2. 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.

I 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.

Let’s 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. 

Here 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]

All these scientific concepts are found equally in the humanities. (Many students are looking a little stunned.)

Do you have questions? (Looks around the class.) Please ask me questions.

James: I 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?

Dean: 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]

From 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.

James: I never made a connection before between evolution and the economy.

Dean: 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 your level. 

James: 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.

Dean: Yes. 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.

James: My professors tell me that this market is the most self-organizing in history.

Dean: And it is the most autonomous, standing apart from the state. Yet it is doomed, like many animal species in the past.[iv]

James: Yikes. I hadn’t thought about it. This is new to me.

Dean: Well, 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. 

James: I’d never thought about a connection between the economy and molecules. 

Dean: 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 questions.)

Mary: I am majoring in English Literature.  I’m curious. What are “substantive ideas”? What does that term mean?

Dean: 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.)

You 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. Okay?

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.

Attraction-and-repulsion is a polarity. And it is polarity that appears through all fields in the humanities.

Prof. Kornberg: What do you mean by “polarity?”

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: 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 him.)

Dean: Right. But these scientific ideas (points to the blackboard) have quantifiable attributes like power, strength, density, etc. Perhaps you could give us an example.

Prof. Kornberg: 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 that right?

(Prof. Kornberg nods and voices “Okay,” and the Dean looks down at his notes to read.)

Physicists 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] 

My point is that attraction is a key force in nature, operating all the way through evolution. It is in the nature of things.

Prof. Kornberg: I agree that it is in science. 

Dean: In chemistry –– I’ve read how atoms with different “electronegativity” show attraction. . (Glances again at his notes.)

 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.)

I have read how chemists can predict the polarity of a molecule if they know the “electronegativity” of the atoms that compose it. 

Am I right?

Prof. Kornberg: 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. 

Dean: 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 No”).

A 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!

(Students 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.)

Let’s go on.

In 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]

 Prof. Kornberg: What about the humanities?

Dean: 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?

Derek: (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.”

Dean: And this is a big theme in novels and theater. (looking toward Mary, majoring in English Literature, and Ann in theater, who nod back at him.)

Research 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.”

In 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 polarity.

This 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. 

Are you starting to follow me? (A few heads nod Yes.)

Ann: What about music?

Dean: Well, 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.

We 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?

Ann: 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 mean?

Dean: 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] 

Ann: Wow. I never thought of sounds and feelings as evolving.

Dean: Well, I am getting ahead of the story. We will look at music later in the semester.

Prof. Kornberg: 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?

Mary: I am working on it.

Derek: I think I’m starting to.

Dean: 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. 

The forces of attraction and repulsion are not sufficient by themselves to explain evolution.  I must go on to other forces.

This 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 Separation.)

Anyone 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]

Prof. Kornberg, 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 every discipline.[x] 

Dean: That’s right.

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 are silent.)

Prof Kornberg: I don’t think that students know all the literature in these fields. What do students say? (He looks out among the students.)

Alice: (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.)

Dean:  In 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 around.)

Are there any musicians here?

James: Uuh…, I play guitar.

Dean: In terms of technology, I see that FM synthesis is a technique for generating the sounds of musical instruments for MIDI playback. Is that right?

James: Yes. 

Dean: 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 communication.[xi]

What about poets? Is anyone here a poet?

Prof. Kornberg: I would like to hear about synthesis in poetry!

Dean: 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.

Listen 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.

Questions? (Pause) Ask me anything!

Jerry: 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 that happen?

Dean: 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.

Dean: Ha! There you are. Another synthesis: a newborn child. You have created something new just as atoms created molecules.

Prof. Kornberg: Let me guess now. These are “principles of evolution” that you propose go from the Big Bang to civilization.

Dean: 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.)

So, Jerry, you are in linguistics?

Jerry: Yes.

Dean: How did language evolve? Do you know?

Jerry: Well, not off the top of my head.

Dean: 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.

Jerry: Oh! So evolution is not just happening to our bodies, not just happening physically?

Dean: 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]

Anybody else have questions?

Mary: I need more help. Tell me once more, how does a metaphor cause language to evolve?

Dean: 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.)

Listen 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. 

However, 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 the original.

Questions now?

Barbara: Can you explain more about a dead metaphor? That term is not in political science.

Dean: 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. 

Barbara: Oooo. (Catching on.) Old things die into new things.

Dean: Aristotle might say old beings die into new beings. Now carry this thought back to atoms.

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]

Dean: 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] 

Anybody? Think inventively. How do these terms apply in your field?

Barbara: 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 States.

Dean: Whoopee! Yes. Yes. Right on. You are starting to think in a more synthetic way. (He looks to the class.)

Notice 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.

James: What about my field?

Dean: 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.)

Prof. Kornberg: What about this opposite word: “separation?” (Points to the blackboard.)

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: In science today, atoms are studied with greater precision. Physicists are measuring small separations between two atoms.

Dean: Yes, and again, my point: this phenomenon -- separation and synthesis – is alive in every field.[xv]

Barbara: What about the concept of “separation” in my field of political science?

 Dean: 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.

Derek: What about my major field?

Dean: 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 field. [xvi]

Mary: (Boldly.) How does this help us answer the question: Who are we?

Dean: 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 thinking.)

Okay. Let us look at two other types of change that exist in stages of evolution. (The Dean writes on the blackboard the terms)

Transformation and Stasis

(and 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?

Prof. 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 time scales.

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] 

Prof. Kornberg: What about all those fields outside science?

Dean: Barbara gave us an example with the American colonies transforming into the United States. (Looks at Barbara)  Isn’t that right?

Barbara: (Proudly) Yes!

Dean: 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.)

Derek, 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 self-identity.


Prof. Kornberg: Along with “transformation,” you wrote the word “stasis” on the board. What about that?

Dean: Stasis is the opposite of transformation. It refers to a condition of stability, relatively unchanged. The term comes from Greek; it is as an state of standing, or stopping.

Stasis 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? 

Tom: (He turns to think.) In biology, Gould and Eldredge studied long period where things stayed the same. Yes, stasis. The theory is called “punctuated equilibrium,” a period of little or no change.[xix]

  Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: Okay, we’ve begun to see the different applications of these concepts: “transformation” 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.

Dean: 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 about.

Prof. Kornberg: If you are going to talk to me, you have to be precise.

Dean: I 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 evolve within itself. 

Something is transcendent when an “individual” transforms by enhancing its capacity to evolve. Here we begin to see some purpose in evolution.

Prof. 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. .)

Dean: (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 together.

Prof. Kornberg: So 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.

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: You say that a molecule has a greater likelihood to evolve. It can create a more complex cell. Atoms can’t do that.

Dean: Yes. The 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? 

Prof. Kornberg: I’m thinking that we’ll need a break before long! I am waiting for the next shoe to drop. We need a mediator! (Students laugh.)

Dean: (Looking at his friend and colleague.) Tell me more about your feelings on this matter.

Prof. Kornberg:  I’m bothered by this word “transcendence, 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.

Dean: 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 stage.

Second, it transcends by adding a structure with a function. One atom, changing, adds another structure of atoms. It becomes a molecule. Are students with me?  Tom.

What about new structures in biology?

Tom: (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.

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: How do you determine that something has more potential to evolve? This implies a goal. You must know where it is going.

Dean: 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: (Tom is thinking harder than ever before.) Survival is not the purpose of an animal itself. Biologists 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?

Prof. Kornberg: Atoms and molecules have no purpose, no direction, or goal. Atoms are not there to survive. They are not there to evolve. 

Dean: But they did evolve! The evidence is there! Look at the history. 

Prof. Kornberg:  It happened by chance.  

Dean: They went beyond their past. They transcended step-by-step right up to human beings.

Is science is evolving?

Prof. Kornberg: Each science develops step-by-step. Each new discovery adds to a body of knowledge.

Dean: 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?

Dean: 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: Yes.

Dean: 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.

Barbara: Yes. Society evolved from a long historical period of tyrants, emperors, pharaohs, kings and aristocracies.

Dean: 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.

Barbara: 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.

Dean: You can see how the goals of freedom and equality evolved. They were built in those inner dynamics of society. Would you agree?

Barbara: 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: (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.)

Tom: It’s “punctuated equilibrium.” (half-joking.)

Barbara: Good. The Magna Carta was only one tiny step, as an evolving structure for democracy.

Tom: What did it do?

Barbara: It required the King to renounce certain rights he had by tradition. It specified legal procedures; the King agreed to be bound by law. 

Dean: Do you think democracy” is still evolving?

Barbara: 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. 

Dean: And democracy is evolving through civil society -- beyond government.

Prof. Kornberg: Look. When we cross disciplines, we move into a very complex subject.

I am not persuaded.

Dean: 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.

I 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 it.

Prof. Kornberg: 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 questions.)

Jerry: Does human consciousness go beyond the brain like a cell goes beyond a molecule?

Dean: 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.

Jerry: What are those rules of order?

Dean: Think about the rules of language, and of grammar. Grammar is full of rules that are not all found in a physical brain.

Or, 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 not written in your brain.

Barbara: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: A higher order? Are you saying that human consciousness is a stage beyond the brain?

Dean: Yes. It exceeds the physical brain. But, take this as a hypothesis. It needs research.

Prof. Kornberg: By all means it needs research! (He grins with determination.)

Dean: 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 organization.

Do students have any questions? (They are quiet as a group.) Ann, what do you think?

Ann: (Putting her hands above her eyes and speaking deliberately going back to square one.) Tell me again: what do you mean by substantive?

Dean: 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.

Ann: And we add value?

Dean: Yes, I think this discussion is broadening the mind, deepening our awareness of where we have been and who we are.

But 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

Does anybody know what “differentiation” means? (Pause)

Jerry: It means like “separating.”

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.)

I would put it this way, “Something distinguishes itself” in a larger community. (Nothing can be totally isolated.) So that this new thing becomes autonomous, i.e., distinguished “in and for itself.” [xxii]  (his gaze shifts back to the students.)

It 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?

Ann: How does this word “differentiate” apply to science and evolution?

Dean: 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] 

Look. Again in mathematics, differentiation refers to finding a derivative; the fundamental theorem of calculus states that “differentiation” is the reverse of “integration.” Unquote.

I 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.

Dean: Okay, we will have a mathematician to enlighten us later. Tom, what about “differentiation”in biology?

Tom: 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]

Prof. Kroneberg: What about the humanities?

Dean: Is anybody majoring in art?

Jane: Uh…uh (hesitant) I am. I paint portraits.

Dean: 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 painting.

Jane: (with a quick smile.) Absolutely!

Jerry: (Pointing to the blackboard.) What about that word “autonomy”?

Dean: (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.

Jane is puzzled. Jane, do you have a question?

Jane: How is “autonomy” different from “independence.”

Dean: 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 independence, more-or-less;  “autonomous,” that is, within the whole. (Looks at Jane.)

Jane: But we talk about being independent.

Dean: 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 independent.

Each 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. 

Prof. Kornberg: 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.)

Dean: Well, that is not always true.

Prof. Kornberg: 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.  

Dean: 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 usefulness.”[xxv]

Prof. Kornberg: He was looking at the nature and principles of time and space. He was a genius.

Dean: Look at the geniuses out there! (sweeps his hand out toward  students. Everyone laughs.)

Now 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

Some 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. 

Prof. Kornberg: “Thoughts” are working at a higher frequency” than the brain? That should be tested. You are speculating, right?   

Dean: Yes. I think it can be tested, but let’s leave that for our discussion on physics and psychology.

The 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.

Mary, 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 science?

Barbara: 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]

Dean: What about democracy?

Barbara: You 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.

Dean: Evolution 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.

But, 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]

Barbara: (to the Dean.) Are you saying that the “cycle” is a core principle of evolution? 

Dean: Yes. History has its own framework based on a chronology of events. Historians try not to abstract too much from particular events.

But 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?

Prof. Kornberg: I confess that I did not read all of the assignments. (Students laugh, relieved.)

Dean: 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 evolution.[xxix]

Ann: I’ll ask my advisor about this.

Dean: But we cannot know nature only by antinomies or ideal types. These are just a few paths I mention for intrigue and exploratory purposes.

The 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.

James: 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?

James: In economics, cycles are seen in stock prices, inflations and recessions.

Dean: 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 history.

Prof. Kornberg: No question about its being in nature and studied in science. (Friendly.)

Jerry: (excited ) Could you say: The cycle is the engine driving the universe? 

Dean: 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 guffaw.)

Okay! 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.

Mary: I’m not clear on what a cycle is exactly

Dean: I 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.

It 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?

Dean: Absolutely, it applies across every discipline. Listen to what one researcher, Samuel Schreiner, says in his book called Cycles,  (picks up a card):

"Cycles 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 works." [xxx] 

I 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.

“There 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.)

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.

Dean: (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 Way galaxy.

Do you have any further thoughts?

Prof. Kornberg: 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.

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: What about the spiral in science? We did not talk about that.

Dean: The “spiral” could be a vector force resulting from the intersection of linear and cyclic forces. (Chuckles).  I am speculating.

Students should know that you are encouraged to speculate and wonder. Prof. Kornberg, tell us about “spiraling” in galaxies.

Prof.: Kornberg: 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.

James: I hate to ask. But what is a spiral?

Dean: Well, 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.

Dean: I am sure that students know all about the DNA, but give us a snapshot of it.

Prof. Kornberg: 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.

Mary: I see spirals everywhere. They are in dress fashions and hat styles…

Prof. Kornberg: They are in snail shells. But…  does the spiral turn up in the humanities?

Dean: 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 Archimedes.

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 of seasons.

Anyway, 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 blackboard)  

Other Oppositions in Nature

I call 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.

Look at the opposition of hierarchy versus equality. Can students help me out here? Where do you see a hierarchy around us? (Silence).

James: 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.


James: I saw the names in our class were alphabetized in a hierarchy from A to Z. I am last in your order of names.

Dean: (Stunned). Whew! Good thinking. You surprised me. And so where is the equality?

James: (Puts his hands over his eyes thinking). We are all equal as “people.” 

Dean: Excellent, 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.

A 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.

Dean: (Shuffling notes.) Entire ecosystems -- are analyzed and put into hierarchies. I saw the following hierarchy in my research and copied it for you.

This 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.)

At 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.

In 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]

Dean: Think about it this way. In hierarchies you can see how lower level changes in properties could affect “higher-level properties” and vice versa.

This 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 things.

Animals 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, and flocks.


Prof. Kornberg: How does this principle operate in the humanities?

Dean: 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.

Prof. Kornberg: 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 taxonomy.

Dean: That could be my segue into “power.” Can you see “power” anywhere in this Periodic Table?

Prof. Kornberg: 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. 

James: The two of you seem to be using the word “power” in more than one sense. What do you mean by “power?”

Dean: Well, power is the capacity to create change in all disciplines – physics, literature, political science, theology, music, and more.

In 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.

James: 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 we?

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.)

James: Simple!

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.

As 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 it.

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).

Thank you all. See you in our next class. Have a good day.

[i] A “story” in literature is a series of events with continuity but it may also leap back and forth in history, or slow down its pace in the midst of a chain of events. It may suggest discontinuities in the midst of its continuity, which becomes part of the mystery. The Dean goes on to assert that evolution is a mystery story. It is going somewhere. But “where” is still an open question.

[ii]  On self-organization and complexity: Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos (NY: Bantam Books, 1984.) S. A. Kauffman, The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) Waldrop, M. Mitchell, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992.)

[iii]  Schumpeter: “This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in… every piece of business strategy acquires its true significance only against the background of that process and within the situation created by it. It must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction.” Joseph Schumpeter, From Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper, 1975) [orig. pub. 1942], pp. 82-85:

[iv] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. 1944. Polanyi’s book is about the origins of the self-regulating market emerging from the Industrial Revolution during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This market was cultivated through planning by liberal statesmen in England in the nineteenth century, but Polanyi saw  markets as sociological: places and networks based on human interactions organized by price, quality, and quantity of traded goods and services. He argued that self-regulation could not survive because of its starkly utopian nature. Others argue that this utopian nature can be developed with guidance. Self-regulation can be preserved and evolve as a more advanced marketdevelops. The new market might be a civil market in a civil economy, supported by a civil republic. Severyn T. Bruyn, A Future for the American Economy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).


[v] Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees, (NY: W. H. Freeman; New edition [January 15, 1998].) A “mass” is a body of matter that forms a whole but has no definable shape. Astrophysicists explore gravity in black holes, which can have a mass up to billions of times that of our sun but remain detectable only by the evidence of a powerful gravitational force swallowing everything in its vicinity.

[vi] W Boland, “The Chemistry of Gamete Attraction: Chemical Structures, Biosynthesis, and (a) biotic Degradation of Algal Pheromones.”

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 92, 37-43, © 1995, National Academy of Sciences.


[vii] S. McFarlane, “Axon guidance in the developing visual system,” University of Calgary, Genes and Development Research Group, Calgary, AB, Canada. 

[viii] Typically, a dissonant chord with tension "resolves" to a consonant chord in music. Contemporary music has developed in such a way that tensions are less structured than they were during the Baroque or Classical periods, producing new styles such as Jazz and Blues, where tensions may not even be planned. See Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, Cambridge: MIT Press) 1983.


[ix]  “Synthesis” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary refers to “the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole.” It is “the production of a substance by the union of chemical elements, groups, or simpler compounds”; and “the degradation of a complex compound”; or “the combining of diverse conceptions into a coherent whole.” It can be a complex of “deductive reasoning” and “the dialectic combination of thesis and antithesis into a higher stage of truth.” It is also “the frequent and systematic use of inflected forms as a characteristic device of a language.”


[x] In chemistry, “synthesis” has varied meanings, such as “asymmetric synthesis,” which refers “to any chemical reaction that affects the structural symmetry in the molecules of a compound. Chemists describe how a “synthesis reaction” in the simplest sense involves elements as reagents in the formation of a compound. Complex halides, for example, may be prepared by direct combination. “Synthesis gas” has been shown as the source of two products, ammonia and methanol. The mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen is a synthesis gas that is the source of methanol. Enzymes called RNA polymerases perform the “synthesis” of RNA. Iwao Ojima, (editor) Catalytic Asymmetric Synthesis, Second Edition ,Wiley-VCH; 2nd edition (2000).


[xi] Speech synthesis is the translation of written information into aural information for mobile applications, such as voice-enabled e-mail and unified messaging. It is also used to assist the vision-impaired so that the contents of a display screen can be automatically read aloud to a blind user. “Speech synthesis” is the counterpart of speech or voice recognition.  


[xii] Language evolves by synthesis through the metaphor. The concept of the synthesizing process continues through human development, which increases the interior life of human beings. The Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan says the key questions of human existence are those that regard “interiority.” He views this as a process of self-development and transcendence. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (CWL) Vol. 3, Insight. A Study of Human Understanding. Edited by Frederick Crowe and Robert Doran. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.



[xiii]  Jefferson Lab. http://education.jlab.org/qa/mathatom_04.html

[xiv] The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that metaphors are the foundation for human understanding, which today is the most creative force in human history. The earliest words were verbal representations for solid objects and animals but then they extended to embrace higher reaches of abstract thought. The fundamental mechanism for extending and refining language is by metaphor, a synthesis of different images. The Dean proposes that this synthesizing of images through language takes place similar to the way that atomic elements come together, but at a more complex stage of evolution.  Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche and Metaphor.  trans. by Duncan Large.  Great Britain: Stanford University  Press, 1993.)


[xv] Dalton concluded that evaporated water exists in air as an independent gas. Elizabeth C. Patterson, John Dalton and the Atomic Theory: The Biography of a Natural Philosopher, (NY: Doubleday, 1970), chapter VI. The quotation in this book was taken from notes for a lecture Dalton delivered in 1810 before the Royal Institution in London.


[xvi] Lewis Mumford was a social-urban historian. He describes oppositions that become apparent in evolution in this way: "All life rests essentially on the integration (or composition) of two opposite states, stability and change, security and adventure, necessity and freedom; for without regularity and continuity there would not be enough constancy in any process to enable one to recognize change itself, still less to identify it as good or bad, as life-promoting or life-destroying." Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life. (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1951), p. 181).


[xvii] Technical information can be seen in the Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union  (2005), 1: 223-224 Cambridge University Press. Published Online May 17, 2006.


[xviii] Dubnau D. Chen I, (2004). "DNA uptake during bacterial transformation". Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 2 (3): 241-9. DOI:10.1038/nrmicro844. PMID 15083159.


[xix]  Punctuated equilibrium” states that most sexually reproducing populations “experience little change” for most of their geological history. It is contrasted against the theory of phyletic gradualism, which states that evolution occurs uniformly and by a steady and gradual transformation of whole lineages. In 1972 paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould published a landmark paper developing this idea building upon Ernst Mayr's theory of geographic speciation. 

Ernst Mayr, 1992. "Speciational Evolution or Punctuated Equilibria" In Albert Somit and Steven Peterson The Dynamics of Evolution. New York: Cornell University Press, pp. pp. 25-26. ^ Stephen Jay Gould, 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, pp. 1006-1021.

[xx]Evolvability” in biology is an organism’s capacity to generate heritable phenotypic variation, also called adaptability. P. W. Wagner, and L. Altenberg, (1996). Complex adaptations and the evolution of evolvability. Evolution 50, 967-976. But the Dean is expanding on this notion. This carries over to medicine. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U S A. 1998 Jul 21;95(15):8420-7. See M. Kirschner, J. Gerhart  Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA. marc@hms.harvard.edu


[xxi] Heinrich Schlange-Schöningen: "Harmodius and Aristogeiton", in: Alexander Demandt (Ed.): "Das Attentat in der Geschichte", Augsburg 2002, p. 27-36 (I must check this source.)

[xxii] The Dean is paraphrasing G. W. F. Hegel talking about “principles” that underlay the process of evolution, showing its material expression in the work of science. See G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trs J. Sibree, (NY: Dover, 1956).



[xxiii]  Philip. H. Starmer, P.H., Indian J.Chem., 37A, November 1998, 1002 - 1005. Philip H. Starmer, The Hexagonal Structure of Ice Charlotte, NC. e-mail: st9m6@windstream.net. See other studies: Peter Schulze, Dirk Kusch, Axel Meier, Franz-Peter Montforts , “Differentiation of diastereomeric chlorin derivatives by fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry.”Institut für Organische Chemie, Fachbereich 2 Chemie/Biologie, Universität Bremen, Postfach 330 440, D-28334 Bremen, New York.


[xxiv] This cell differentiation can cause everything to change -- an organism’s size, shape, polarity, metabolic activity, and responsiveness to signals. These changes are due to what biologists call “controlled modifications in gene expression.” John W. Pepper 1, 2, Kathleen Sprouffske 3, 4, Carlo C. Maley 4 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, UAmericahttp://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030250.


[xxv]  Alan Lightman, The Discoveries (NY: Random House, 2006) p. 67, 69.

[xxvi] Patrik Aspers, “The Case of Vilfredo Pareto,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, April  2001.


[xxvii] Historians differ in their views on the origins of Athenian democracy. Some say it started with Cleisthenes, with Pericles then being the longest-lasting democratic leader; after Pericles’ death, Athenian democracy was interrupted twice by oligarchic revolution at the end of the Peloponnesian War. It was modified and restored under Eucleides. The Macedonians suppressed it in 322 BCE. The Athenian institutions were later revived but with issues about the degree to which they were democratic. M. H. Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the age of Demosthenes. Oxford, 1987. Charles Hignett, A History of the Athenian Constitution (Oxford, 1962).

[xxviii] A vacuum is a volume of space that is, in the imagination of the scientist, empty of matter. Its pressure is less than atmospheric pressure. A perfect vacuum of absolute zero is a model that is never observed in practice. In this way physicists study the vacuum as an ideal type.

Austin Chambers, Modern Vacuum Physics. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 2004.

[xxix] Along these lines, see Gerardo L. Munck, Richard Snyder, Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics (The Johns Hopkins University Press (May 30, 2007). Ideal types are a method of investigation and explanation. They are used in sociology, political science, and economics. In economics, for example, an ideal type would be the concept of the perfect market. For Max Weber, in sociology, the construction of an ideal type was a heuristic device, i.e., a method of investigation.


[xxx] Samuel Schreiner, Cycles,  (NY: Dutton, 1990). Researchers have found cycles in stock-market prices, economic depressions, manufacturing production, prices of various goods, fads and styles, real-estate sales, agricultural production, and other areas of economics and business.

[xxxi] Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, (Developmental Management, 1996) p.2

The National Values Center, Inc. 

[xxxii] See Gerard A. J. M. Jagers, “Analyzing hierarchy in the organization of biological and physical systems,” Biological Reviews, Volume 83 Issue 1 Page 1-12, February 2008. 83 (1), 1–12 doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2007.00023.