The Nature Institute
The papers collected here are part of a work in progress by Stephen L. Talbott. They are attempts to describe our reigning (and mostly unconscious) cognitive habits, the limitations of conventional science, and the redirections required for a new, qualitative science. By virtue of its qualitative character, such a science will be holistic and irreducibly ethical (or unethical).
These papers may be periodically revised. I have placed them here in order to invite the most thorough criticism possible. Send any comments you have to email@example.com. You can also visit my home page and write me at The Nature Institute, 20 May Hill Road, Ghent NY 12075.Current Project:
The general public still seems largely unaware of it — and even many scientists have not fully picked up on its true significance. Nevertheless, the ongoing transformation of molecular biology — including, but by no means restricted to the "epigenetic revolution" that has lately been entering the news — is rewriting our understanding of the living organism. The new developments do not mean merely that one more layer of “control” is laid on top of DNA. What they really require is a radical reconceptualization of biology — and indeed of science in general — that may rival any paradigm change of the past. This ongoing series of papers is my attempt, first, to sketch the actual findings of the molecular biologists (with a focus on gene expression), and then, in later parts of the series, to bring out the significance of these findings for our understanding of the organism and its evolution.
Visit the project’s main page.
[Photo © Ernst Vikne (CC)]
Logic, DNA, and Poetry. What would happen if geneticists took the genetic text seriously? A look at the appeal to word, text, and information in genetics and also in artificial intelligence.
Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery. The strange, disembodied life of "digital organisms" tells us a good deal about certain tendencies of science today, including the tendency of professed materialists to seek comfort in a science of the abstract and immaterial.
A version of this paper was published in The New Atlantis #18 (fall, 2007), pp. 26-40. Christoph Adami, a leader in the field of digital organism research and co-author of a paper in Nature that I criticize in my article, wrote a response in The New Atlantis. You'll find both Adami's response and my rejoinder there.
Can the New Science of Evo-Devo Explain the Form of Organisms? Where does the form of an organism come from, and with what scientific language can we speak about this form? Can we explain form, or is it form that does the explaining?
On Being Wholehearted: From Mechanical Metaphor to Reality. Perhaps more than any other organ, the "pumping heart" is conceived as a mechanism. And perhaps no organ of the human body makes a more emphatic lie of the mechanical metaphor. This article is a commentary on the book, The Dynamic Heart and Circulation, edited by Craig Holdrege and translated by Katherine Creeger. (Fair Oaks CA: AWSNA, 2002).
Between Discordant Eras. Reflections upon the nature of the human heart. When William Harvey began dissecting animals and observing the heart at the moment it ceased moving, what ancient knowledge of the human being was lost? Can we possibly retrieve any of that knowledge? Clearly it will not be easy. (Paper published in the September, 1998 issue of Archetype, Newsletter Articles Supplement of the Science Group of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain.)
The Embryo's Eloquent Form. The embryo is gestured into existence, and understanding its development is a matter of reading its gestures. If we want to know where the human being comes from, we ought to pay attention to the embryo's own testimony.
Toward an Ecological Conversation [pdf]. How can we, as humans, understand our distinctive place in nature, and how can we relate to other creatures in a responsible way? Are we potential healers of nature, or only a threat to nature? This paper, which attempts to limn the basic features of a healthy approach to these questions, has appeared in a number of different places, including NetFuture #127 (Jan. 10, 2002), The New Atlantis #3 (fall, 2003), The Virtues of Ignorance, edited by Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson (University Press of Kentucky, 2008), and The Environmental Responsibility Reader, edited by Martin Reynolds, Chris Blackmore, and Mark J. Smith (New York: Zed Books and The Open University, 2009).
Recognizing Reality. We make two very different and essential gestures of consciousness when apprehending the world. One of them — the one required for recognizing unities (wholes) and the qualities constituting these unities — has been systematically undervalued in science. To acknowledge and investigate the undervalued powers of cognition that we in fact are exercising all the time (even if we have been allowing them to atrophy) would be to alter the nature of science in dramatic fashion.
Can We Learn to Think Like a Plant? It is impossible to comprehend the sequence of leaves on a buttercup without drawing upon one's experience of an imaginal unity that cannot be equated with any material leaf. This imaginal unity is evidently a shaping power in the world. That is, what works in us as imagination works also in the world as the power of things to manifest themselves.
The Vanishing World-Machine. How the world as we actually know it disappears into mechanical models and these mechanical models then dissolve (in our thinking) into the algorithms said to govern them. The world of the theorist tends continually toward pure, reified abstraction.
The Limits of Predictability. We commonly overestimate the powers of prediction given to us by science. Reckoning with this overestimation may give us a key for assessing certain misconceptions at the foundations of today's science.
Do Physical Laws Make Things Happen?. The laws given by a mechanistic science are valid insofar as they are found to be implicit in the phenomena we observe. But they are not adequate to explain or predict or characterize these phenomena.
The Reduction Complex. Terms such as "reductionistic," "materialistic," and "mechanistic" are used in different ways by different commentators upon science. We find a powerfully revealing principle for exploring and ordering these concepts when we look at the mind's one-sided drive toward the simple, the indivisible, the quantitative, the precise, the unambiguous. The single, unifying gesture here has profound implications, ranging from the cognitive to the moral.
A Modest Epistemological Exercise. How we can begin thinking about the crucial epistemological questions of our day — questions that will, in the end, determine the sort of world we live in. This paper looks at two worlds, the one given through direct, familiar experience and the other through scientific explanation, and concludes that one of these worlds is laced with massive confusions.
Reframing the Mind-Body Problem: An Exercise in Letting Go of Dualist Assumptions. A somewhat later and fuller treatment of the issues discussed in “A Modest Epistemological Exercise”.
From Two Cultures to One: On the Relation Between Science and Art, by Vladislav Rozentuller and Stephen L. Talbott. An attempt to show how human experience provides a language of revelation for the physical world.
What Are Qualities? Qualities provide the world content that mechanism overlooks. This paper is a precursor to "Recognizing Reality," listed above, which partially cannibalizes it.
Science and the Child. There is a huge gap between the world as science presents it and the world as the child experiences it. Which is closer to the truth?
Hold a Blossom to the Light. Lessons in the appreciation of qualities from one of the world's greatest Amazonian botanists, and also from the tribes native to that region.
To Explain or Portray? (Goethe and the nature of scientific explanation.)
A Way of Knowing as a Way of Healing. (What is Goethean science?)
The Lure of Complexity, Part 1. (Abstract simplicity does not give us complexity.)
Steve Talbott :: From Mechanism to a Science of Qualities
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