stem cells.[xxiv]
What about the humanities?
Is anybody majoring in art?
Uh…uh (hesitant) I am. I paint
Good. In art, you see the differentiation of one color from another in your
portrait. Indeed, as each new tint is added and distinguished it can affect the
whole. One new color can change the entire mood and direction of the
Jane: (with a quick smile.) Absolutely!
Jerry: (Pointing to the
blackboard.) What about that word
(Looks at the blackboard). Autonomy.
Autonomy refers to the degree of self-governing power of each thing. (Aristotle, by the way,
would say that each “thing” is a “being”; I’m going to follow him.) So it is the ability of
each “being” to function alone and as
part of the whole. Something becomes, as we say, distinct from the sum of its
parts. It is independent, relatively speaking.
is puzzled. Jane, do you have a question?
How is “autonomy” different from “independence.”
Stay with me. There is no “complete independence” of anything from the larger
body that is evolving. Nothing is totally isolated and separate from everything
else. Everything is relatively
independent. We exist by degrees of
“autonomous,” that is, within the whole. (Looks at Jane.)
But we talk about being independent.
Compare your self with a molecule of paint. A molecule is different from the
sum of its parts; I mean of the atoms that compose it. It has new properties
and its own laws of operation. It is special in and of itself as it were,
acting separately from its atomic composition, but it is not wholly
stage of evolution is just like that. Each part reveals another level of
autonomy in a larger community. So think of yourself swimming in that same
paint. You are more than the sum of your parts, and you are not totally
separate from others in this universe.
You may be moving too fast. You are working with very abstract ideas.
Scientists are inductive; they work with observable data. (The Dean, catching the criticism, answers.)
Well, that is not always true.
Yes it is. Look at Johannes Kepler. He studied observational data for the
orbits of planets. He did this before he was able to induce his laws of
planetary motion. Look at Darwin. He traveled to South America and compiled a
lot of information on finches, ostriches and armadillos. He did this before he
was able to induce his theory of Natural Selection.
But Einstein began with principles and postulates -- just like we are doing. He
said (and I quote) “We now know that science cannot grow out of empiricism
alone.” He said we should use “free invention” that “can later be confronted
with experience as to its
He was looking at the nature and principles of time and space. He was a genius.
Look at the geniuses out there! (sweeps
his hand out toward students. Everyone
let’s look at a few other scientific ideas. The ideas in science are our data. (He writes on the blackboard the words)
Linearity and Cyclicity
scientists see natural history as linear.
They view the story as a sequence of events, a chronology of happenings that
took place in the past, but some scientists see nature as a cyclic activity.
For example, atoms are
vibratory as they interact back and forth. Physicists say that the whole
universe is composed of vibrations. They see different frequencies operating in
the universe all the time. That is why we can imagine symbols and “thoughts” evolving at a
higher frequency than the brain.
“Thoughts” are working at a higher frequency” than the brain? That should be tested.
You are speculating, right?
Yes. I think it can be tested, but let’s leave that for our discussion on
physics and psychology.
idea of “cyclicity” is the opposite of “linearity.” Here evolution shows its
dialectical character. If we look at nature with logic and reason, we are in the
humanities and in the sciences at
the same time.
we could go into literary theory right now and talk about theories of cycles. Cycles
continue all the way down through history. Is there something you would like to
add? (Mary’s eyebrows knit, as if she’s
not ready to answer.) (He looks at Barbara.) Is this true in political
Yes. You can see it in the work of Vilfredo Pareto. He describes three
different cycles of change: the political cycle, the economic cycle, and,
finally, the cyclical change of sentiments.[xxvi]
What about democracy?
know, the more I think about the history of democracy, it is not exactly linear
or cyclical – as far as I can see. There were ups and downs in Athenian
democracy and a stasis, long periods without much change.
is not history. It is not just linear.
Aristotle described how democracy alternated between oligarchy and aristocracy.
In Athens, it developed partially and then collapsed and then was revived.
Barbara, you are suggesting that people were creating democracy piece-by-piece,
structure-by-structure, like an experiment. It was destroyed and created again
with more structures added.[xxvii]
(to the Dean.) Are you saying that
the “cycle” is a core principle of evolution?
Yes. History has its own framework based on a chronology of events. Historians
try not to abstract too much from particular events.
in these fields of history and science, you can refine these ideas as an ideal
type for research in evolution. Did you read my assignment about how the
sociologist Max Weber developed an ideal type?
I confess that I did not read all of the assignments. (Students laugh, relieved.)
In physics an ideal type would be a model, such as a “vacuum.” In political
science it would the
model might be “bureaucracy.” The model has attributes that
do not match reality exactly, but you
can see how its attributes fall short. You study the attributes of your model
and see how close reality or history comes to it. Physicists measure how close
they can come to a vacuum.[xxviii]
Political scientists and sociologists use this
notion of bureaucracy to see how close an organization comes to represent the
model. Bureaucracy has attributes—such as
hierarchy, written rules, table of organization, etc. You could model democracy in its
I’ll ask my advisor about this.
But we cannot know nature only by antinomies or ideal types. These are just a few paths I
mention for intrigue and exploratory purposes.
arts, for example, will show us how nature is unfolding through rhythms,
sounds, and colors. Indeed, there is much that we have not yet seen or heard in
music, painting and poetry. The “concept” of cycle is expressed and felt in
your body in the form of emotion, tone, noise, cadence, pulse, and harmony.
How does the cycle move across all disciplines?
Dean: (glancing at his notes.)
In physics, cycles are studied in
electromagnetic fields. In astronomy, cycles
are seen in the orbits of planets, in moon phases, and tides. In geology, the cycle can be seen in rock
formations and the climate. In psychology,
it is seen in the extremes of alternating moods, such as manic depression. In medicine, it describes the periodicity
of diseases. Can you see this happening in your major field?
In economics, cycles are seen in
stock prices, inflations and recessions.
Good. So cycles are not just limited to the physical sciences. They are not all predictable but I am proposing that
cyclic activity is a principle of evolution, built into the structure of the
universe. If you look closely, you will see it in both natural and human
No question about its being in nature and studied in science. (Friendly.)
(excited ) Could you say: The cycle
is the engine driving the universe?
Good question. We see cycles everywhere. Look at the engine of a car – those
pistons are powerful. And this cyclic phenomenon goes all the way from atomic
fusions to sex. The cycle is in the act of reproduction. (Ahem.) Well, if you have sense of how pistons work in a car, well,
that’s the way sexual organs function, so to say, moving back and forth.. (The class suddenly gets what he is
saying.. Some start to giggle; others
Let’s move on. We’re getting to the end of today’s class. You’ll also find the
cycle is in music. Last night I
watched Yo Yo Ma playing a Bach Suite for Cello. He swings his bow back and
forth ever so subtlety and carefully. This type of back and forward movement is
cyclic. We should pay attention it.
I’m not clear on what a cycle is exactly
was wondering if someone would ask that According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it is "a periodically repeated
sequence of events." A cycle is a predictable pattern that keeps appearing
again and again.
keeps manifesting by repeating itself at each stage of evolution. It is in the
upward and downward sweep of a sine curve. It is a pattern, like the rising
sun and falling.
It is the rise and fall
of Rome, anything.
Mary: So the cycle is a substantive concept?
it applies across every discipline. Listen to what one researcher, Samuel
Schreiner, says in his book called Cycles, (picks
up a card):
are at work everywhere and in everything. It is more than a possibility that
the study of cycles will one day reveal the long-sought-after unifying
principle that will enable man to understand how the universe really
have continued to look at this idea. Listen to what Schreiner found. (The Dean reads on.) “Cycles are in the
psychology of emotions and in brain activity. They are in human history, as in
cyclic wars. They are in the back and forth swing of liberal-conservative
politics, in the biorhythms of the body, the biological clock.
is the 28-day cycle of menstruation, the 90-minute REM cycle of brain activity
during sleep, the rhythms of the individual brain waves, the cycles of
heartbeats and breathing and digestion, the 12-day cycle in the muscles'
proteins, the 128-day life cycle of red blood cells, etc.” (to the class.) Can you see the power of
this idea? Can you see its prevalence in every field? (now addressing Prof. Kornberg.)
(reluctant, but thoughtful) I guess I
will venture that cycles might be in the nature of things, but (hastily) I don’t know that I would go
beyond that. I could not propose some sort of hypothesis.
(stops, amazed, before continuing) There
are the "circadian" rhythms in a 24-hour cycle in the liver, in blood
pressure, kidneys, and other organs and bodily processes. There are periodic
tree rings, floods, rainfall, animal migrations, water levels in lakes and
rivers, barometric pressure, animal populations (among all types of animals --
mammals, insects, fishes, birds, etc., and even microorganisms), and the
24-hour (circadian) rhythms of sleep and activity. There are geological cycles
in that re-occurrence of earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, and sediment
deposits. The solar system has cycles, in the planets' path around the sun, the
planets' rotations into their own days and nights, the rotation of the Milky
you have any further thoughts?
Einstein thought about a cyclic model for the universe, but it could not be
tested empirically. Everybody forgot about it. Today it appears again with the
discovery of dark energy. It is being studied in “brane cosmology.” (He smiles). By the way, this “brane”
has a different spelling from the human brain.
Well, you smile, but before the class you and I spoke more about cosmology. We
will bring in an astrophysicist to talk about the “brane” and string theories.
What about the spiral in science? We did not talk about that.
The “spiral” could be a vector force resulting from the intersection of linear
and cyclic forces. (Chuckles). I am speculating.
should know that you are encouraged
to speculate and wonder. Prof. Kornberg, tell us about “spiraling” in galaxies.
I am not an expert on them, but galaxies show that spiral pattern. Each galaxy
is composed of a rotating thin disk over which spiral arms extend. They are
filled with gas and dust and have an inner ring-like set of tightly wound arms
surrounded by outer arms that may be split into branches. (His arms are wiggling in the air trying to illustrate what he is
talking about.) They are complex. You need a cosmologist to tell you more.
I hate to ask. But what is a spiral?
a spiral is a curve that constantly increases or decreases in size while moving
around a central point.
Prof. Kornberg: The
DNA is a spiral.
I am sure that students know all about the DNA, but give us a snapshot of it.
Well, the double helix is a right-handed spiral. The DNA strands wind around
each other, and leave gaps between each set of phosphate backbones…Mmmm… this
subject is scientifically intricate, a very technical story.
I see spirals everywhere. They are in dress fashions and hat styles…
They are in snail shells. But… does the
spiral turn up in the humanities?
Anthropologists study spirals. I have a note here from Prof. Benedict who could not be here
today. Spirals are in both culture and nature. Some anthropologists did
research on the Aegean island of Thera. This is the home of a Bronze Age
civilization related to the Minoan civilization of Crete. The researchers show
that the Theran spirals follow very closely the geometrical spiral described by
Prof. Benedict also wants me to tell
you that cycles are also in myths. The seasonal cycle of the year represents
the birth, growth, decline, death and rebirth of light. It is a theme in
festival myths. There is the constant return of birth and death and the cycle
in a larger sense, people are beginning to look at spirals in terms of a theory
of evolution. Don Beck and Chris Cowan have a theory of “Spiral Dynamics.” So
new theories about spirals are appearing. We better get busy researching this
idea if we want to stay ahead![xxxi]
(pauses, looking at his watch.) “Time is a thief.”
Finally, for today,
I’d like to add a few more concepts,
quickly. (The Dean writes on the
Other Oppositions in
these oppositions, “antinomies” but they could be called “binaries” or
“polarities.” The terms have yet to be defined with more accuracy, but my point
is that we see oppositions working throughout evolution, in every discipline.
at the opposition of hierarchy versus equality. Can students help me out here?
Where do you see a hierarchy around us?
Can you give
us a definition?
Dean: Okay. A hierarchy shows members of a group
arranged in ranks. Members are labeled as higher-to-lower but they are also
equal insofar as they all have something in common. They are related to one
another and are interdependent in their group.
I saw the names in our class were alphabetized in a hierarchy from A to Z. I am
last in your order of names.
(Stunned). Whew! Good thinking. You
surprised me. And so where is the equality?
(Puts his hands over his eyes thinking).
We are all equal as “people.”
James! That’s quick thinking. (Laughs appreciatively). Prof. Kornberg, would you talk about
some of the examples in science you and I discussed earlier?
Prof. Kornberg: Biology is a good
example. Tom knows this. Check me out. Scientists design hierarchies when they
put data in order, like James just did.
biologist should know that an animal
is classified in a higher rank than a bird,
which is higher (in abstraction) than a raptor,
which is higher still than an eagle, which is higher than a golden eagle. Each higher rank
designates some feature of a previous entry.
(Shuffling notes.) Entire ecosystems
-- are analyzed and put into hierarchies. I saw the following hierarchy in my
research and copied it for you.
summary sheet is for you to study. (The
Dean reads the first sentence of each paragraph as a student passes copies out
to the class.)
the top of the hierarchy of biological life is the ecosystem, that includes the
rain forest, desert, fresh water lake, digestive tract of animal for bacteria.
It includes all living organisms and non-living matter such as air, water and
minerals. Then there are organs in the body with specialized ranks of
importance, such as the brain and the thymus. There are tissues with
specialized substructures of single cells—a neuron, a root cell, bacteria, etc.
molecular biology, the molecule is perhaps the smallest part of a biological
system studied for its chemical and physical properties within biological
systems, but in this hierarchical organization, each higher level only exists
with all lower levels intact; each higher level provides emerging properties
not found at any lower level. This is an important feature of hierarchical
systems, i.e. ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’.[xxxii]
Think about it this way. In hierarchies you can see how lower level changes in
properties could affect “higher-level properties” and vice versa.
model of ranking could help explain everything from the cause of diseases to
the mechanisms of evolution. This principle of hierarchy is in the nature of
organize in a hierarchy based on the power of members to dominate the group.
But they also rank themselves according to their capacity to support and help
one another. You can see a fierce fight for dominance in the competition for
mates among male animals but also a ranking of members in the cooperation and
gentle support of parents feeding the young. We shall see in our lecture in
biology that there is equality through a mutual support system, as in herds, schools,
How does this principle operate in the humanities?
Social scientists have studied how religious denominations rank by wealth,
numbers, and social class. They rank business corporations based on their
assets. People in society are ranked in systems of power, status, class, age,
seniority, etc. Hierarchy is a principle that needs research across the board.
When I talk later about chemistry, we will look at the Periodic Table of the
Elements. Chemical elements are ranked according to special properties. But we
do not think of it as grouping them as
That could be my segue into “power.” Can you see “power” anywhere in this
Mmmm. I hadn’t thought about it. But, if you know the Periodic Table, it has
the power to predict new elements. It provides a student with detailed
knowledge about each element. And the ability to read the Table gives students
power to understand the relationship of elements to each other.
The two of you seem to be using the word “power” in more than one sense. What
do you mean by “power?”
Well, power is the capacity to create
change in all disciplines – physics, literature, political science, theology,
music, and more.
physics, power is a type of energy expressed
as the amount of work per unit time and measured in units such as the watt and
horsepower. In sociology, it is the ability to change and control others, as in a bureaucracy, but
theorists have variations on its meaning. In political science it is the
ability to coerce change,
as in the authority of government. In theology, it is the power to heal. In music, power is felt
in rhythm and melody.
Could the nature of power be changing?
Dean: Oh, What
do you think?
James: Whoo! I dunno. It’s too
complex. I’d have to dive into it first.
Dean: Well, I’d
like to ask you to do that, research it before we re-visit the concept
of “power” before we
hear from a political scientist.
But I want you to ask yourselves—how do
antinomies work? Each thing has power, but that inevitably means it is also
powerless in some way. Each thing is simple and complex at the same time. Any
other questions? We have to finish for now.
Mary: (slightly embarrassed, but smiling)
After all this… Who are
Dean: Well, who are you?
Mary: I’m not sure.
Dean: Think about how
antinomies are working in evolution. How would you identify yourself in that
set of antinomies? Who are you?
Mary: When I’m feeling really
great… I am the Universe. (with bravado)
Dean: Wow! Is that all? (Students laugh.)
Mary: And I am complex. (Smiling.)
Dean: Right, you are;
complexity is built into this universe. But you are also…what? (Long pause as Mary does not answer.)
Dean: (The class laughs again.) Everything in the universe carries
antonymic properties. We are simple and complex. We are powerful and powerless.
We are equal in a hierarchy.
Mary: But how could nature be so simple and so complex?
Dean: We’ll talk more about
it in later talks.
Mary: (mystified). But give us a hint before you leave.
Dean: (Pauses.) I will give you a hint, and we’ll bring it up later in
detail. If the Big Bang is like this
oak seed, it is simple -- as well as complex. (He picks up the acorn.) It is also filled with a powerful potential, but
while in my hand it is powerless.
Now when you look at this
seed, (Holds up the acorn) it truly
is a simple thing. … By golly, I think it is beautiful! Look at that symmetry! (Everybody laughs. ) …I think it has integrity. (The
class laughs again.) I think it’s … stunning in its loveliness…(Students enjoy his enthusiasm.)
Prof. Kornberg, what do you think? (Prof. Kornberg waves his hand
dismissively at the silliness.) Well,
we will come back to it. Briefly now, to summarize.
In this class we are testing a new perspective, asking what is the nature
of things? Ancient thinkers considered this question and said that all things
have a potential; a plant struggles to flower in the spring; a chick wants to
escape from its egg. Things go beyond
where they have been; they keep transforming and going beyond their past.
we move along during this semester, we shall see how composers talk with
physicists about power in terms of scales, hierarchies, tempos, and cadences.
Some power is evolving in (our) nature. You would not believe what lies ahead!
Each of you should think about evolution—and the polarities (or antinomies)—in
relation to your fields.
Mary, you should look at
your field with all its rhetorical devices: alliteration, metonymy, and iambic
pentameter. I will ask you: How do your
principles connect with this incredible evolution? Get ready. Help us research
Ann, think about
evolution in relation to your field of theater; how did human emotions evolve?
Where did feelings begin in this Big History? ((The bell rings.) Creation continues. Who we are? … (starts putting on his jacket).
you all. See you in our next class. Have a good day.