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."
American Association for the Advancement of Science. Meeting February
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
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
"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.
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
* * *
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
----- 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
----- 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
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.
FOR THE COMMON GOOD
Dr. Arpad Pusztai
We need to free independent scientists from corporate
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
----- 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
----- 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.