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- An evolution that favours moral action more than mere survival and procreation. (5 minute read)
We should all ask ourselves, is our survival and progress not dependent on an interlinked and progressive morality (more so than mere survival and reproductive strategies)? ‘The progressive development of the animal kingdom, and especially of mankind, is favoured much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle’. Peter Kropotkin, in Mutual Aid a factor of Evolution, 1902 Much has changed in the last two years and most certainly since Kropotkin published his work in 1902. Change seen, not only due to the Covid outbreak but due to advances in the biomedical sciences, society, its values and expectations. We are today thanks to a progressive science more than ever at the mercy of our DNA (a single strand of RNA emphasized this fact in 2020 with ongoing effect), how we assimilate and deploy such new understanding is entirely up to us. In an evolution driven by its quest for multiplication and procreation, we are but a species. We also know that we live in an interconnected world, where distrust and misinformation have become unwelcome realities of life and pose a significant challenge to both our current and future wellbeing. In genetics and biochemistry rapid progress in recent decades has led to a greater understanding of the chemical activity of proteins and their relation to the information stored in cellular DNA. Scientists were traditionally encouraged to develop an interpretation of biology that attempted simple solutions to the daunting convolutedness of nature. They saw living organisms as biochemical computers executing a molecular program. And they viewed that program as an algorithm encoded in genes and materialised by proteins. Within this blueprint-based framework, medical researchers focused on identifying the rogue genes and proteins that caused diseases, and on finding drugs to deactivate them. The problem with this reductionist approach was, and still often is, that it doesn’t consider how biological cells, organs, tumours and organisms entangle themselves with their environment, combining and recombining, and collectively using their structures at every scale (from the nanometre to the metre and beyond) to keep on living, evolving and surviving, in environments that are equally variable. To be fair, the reductionist approach to treating disease was justifiably fuelled by decades of revolutionary drug discoveries – antibiotics, chemotherapy and other ‘miracle drugs’ – that led to steep improvements in life expectancy but also brought along with it a new list of ailments, mostly seen in an escalating incidence of cancer, allergies and cardiovascular diseases. This century has seen a sharp decline in the number of effective new medicines produced. Literature states that between the years 2002 and 2014, a total of 71 new cancer drugs appeared, of which only 30 – found to prolong life in patients with solid tumours by an average of 2.1 months, compared with older drugs – have gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. The costly and largely ineffective trial-and-error methods used to identify new drugs, and the escalating complexity and difficulty of conducting clinical trials, are partly responsible for this downward turn. Undaunted by the dogmatism in molecular biology, many scientists in recent years started questioning the reductionist models of life and disease while turning their attention to how it genetically interacts in different environments. The capacity of biological organisms to evolve resistance to new treatments serves as one example of the inadequacy of a mere reductionist approach and also one of the most significant new public health concerns we face. We also now realise the chemically ridden world around us, in a climate that is also rapidly changing, will continue to complicate and plague any reductionist model inevitably now seen as driven by a more mobile DNA. Antibiotic resistance as an example has become one of the biggest public health threats to confront medical scientists, veterinarians and doctors; meanwhile, the ability of cancer cells to build defences against chemotherapy has stalled some overambitious pharmacologists searching for cancer cures. Bacteria and cancers on microbiological level are teaching us the same lesson that we are learning in other aspects of our relationship with nature. Clearly and almost to be expected, an evolutionary based life resists a reductionist approach. It relentlessly bounces back with complex behaviours that thwart our optimistic strategies to dominate it. Proteins are the building blocks of life. In nature, they result from the careful and deterministic folding of molecular strings consisting of combinations of 20 different units (the essential amino acids). They can take on any imaginable shape and function at the nanoscale. In fact, scientists still don’t know how many different proteins are in our bodies (perhaps it is unknowable), since our cells could have the capacity to create, modify and evolve proteins as and when they are needed. Proteins work as light detectors in our eyes, electrical switches in our neurons, nanowalkers in our muscles, and rotary nanomotors to catalyse chemical reactions. They are responsible for detecting and reacting to the signals, forces and information from the environment in which an organism resides and interconnects to, and also for creating the structures that allow movement, the extraction of energy from food or the destruction of pathogens. No human-made artificial technology can dream of such capacities. We can however try to learn how life does it, and continuously progress in in our understanding while responsibly employing this new knowledge in a responsible manner. One of the essential features of all life is having some method or methods to be perceptive of change around it and relay such input to its DNA. It has to constantly prepare and be able to function while facing uncertainties and unknows in challenging environments. It has to have a memory of what it learnt in the past that can serve across generations. Evolution, and all the chemistry it is made up of, interact and is witnessed in emerging science as having this ability, and it does so in a principled manner. Without biases, life (evolution) on all levels, interconnect and perceive information from its surroundings to evolve a reliable physical sphere of existence—not only to survive but to better interconnect in full regard of even its smallest components. It must gather reliable information to prepare for unknowns in an uncertain future based on its perceptions of a changeable and challenging environments. It is when these interactive spheres get hijacked by unreliable information or biases that we get confused and face a precarious future. We can only remedy this when, and if, we become perceptive of and have access to reliable information. The more progressive our perceptions and this information and knowledge become, the more important the value of fairness and mutual support also become. It is by harmonising and operating wisely in reliably interconnected spheres of perception without biases in any of the three spheres (physical reality, uncertainty and the unknown) that we can confidently prepare ourselves for the future. And it can only be when we measure our progress in terms of the morality of our actions in this newly gained knowledge, that a much better world will become a reality for all of us. Theodore Holtzhausen, author of Spheres of Perception Blog article, 10/4/2021
- Take the challenge | SpheresofPerceptionSpheres of PerceptionTheodore HoltzhausenTake the challenge Spheres of Perception
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- Endorsements | SpheresofPerceptionSpheres of PerceptionTheodore HoltzhausenEndorsements Spheres of Perception
Endorsements: Moving beyond and between disciplines and the effects of technology on our lives, Spheres of Perception provides a rich and sophisticated transdisciplinary exploration of humanity’s ‘being in this world’. The reflections on our logical, physical and metaphysical evolution challenge our illusions about humanity’s competence to overcome disparities between the way we live and the way we develop. This book must be read by everybody looking for a sensible and holistic evaluation of the drastic challenges we face and the transformations we require to adapt to the present. Dr Hester du Plessis. (DLitt et Phil in Philosophy). Chief Research Specialist. Science Communication. Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), South Africa. Associate Editor: South African Journal of Science. Research Fellow: Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA). As Theo’s publisher, I find it an extraordinary work, and I feel privileged to be Theo’s publisher. As with most books about ideas, getting the word out is always challenging. Tim Ward , Publisher Changemakers Books Dec 18, 2018: Dr Hester du Plessis, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), South Africa Moving beyond and between disciplines and the effects of technology on our lives, this book provides a rich and sophisticated transdisciplinary exploration of humanity’s ‘being in this world’. The reflections on our logical, physical and metaphysical evolution challenge our illusions about humanity’s competence to overcome disparities between the way we live and the way we development. This book must be read by everybody looking for a sensible and holistic evaluation of the drastic challenges we face and the transformations we require to adapt to the present. Jul 7, 2019: The ‘Decolonial Turn’ and the Humanities Curriculum: Prospects, Practice and Interventions An International Conference Date: 10- 12 July 2019 | The ‘Decolonial Turn’ and the Humanities Curriculum: Prospects, Practice and Interventions An International Conference Date: 10- 12 July 2019 edit | delete However, such a victory will be hard-won, Stiegler points out, since secondary effects of new technologies also gravely affects our minds. Just like the outer world is caught up in disruptive changes, our inner life is disrupted by the digital-media society and information technologies. Our attention is commodified and our sense of judgement and responsibility is deteriorating under the pressure of new technologies that change our lives. Stiegler, however, is far from dismissing new technologies. In fact, he understands wisdom to be largely a technical matter. Therefore, through transvaluation, thinking care-fully becomes a form of caring, a tool for orientation and deliberation, an intelligent governance of the self and the world. We must keep abreast and even get ahead of technological developments to produce better techniques for living. The goal is to create a collective intelligence, what Marx calls a ‘general intellect’, which would be capable of reversing the self-destructive tendencies of our society. The Neganthropocene, requires us to resolutely refuse to reduce knowledge to the calculable information of algorithmic governmentality, transhumanist ideology and the data economy -exclusively serving capitalism. We need to adopt new principles regulated primary by an understanding of Value and Care. This value and care differs from the acceptable values and (self)care adopted by cultural groups. It is the value and care that stems from scientific epistemic evidence which proved that we, as a species, are all the same, and that we are at the mercy of our DNA in its singular quest for multiplication and procreation. We are but a species. We also know that we live in an interconnected world. We have solutions on hand such as that proposed by Theo Holtzhausen through the realisation that three spheres in life interact in unison: we have a Physical space (sphere) of reason (PSOR), a Logical space (sphere) of reason (LSOR) and the abstract, yet vital, metaphysical space (spere) - all collectively vital to our existence.