NEW VISION V
New Perspectives in Science



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New Vision V - Contents of this page: click
1
The Field: A Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe
By Lynne McTaggart
2
Excerpts from Science and the Sacred - By Professor
Ravi Ravindra
3
4
Ethical Conduct in Science and Technology
By BillJoy
5
For the Common Good - By Dr Arpad Pusztai
   

 

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New Perspectives in Science

"We conclude that our universe, the one we see directly, is a mere sprinkling of visible matter on the vast reaches of invisible dark matter and energy that dominate space."
                     The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Meeting February 12th, 2003

The over-arching intention of this website is to show that our consciousness is an expression of a field or sea of energy that is the substratum of our physical universe. The scientific name for this field or sea is the quantum vacuum. I would like to draw visitors' attention to a new book that I feel is of great importance at the present time.


The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe.

Lynne McTaggart, founder and editor of a newsletter called What the Doctors Don't Tell You has, for the last eight years, been researching and writing a book that has just been published by HarperCollins called The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. The quest, she writes, came about because the fundamental paradoxes she kept bumping into in the course of her work with the above newsletter concerning methods of healing like homoeopathy, acupuncture or spiritual healing that flouted every notion scientists have held about the way our universe works. For years, these discoveries left her profoundly unsettled. These practices were based on an entirely different paradigm of the human body from that of modern science. If something like homoeopathy worked, it upended everything we believe about our physical and biological reality.
      In between assembling the newsletter every month, she began seeking out top frontier scientists from different areas of the globe, choosing those with solid credentials who were operating according to rigorous scientific criteria. Once she began digging she discovered a small cohesive community of top-grade scientists with impressive credentials, all doing some small aspect of the same thing. "Their discoveries were incredible. What they were working on seemed to overthrow the current laws of biochemistry and physics. It was my task to synthesise this disparate research into a cohesive whole. It was as though these scientists had been on a voyage of discovery and each had discovered a bucket of earth, but no one had been bold enough to declare it a continent."
      "At our most elemental, according to their discoveries, we are not a chemical reaction, but an energetic charge. Human beings and all living things are a coalescence of energy in a field of energy connected to every other thing in the world. This pulsating energy field is the central engine of our being and our consciousness, the alpha and omega of our existence. There is no 'me' and 'not-me' duality to our bodies in relation to the universe, but one underlying energy field."
      "This field," she continues, "is responsible for our mind's highest functions, the information source guiding the growth of our bodies. It is our brain, our heart, our memory - indeed, a blueprint of the universe for all time. The field is the force, rather than germs or genes, that finally determines whether we are healthy or ill, the force which must be tapped in order to heal."
      "Unlike the world view of Newton or Darwin, theirs was a vision that was life-enhancing. These were ideas that could empower us with their implications of order and control. We were not simply genetic accidents of nature. There was purpose and unity to our world and our place within it, and we had an important say in it. We were not isolated beings living our desperate lives on a lonely planet in an indifferent universe. We never were alone. We were always part of a larger whole. We have far more power than we realise to heal ourselves, our loved ones, even our communities."
      "I believe these ideas herald a coming scientific and medical revolution as daring and profound as the discovery of relativity. At its most fundamental, this new science answers questions that have perplexed scientists for hundreds of years. At its most profound, this is a science of the miraculous."

Reproduced with permission from volume 12, #7, October 2001 of the
newsletter What the Doctors Don't Tell You.

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Excerpts from Science and the Sacred by Professor Ravi Ravindra. 1

I have included these excerpts from Professor Ravi Ravindra's book because I have not found a clearer statement of modern science's attitude to nature, the cosmos and ourselves or a clearer description of the contrast between this attitude and the traditional Indian approach to these aspects of reality. What, I wonder, is the long-term effect on the psyche of the teaching of science - presented as a philosophy as well as a methodology - in schools and universities? What effect does it have on the way we regard and treat other orders of life and other people?

* * *

The world is in the midst of a great metaphysical revolution which will shake the foundations of all human thinking. This revolution…is calling into question all our established notions of space, time, materiality, causality, and mind. An alternative and a much more comprehensive science than the present one is in the making. p. 106

The tragedy of post-Renaissance intellectual life is that there are very few individuals who have included nature, human beings, and divinity in a unified continuum of investigation based not only on speculative concepts but also on experience and perceptions. p. 146

The one central insight into Truth to which all Indian wisdom points is the oneness of all that exists. This is not something alien to the sages in other cultures; but in India all the great sages again and again return to this insight. In fact the realization of this truth is what defines the greatness of a person in India…And the realization of this truth is held as the purpose of human existence. All art, philosophy and science, if they are true, reflect this vision and aid its realization…Over a period of at least four thousand years, the sages in India have repeatedly said that there is an underlying unity of all that exists, including everything we call animate or inanimate, and that the cultivation of wisdom consists in the realization of this truth. p. 115-116

From a spiritual perspective, modern science is a product of a limited consciousness. It is useful and even true in its own domain, but it is imperative that our tendencies towards control, manipulation and violence - which science reflects and supports - be kept in check by the unitive understanding of human beings with respect to other beings at all levels, and with the whole of Nature, subtle and gross. This is possible only when leaders, scientists and writers are willing to submit themselves to spiritual disciplines where alone compassion and wisdom can be cultivated. If you and I are not seen deep down as one, we shall always struggle for supremacy over one another. p. 124

In modern science, in complete contrast to all traditional sciences, creation is assumed to be from below upward. Matter somehow came into existence, then, chronologically later and ontologically dependent on matter, arose intelligence and, later still, if it is admitted at all, somehow came the spirit. For them [modern scientists], it is the body which has the spirit, whereas in traditional cosmologies, it is the spirit, which for its own purpose and according to natural…laws, takes on a body. p. 323

It is actually built right into the metaphysics of modern science that the state of being of the scientists is irrelevant to the science they produce. Whether one is good or bad, fearful, hateful or kind is beside the point in determining one's qualities as a scientist. (We should keep in mind that a majority of all scientists and technologists in the world actually work for the military or for the war machine in one form or another). The assumption that the level of a person's consciousness or the nature of moral preparation is irrelevant to the quality of science carried out is built into the procedures of science. p. 84

It is a fundamental assumption of all scientific inquiry that what one is investigating is essentially dead, i.e., it has no interiority. Therefore it, whether electron, frog, man, or culture, can be completely described in terms of external forces to which it reacts, helplessly. It has no consciousness, purpose, or intention of its own, and its entire existence and behaviour can be explained by referring to interactions with outside forces which, in turn, are themselves purposeless. Reality, on a small scale or on the whole, may be dynamic but it has no self-initiative. Thus, it is internally completely passive: it reacts to forces but it cannot respond. p. 97
      The model here, as everywhere else in modern science, is physics, which bases itself entirely on principles derived from a study of inanimate objects, or, more accurately, on principles derived from a study of those objects which are assumed to be completely inanimate [italics mine] One may think on the face of it, that the above comments do not apply to biology which after all deals with living organisms. This is true only in the minimal sense that the objects studied by biology have a property called reproducibility. They, however, are allowed no more interiority than the dead objects of physics. So, monkeys, cats, frogs, have no rights, which might mitigate against any sort of experimentation on them. The only relevant fact is that human beings can overpower these animals and therefore subject them to any treatment whatsoever. Theological and ethical considerations aside, which are in any case notorious for their impotence in the laboratories, there is no scientific principle which would stand in the way of any experimentation of the members of a subject race.
      In an older terminology, one might say that biology deals with animals as if they had no soul and were only bodies. This, of course, is an old and standard Christian idea. Only human beings have souls; they are different from other animals precisely in this…
      Modern psychology, as it became progressively more scientific, naturally eliminated any considerations of interiority, treating human beings only as machines reacting to external stimuli in a predictable manner...There is no principle of scientific epistemology that would permit a treatment of human beings as persons rather than as objects.
      It is precisely this attitude that permeates modern scientific medicine, namely the attitude that a human being is essentially a physico-chemical machine, which is somehow alive…In this machine, different components (traditionally labelled 'organs') can, in principle, be replaced by alive or artificial components with similar functions from elsewhere.
      In short, a fundamental assumption of modern scientific inquiry is that the whole of reality, at whatever scale we take it - as the whole universe, an animal, a tree, or a stone - is a machine. Whether it has any consciousness or not is quite irrelevant to scientific procedures or conclusions; therefore, for simplicity, one might as well proceed on the assumption that there is no consciousness. The whole of nature is assumed to be made up of dead matter in purposeless motion. In fact, nothing whatsoever has any purpose. Neither purpose nor anything equivalent is a scientific category at all. Any connotation of purpose in the idea of cause before the major scientific revolution of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries has been systematically eliminated since then. Now, objects or creatures do not have purposes; they merely have functions. p. 97-99

The universe is hostile or at least indifferent, not intentionally but mechanically, to human purposes and aspirations. Therefore, it needs to be fought and conquered. The otherness of nature is an essential presupposition of the scientific attitude. This is what allows humans to exploit nature. The more advanced a society is scientifically and technologically, the more pronounced is the exploitation of nature in it. Modern technology is essentially of a piece with modern science in its fundamental procedures and attitudes…The shift from utilizing natural resources for the fulfillment of legitimate human needs to the exploitation of nature for gratification of unbridled desires - as is now clearly the case in the USA - is made easy by the attitude, common to science and technology, which regards nature as an enemy to be vanquished. p. 99-100

The arbitrary assumption clearly remains that nature is lower than humans, that it neither encompasses us nor has any larger purposes which humanity also serves…This sundering of nature and human beings is very much a contribution of the scientific revolution, in particular of Descartes. It then becomes a matter of course that humans should want to conquer nature; and a terminology of combat enters the scientific ethos without notice or comment. p. 165

A long and hard struggle was necessary to establish natural science as an independent mode of inquiry, free of the tyranny of theology and the church, which had been coupled with temporal power. Now, especially since the making of the atomic bomb in 1945, it is science that is associated with power; and a similar struggle may be necessary to rescue genuine spiritual inquiry from the tyranny of scientific rationality. p. 183

Science needs to serve the Spirit; otherwise it ends up serving, almost by default, the natural human tendency towards self-centredness, resulting in violence against and exploitation of other humans, cultures, other creatures and the Earth. p. 115

The tragedy is that popular awe of science has led to the devaluation of the function of feeling as a means of arriving at any aspect of the truth, and the quality of feeling in our culture has declined as a consequence to the level of the infantile or brutal. The mistaken conviction that those limited aspects of reality which are accessible to science constitute the whole has become so deeply ingrained in us that it maintains its tenacious hold even against reason itself, which proposes to us that the most complete view of reality possible for human beings must be that which includes the perceptions of all the faculties, and all the faculties perfected to the highest possible degree. p. 255

Feeling is the one aspect of our wholeness rigorously ignored in the scientific methodology…It is precisely through feelings, integrated with other faculties, that we can approach objective understanding, for feeling is the faculty of relation with any object; it is the reconciling aspect of human beings. p. 163

The Angels, so very real to Blake, are not acceptable scientific data, nor are Bach's fugues. In fact, no interior experience is part of scientific data. p. 198

To the extent that philosophy and theology become scientific, God is reduced to a mental construct….Theology thus becomes a rational profession dealing with metaphysical systems, rather than a psycho-spiritual path for the transformation of being. p. 168

With scientific instruments, such as the telescope or the microscope, we see more facts, or new facts, but we see them with our ordinary eyes. Our seeing is extended but not transformed; our organs of perception are enlarged but not cleansed. p. 255

The result of the scientific mentality in the realm of the Spirit is to attempt to seize - as with drugs - higher consciousness. It is forgotten that if the Spirit refers to anything higher than our ordinary self, the question is not how we can appropriate the Spirit, but rather how can we prepare ourselves so that we may be appropriated by the Spirit. p. 174

When the intellect is not oriented towards and in the service of Divine Wisdom, it is bound to become a force for fragmentation - self-serving and evil. p. 126

1. Theosophical publishing house, Adyar, Chennai, India, 2000

Professor Ravindra is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, from where he retired as Professor and Chairman of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies and Adjunct Professor of Physics.

Among other publications, he is the author of Yoga and the Teaching of Krishna and The Yoga of the Christ (republished as Christ the Yogi)

An updated version of Science and the Sacred will be published by Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois, U.S.A. in September, 2002 under the title Science and the Sacred: Eternal Wisdom in a Changing World.

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The Organic Revolution in Science Reveals the Jazzy Side of Life

By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

The machine metaphor dominated the West for at least 2,000 years before it was officially toppled at the turn of the 20th century by relativity theory and quantum physics. Einstein's relativity theory shattered the Newtonian universe of absolute space and time into a profusion of space-time frames in which space and time are no longer neatly separable. Furthermore, each space/time frame is tied to a particular observer who, therefore, not only has a different clock, but also a different map. Stranger still for Western science (as it comes as little surprise to other knowledge systems), or to artists in all cultures - quantum theory demanded that we stop seeing things as separate solid objects with definite (simple) locations in space and time. Instead, they are de-localised, indefinite, mutually entangled entities that change and evolve like organisms.
      Leading thinkers of the age such as Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, J. S. Haldane, and Joseph Needham were inspired to develop a science of the organism appropriate to the new understanding of nature that would transform the entire knowledge system of the West. Whitehead, in particular, declared that we cannot understand nature except as an organism that participates fully in knowing. For me, that was perhaps the most significant turning point. It was to re-affirm what we all knew in our heart of hearts, that we are inextricably within nature and that we participate in shaping and creating nature, for better or for worse.
      To participate fully is to do so with all of oneself: intellect and feeling, body, and spirit. That is the real meaning of the mutual entanglement of "observer" and the "observed" in quantum theory. It matters how we know or "observe," not only because it changes the entire character of our knowledge, but because the act of knowing transforms both the knower and the known. That is the reason we must never know with violence, but always with sensitivity and compassion.
      The project to develop a science of the organism was interrupted and eclipsed, however, by the rise of molecular biology in the 1950s. Biology was taken back down the road of mechanical reductionism, to culminate today in a genetic engineering technology that has the potential to destroy all life on earth, and to undermine every spiritual and social value that makes us human. We need to reject reductionist biology not just because of its inherent dangers, but because there are positive, rational life-enhancing, fulfilling, and aesthetic reasons for embracing the organic alternative.
      Fortunately for us, the "organic revolution" has survived. It has been gathering momentum across the disciplines within the past 20 years, from the study of non-local phenomena in quantum physics and nonlinear dynamics in mathematics to complexity in ecosystems, the fluid genome in the new genetics and of consciousness in brain science. The message everywhere is the same: nature is nonlinear, dynamic, interconnected, and interdependent. The linear, static paradigm of mechanistic science based on interactions between separate, independent parts is a travesty of organic reality.
      All the elements for a science of the organism are there between the disciplines, precisely as envisaged by the pioneer thinkers. I have put some of the key elements together in my book The Rainbow and The Worm, The Physics of Organisms, first published in 1993 and in 2nd edition in 1998, which is patterned after Erwin Schrodinger's What is Life? It attempts to explain organic wholeness and complexity based on contemporary quantum physics and non-equilibrium thermodynamics. It gives new insights into physiological regulation, bioenergetics, and cell biology, many of which were predicted by the pioneers. Also consistent with their vision, the new science of the organism promises to restore all the qualities that have been exorcised from life and nature, to reaffirm and extend our intuitive, poetic, and even romantic notions of nature's unity.
      From the organic perspective, there is no separation between science and spirituality. This stems from the participatory knowing that it entails, where the knower places her undivided being within the known, which is ultimately all of nature. And, like all participatory knowledge common to indigenous traditions worldwide, it is an unfragmented whole, at once intensely practical, aesthetic, and spiritual. It is a coherent and comprehensive knowledge system whereby one lives and whereby one participates in co-creating reality along with all other beings.
      There is a two-way connection between science and society. Science is shaped by the politics of society and in turn reinforces it, unless we consciously choose otherwise. The mechanistic paradigm projects a Hobbesian-Darwinian view of nature as isolated atoms jostling and competing in the struggle for survival of the fittest. And through the self-fulfilling prophecy, it has created a dysfunctional social milieu and a laissez-faire globalized economy which is destroying our planet and failing to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the vast majority of humanity. That was why 50,000 took to the streets at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in November, 1999.
      Science shapes society not just through the technologies it creates, but through values and assumptions that motivate human beings, define social norms, and inform the policies of nations. That is where I believe the science of the organism may hold the key to a more sustainable and spiritual world.
      I take science, in the most general terms, to be any active knowledge system shared by a society of human beings that gives both meaning to their way of life and the means whereby to live sustainably with nature. Science, therefore, has an overriding obligation to be socially responsive and responsible. It is inseparable from the entire culture of society and its highest moral values, which define the public good. Sustainability is a moral imperative to achieve and safeguard the manifold conditions of a healthy and fulfilling life for present and future generations.
      What does it mean to be an organism? To be an organism is to be possessed of the irrepressible tendency towards being whole; towards being part of a larger whole. One of the key concepts in understanding organic wholeness is coherence, the ideal of which is quantum coherence. Quantum coherence aptly describes the perfect coordination of living activities in our body, and there is growing empirical evidence that it may indeed underlie living organization, as described in my book.
      To get a feeling for the organism, imagine an immense super-orchestra, with instruments spanning the widest spectrum of dimensions from molecular piccolos of 10/9 meter up to a bassoon or a bass viola of a meter or more, performing over a musical range of 72 octaves. Incredible as it may seem, this super-orchestra never ceases to play out our individual lifelines, with a certain recurring rhythm and beat, but in endless variations that never repeat exactly. Always, there is something new, something made up, as it goes along. It can change key, change tempo, change tune perfectly, as it feels like, or as the situation demands, spontaneously and without hesitation. What this super-orchestra plays is the most exquisite jazz-jazz being to classical music what quantum is to classical physics. One might call it quantum jazz. There is a certain structure, but the real art is in the endless improvisations, where each and every player, however small, enjoys maximum freedom of expression, while remaining perfectly in step and in tune with the whole. There is no leader or conductor, and the music is written as it is played.
      What I have given is an accurate description of the totality of molecular, cellular, and physiological reality of the ideal, healthy organism, which serves to illustrate the radical, paradoxical nature of the organic whole. It is thick with activity over all scales, and both local freedom and global cohesion are maximized, which is generally thought to be impossible within the mechanistic paradigm. In the coherent organism, global and local, part and whole, are mutually implicated and mutually entangled from moment to moment. Each is as much in control as it is sensitive and responsive.
      When we extend this notion of mutual entanglement of part and whole, as Whitehead did, to societies, ecosystems, and ultimately to all of nature, we begin to recover the profoundly holistic ecological traditions of indigenous cultures worldwide. The coherence of organisms is quintessentially pluralistic and diverse - and at every level. It is so, from the tens of thousands of genes, hundreds of thousands of proteins and other macromolecules that make up a cell, to the many kinds of cells that constitute tissues and organs; from the variations that characterize natural populations, to the profusion of species that make a thriving ecological community, and most of all, the kaleidoscopic, multicultural earth that makes life enchanting and exciting for us all.
      Part and whole, individual and global are mutually entangled and mutually sustaining. That is the basis of the universal moral imperative that we do unto others what we would have others do unto us. It marks the beginning of a genuinely new world order that celebrates and nurtures individual diversity and freedom with universal love.

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho gained her B.Sc. in Biology and Ph. D. in Biochemistry from Hong Kong University and began postdoctoral research in human biochemical genetics at the University of California at San Diego. She is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Open University, UK, where she has continued an outstanding career in research and teaching across many disciplines, including molecular genetics. She is well-known as a leading exponent of a new science of the organism which has implications for holistic health and sustainable systems, and is currently visiting Professor of Biophysics in University of Catania, Sicily. She is the author of The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms (1993 & 1998), and Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business (1999). See website www.i-sis.org

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Ethical Conduct in Science and Technology

The Astronomer-Royal, Sir Martin Rees, comments in his recent book Our Final Century (William Heinemann, London, 2003): "The obverse of technology's immense prospects is an escalating variety of potential disasters, not just from malevolent intent but from innocent inadvertence as well...The benefits opened up by biotechnology are manifest, but they must be balanced against the accompanying hazards and ethical constraints. Robotics or nanotechnology will also involve trade-offs: they could have disastrous or even uncontrollable consequences when misapplied."

FORFEITING THE FUTURE

By Bill Joy

Powerful new technologies threaten life on Earth and raise moral issues.

Accustomed to living with routine scientific break-throughs, we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling new technologies - robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology - pose a different kind of threat than the technologies that came before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: they can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only once, but one altered gene can become many, and quickly get out of control.
----- While replication in a computer or a computer network can be a nuisance, at worst it disables a machine or takes down a network or network service. But self-replication in the new technologies runs a much greater risk: a risk of substantial damage in the physical world.
----- Each of these new technologies also offers untold promise: the vision of near immortality; genetic engineering that may soon provide treatments, if not outright cures, for most diseases; and nanotechnology and nanomedicine which can apparently address yet more ills. Together these technologies could significantly extend our average life span and improve the quality of our lives. Yet, with each of these technologies, a sequence of small, individually sensible advances leads to an accumulation of great power, and, concomitantly, great danger.
----- What was different in the twentieth century? Certainly, the technologies underlying the weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, biological and chemical - were and are a powerful and enormous threat. But building nuclear weapons required, at least for a time, access to both rare raw materials and highly protected information.
----- The twenty-first century technologies, however, are within the grasp of individuals. They do not require large facilities and rare materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them. Thus, we have the possibility of not just weapons of mass destruction, but of knowledge - enabled mass destruction, hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.
----- It is always hard to see the bigger impact of technology whilst in the vortex of change, but failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists. We have long been driven by an overarching desire to know: that is the nature of science's quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies can take on a life of its own.
----- Because of the recent rapid and radical progress in molecular electronics and related nanoscale technologies, by 2030 we are likely to be able to build machines a million times as powerful as the personal computers of today. As this enormous computing power is combined with the manipulative advances of the physical sciences and the new, deep understandings in genetics, enormous transformative power is being unleashed. These combinations open up the opportunity to redesign the world completely, for better or worse. The replicating and evolving processes that have been confined to the natural world are about to become realms of human endeavour.
----- Given the incredible power of these new technologies, shouldn't we proceed with great caution?

The dream of robotics is that intelligent machines can do our work for us, allowing us lives of leisure, restoring us to Eden. How soon could such an intelligent robot be built? The coming advances in computing power seem to make it possible by 2030, and once an intelligent robot species - to an intelligent robot that can make evolved copies of itself.
----- A second dream of robotics is that we will gradually replace ourselves with our robotic technology, achieving near immortality by downloading our consciousness. We are beginning to see intimations of this in the implantation of computer devices into the human body. But if we are downloaded into our technologies, what are the chances that we will thereafter be ourselves or even human?
----- Genetic engineering promises to revolutionize agriculture by increasing crop yields while reducing the use of pesticides; to create tens of thousands of novel species of bacteria, plants, viruses and animals; to replace reproduction, or supplement it, with cloning; to create cures for many diseases, increasing our life-span. We know with certainty that the profound changes in the biological sciences are imminent and will challenge all our notions of what life is.
----- Technologies such as human cloning have, in particular, raised our awareness of the profound ethical and moral issues we face. If, for example, we were to re-engineer ourselves into several separate and unequal species using the power of genetic engineering, then we would threaten the notion of equality that is the very cornerstone of our democracy.
----- The many wonders of nanotechnology were first imagined by the Nobel-laureate physicist Richard Feynman in a speech in 1959, in which he described how manipulation of matter at the atomic level could create a utopian future of abundance, where just about everything could be made cheaply, and almost any disease or physical problem could be solved using nanotechnology and artificial intelligences.
----- Imagine some of the changes that might take place in a world where we had molecular-level 'assemblers'. Assemblers could make possible incredibly low-cost solar power, cure cancer and the common cold by augmentation of the human immune system, could clean up the environment, create inexpensive pocket supercomputers, and restore extinct species.
----- The enabling breakthrough to assemblers seems quite likely within the next twenty years. Molecular electronics should mature quickly and become enormously lucrative within this decade, causing a large incremental investment in all nanotechnologies.
----- But we can't simply do our science and not worry about the ethical issues. Unfortunately, as with nuclear technology, it is far easier to create destructive uses of nanotechnology than constructive ones. Nanotechnology has clear military and terrorist uses, and you need not be suicidal to release a massively destructive nanotechnological device: such devices could be built to be selectively destructive, affecting for example, only a certain geographical area or group of people who are genetically distinct.
----- An immediate consequence of the Faustian bargain in obtaining the great power of nanotechnology is that we run a grave risk - the risk that we might destroy the biosphere on which all life depends. For example, as Eric Drexler explained in his book, Engines of Creation: "'Plants' with 'leaves' no more efficient than today's solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough omnivorous 'bacteria' could out-compete real bacteria; they could spread like pollen in the wind, replicating swiftly and reducing the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too rapidly spreading, tough and small to stop. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies. We cannot afford these kinds of accident with self-replicating assemblers."

These possibilities are all undesirable. The only realistic alternative is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge. Although humankind inherently 'desires to know', if open access to, and unlimited development of, knowledge henceforth puts us all in clear danger of extinction, then common sense demands that we re-examine our reverence for knowledge.
----- If we could agree, as a species, what we wanted, where we were headed and why, then we could make our future much less dangerous - then we might understand what we could and should relinquish. If the course of humanity could be determined by our collective values, ethics and morals, and if we had gained more collective wisdom over the past few thousand years, then a dialogue to this end would be practical, and the incredible powers that we are about to unleash would not be nearly so troubling.
----- One would think that we might be driven to such a dialogue by our instinct for self-preservation. Individuals clearly have this desire, yet as a species our behaviour seems not to be in our favour. The new Pandora's boxes of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics are almost open, yet we seem hardly to have noticed. Ideas can't be put back in a box: unlike uranium or plutonium, they don't need to be mined and refined; they can be freely copied. Once they are out, they are out.
----- Verifying relinquishment will be a difficult problem, but not an unsolvable one. We are fortunate to have already done a lot of relevant work in the context of the Biological Weapons Convention and other treaties. Verifying compliance will also require that scientists, technologists and engineers adopt a strong code of ethical conduct, resembling the Hippocratic oath, that they cease and desist from work creating, developing and manufacturing knowledge-enabled technologies of mass destruction.
----- Where can we look for a new ethical basis to set our course? We would do well to consider a new book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama called Ethics for the New Millennium. As is perhaps well-known but little-heeded, the Dalai Lama argues that the most important thing is for us to conduct our lives with love and compassion for others, and that our societies need to develop a stronger notion of universal responsibility and of our interdependency. He proposes a standard of positive ethical conduct for individuals and societies and further argues that we must understand what it is that makes people happy, and acknowledge the strong evidence that neither material progress nor the pursuit of the power of knowledge is the key - that there are limits to what science and the scientific pursuit alone can do.

Bill Joy is co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Micro-systems and was Co-Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Future of IT Research.

This article is reproduced from Resurgence Magazine, issue no. 208 September/October 2001, with the permission of the editor, Satish Kumar. A full-length version of this article first appeared in the April 2000 edition of Wired magazine. See also an extended interview between Bill Joy and Michael Powell, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, April 16th, 2000.

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FOR THE COMMON GOOD

Dr. Arpad Pusztai

We need to free independent scientists from corporate funding.

Science originates from our natural curiosity to find out about the world and ourselves. It must be objective and must not be driven by profit, material gain or glory. In modern times only the 'gentleman scientists' of the nineteenth century came close to this definition; today most scientists are not free agents. With the exponential growth of research, science has become very expensive and therefore most governments have welcomed the involvement of transnational corporations which now either directly or indirectly fund most of the biotechnology research.
----- Under these conditions academic freedom is little more than illusion. As it is in the apparent interest of most governments, biotechnology research is rapidly becoming a quasi-religious crusade promoted with zealousness, tolerating no dissent. People questioning the dominant order are declared 'Luddities' who are trying to reverse scientific progress.
----- In this climate the industrial scientist is hired for a particular job which is restricted in scope and objectives and carried out under strict supervision. The results belong to the company and in most instances the scientist has no right to discuss or publish them without permission - which the company may withhold for five or more years, particularly if the results are patentable.
----- University or government scientists are not in a much better situation. When hired, they must sign a contract which restricts their freedom of action and research. The publication of the results will be dependent on the approval of higher authorities. If the results can be patented, such approval may also be delayed for up to five years.
----- For the independence of science this is a very dangerous situation. Accepting money from the biotechnology industry which has aggressively set out to dominate life and society makes scientists and science the servants of multinational companies. As these corporations are outside democratic control and accountability, they threaten our democratic institutions by corrupting politicians, civil servants and scientists.
----- What is the way forward? As new biological inventions such as the production and release of genetically modified crops will have irreversible effects on human kind and our globe, it is imperative that the claims of corporate science be independently verified and counterbalanced by publicly funded scientists and institutions acting as watchdogs. This does not mean that the corporations should not be allowed to do their own scientific work, but that we must find a balance between public and corporate research. However, the corporations must also make financial contributions to public research but in an indirect way. Such contributions should be made at arms' length and without strings attached so that the independence and impartiality of scientists is maintained.
----- Corporations should set up blind trusts, etc., administered independently by scientific peers not financially tied to these corporations or to the governments, and from which independent research could be financed. The public must understand that for independent scientific advice they will have to release scientists from their servitude to 'big business' by also funding them from the public purse. In this way most research that can influence the future of humankind will be done 'openly, transparently and inclusively'.
----- We need to remind ourselves, our peers, politicians and scientists that any democratic society which suppresses the freedom and inventiveness of individual scientists ultimately stifles its own development.

These extracts from a lecture given at the Technology Teach-In, New York, February 2001 have been reproduced from Resurgence Magazine, No. 208, September/October 2001

Dr. Pusztai served as Senior Scientist at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland. As a result of his disclosures about the Institute's GM potato work, his contract was prematurely terminated. Since then Dr Pusztai lectures on the dangers of genetic engineering.

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