13 February 2010

The sixth idea

Paul Nurse discusses five 'big ideas' in biology in a lecture presented recently at the Royal Society (and elsewhere). [1] They are:
the cell;
the gene;
evolution by natural selection;
life as chemistry; and
biology as an organized system.
His passion peeks through most clearly when discussing the complexity of the cell, which in a tiny space manages hundred or thousands of chemical reactions simultaneously: 'wonderful! extraordinary!'

Nurse concedes there may be other big ideas. Ecology for one. It would be good to hear more from him and other scientists on this topic. Ecology is a field of scientific research and, inevitably, an ethical endeavour. [2]

In The Long Childhood (1973), Jacob Bronowski writes:
Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures.
Hugh Raffles (2010) notes Roger Caillois:
a form of the marvellous that does not fear knowledge but, on the contrary, thrives on it.


[1] Posted in the video archive here

[2] Nurse's moral concern as well as his wonder are apparent in a remark almost in passing to the effect, that given we are related to all life the question of stewardship for our 'relatives' follows. See, e.g., Cairns on eco-ethics

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