As soon as we perceive the objects around us we consider them in relation to ourselves – and rightfully so. For our entire fate depends upon whether they please or displease, attract or repel, benefit or harm us. This completely natural way of considering and judging things seems as easy as it is necessary. But it also makes us susceptible to a thousand errors that can shame us and embitter our lives.
Those human beings undertake a much more difficult task whose desire for knowledge kindles a striving to observe the things of nature in and of themselves and in their relations to one another. We no longer have the standard that helped us when we looked at things in relation to ourselves. We lack the measure of pleasure and displeasure, attraction and repulsion, use and harm. We must renounce these and as quasi-divine beings seek and examine what is and not what pleases. True botanists should not be touched by the beauty or the utility of a plant. They should investigate the plant’s formation and its relation to the remaining plant kingdom. Just as the sun coaxes forth and shines on all plants, botanists should consider all plants with an even and quiet gaze and take the measure for knowledge – the data that form the basis for judgment—not out of themselves but out of the circle of what they observe. Lire la suite…
On the Origin of Autonomy
A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution
This volume describes features of biological autonomy and integrates them into the recent discussion of factors in evolution. In recent years ideas about major transitions in evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. They include questions about the origin of evolutionary innovation, their genetic and epigenetic background, the role of the phenotype, and of changes in ontogenetic pathways. In the present book, it is argued that it is likewise necessary to question the properties of these innovations and what was qualitatively generated during the macroevolutionary transitions.
The author states that a recurring central aspect of macroevolutionary innovations is an increase in individual organismal autonomy whereby it is emancipated from the environment with changes in its capacity for flexibility, self-regulation and self-control of behavior.
The first chapters define the concept of autonomy and examine its history and its epistemological context. Later chapters demonstrate how changes in autonomy took place during the major evolutionary transitions and investigate the generation of organs and physiological systems. They synthesize material from various disciplines including zoology, comparative physiology, morphology, molecular biology, neurobiology and ethology. It is argued that the concept is also relevant for understanding the relation of the biological evolution of man to his cultural abilities.
Finally the relation of autonomy to adaptation, niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and other factors and patterns in evolution is discussed. The text has a clear perspective from the context of systems biology, arguing that the generation of biological autonomy must be interpreted within an integrative systems approach. Lire la suite…
It is perhaps time to reconsider the problem of machine-wrecking in the early industrial history of Britain and other countries. About this form of early working-class struggle misconceptions are still widely held, even by specialist historians. Thus an excellent work, published in 1950, can still describe Luddism simply as a “pointless, frenzied, industrial jacquerie, ” and an eminent authority, who has contributed more than most to our knowledge of it, passes over the endemic rioting of the 18th century with the suggestion that it was the overflow of excitement and high spirits 1. Such misconceptions are, I think, due to the persistence of views about the introduction of machinery elaborated in the early 19th century, and of views about labour and trade union history formulated in the late 19th century, chiefly by the Webbs and their Fabian followers. Perhaps we should distinguish views and assumptions. In much of the discussion of machine-breaking one can still detect the assumption of 19th century middle-class economic apologists, that the workers must be taught not to run their heads against economic truth, however unpalatable; of Fabians and Liberals, that strong-arm methods in labour action are less effective than peaceful negotiation; of both, that the early labour movement did not know what it was doing, but merely reacted, blindly and gropingly, to the pressure of misery, as animals in the laboratory react to electric currents. The conscious views of most students may be summed up as follows: the triumph of mechanisation was inevitable. We can understand, and sympathise with the long rear-guard action which all but a minority of favoured workers fought against the new system; but we must accept its pointlessness and its inevitable defeat. Lire la suite…
Letter from a leading scientist to the head of the American auto workers union warning him about new technology and the negative impact it would have on manufacturing workers.
South Tamworth, August 13, 1949
Union of Automobile Workers
Dear Mr. Reuther,
First, I should like to explain who I am. I am Professor of Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I am the author of the recently published book, Cybernetics. As you will see, if you know of this book, I have been interested for a long time in the problem of automatic machinery and its social consequences. These consequences seem to me so great that I have made repeated attempts to get in touch with the Labor Union movement, and to try to acquaint them with what may be expected of automatic machinery in the near future. This situation has been brought to a head by the fact that I have been approached recently by one of the leading industrial corporations with the view to advising them as to whether to go into the problem of making servo-mechanisms, that is, artificial control mechanisms, as part of their extended program. Lire la suite…