Porque a ciência precisa quebrar o feitiço do materialismo reducionista

sexta-feira, maio 27, 2016

Why science needs to break the spell of reductive materialism

Stuart Kauffman is professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He was educated in philosophy, psychology and physiology at Dartmouth and Oxford, and obtained his medical degree from UCSF in 1968. He is an affiliate professor at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. His latest book is Humanity in a Creative Universe (2016).

Published in association with Oxford University Press an Aeon Partner

Edited by Corey S Powell

We all sense something deeply deficient in our modern civilisation. Is it an absence of spirituality? Partly. A greedy materialism beyond what we really need? Yes, we are riding the tiger of late capitalism, where we make our living producing, selling and buying goods and services we often do not need on this finite planet. We cannot see ourselves, in part blinkered by unneeded scientism.

The central framework of current physics is that of entailing laws. The central image is the billiard table as boundary conditions and the set of all possible initial conditions of position and momenta of the balls on the table. Then, given Isaac Newton’s laws in differential form, we deduce the deterministic trajectories of the balls. Our model of how to do science is to deduce new consequences, test them, accept or reject the results by diverse criteria, then retain or modify our theories. Science proceeds as Aristotle might have wished, in part as deduction.

My aim is to begin to demolish this hegemony of reductive materialism and its grip on our scientific minds, and a far wider elicitation of a grossly misplaced scientism in modernity. Science is sciencia, knowledge. Being and becoming are more fundamental to all life and our humanity. We are, first of all, alive, and alive in a becoming biosphere. Despite bursts of extinction events and the fact that 99.9 per cent of all species that ever lived are gone, the biosphere flowers on. This flowering of the biosphere, more than a metaphor for human history, begins to suggest a mythic structure beyond that by which we currently live.

At the centre of my argument is a vexing question: since the Big Bang, why has the Universe become complex? I claim that at least part of the answer is that, as more complex things and linked processes are created, and can combine with one another to make yet more complex amalgams of things and processes, the space of possible things and linked processes becomes vastly larger, and the Universe has not had time to make all the possibilities.

Consider just carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur (CHNOPS), the atoms of organic chemistry. Now consider all possible molecules made of CHNOPS with, say, 100,000 atoms or fewer per molecule. (Coal is such a molecule, and the largest known coal molecule is about 1 × 2 × 1.5 miles somewhere in the United States, a single molecule made only of carbon, with far more than 100,000 carbon atoms.) We do not even know how to count the number of possible molecules containing CHNOPS with up to 100,000 atoms per molecule. But it is easy to see that the Universe cannot have had enough time to make them all.

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