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Biology: Not a Science Anymore

Biology: Not a Science Anymore

September 9th, 2010 // 10:52 am @

On the morning of September 11, 2001, biology stopped being a science. For that matter, so did physics and mathematics, but our focus here is on biology.

Historically, the great philosophers and thinkers divided knowledge into four major branches:

First, the sciences, or the things which can be proven empirically — based on evidence and fact.

Second, the arts, areas of knowledge that are best understood through experiencing beauty.

Third, the spiritual, which Aristotle called metaphysics and which many moderns narrowly refer to as ethics.

Fourth, the humane, meaning the realm of organizing and leading human beings, the highest level of which is statesmanship, with social leadership being a close second.

Before 9/11, biology clearly belonged to the branch of knowledge called science. But as the world watched the planes fly into the buildings that day, over and over on our screens, the field of biology moved firmly and irreversibly into the realm of statesmanship.

As early as the 1920s, economist John Maynard Keynes suggested that the 21st Century would be the Democratic Century, as democracy and capitalism would finally spread around the world.

By the early 1990s, futurists Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt separately predicted that the 21st Century would be the Asian or the Pacific Century, due to the rising might of China and the other Asian economies.

By the end of the nineties, the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs types suggested that the true explosion of the next hundred years would be technological rather than national — that the 21st would be the Digital Century.

Social conservatives like Robert Bork and Patrick Buchanan even got into the prediction game, envisioning decades of serious crises as we “slouch toward Gomorrah.”

But as big as these trends may or may not turn out to be, one thing will almost certainly eclipse them all: The 21st Century will be the Century of Biology.

And statesmen and social leaders of the future had better prepare accordingly.

But how should we prepare? What exactly does “The Century of Biology” mean?

Simply put, the events of 9/11 and the commencement of the Fourth Turning catapulted biological thinking from the first branch (pure science in pursuit of knowledge) immediately into the fourth branch (thought processes used to organize human endeavors) [1].

Biology is no longer about the sterile exercise of our intellects to answer questions about living organisms. Now biology has morphed into a means by which societal vitality may be investigated and sustained.

In biology, certain well-trained experts work to maintain health and banish disease from individuals and communities. We call these people healers, physicians, veterinarians, and the like.

In the twenty-first century, certain people, well-educated in the thinking of modern biology, will seek to sustain the vitality and vanquish the ills of society. To my way of thinking, these individuals have only one best, all-encompassing name: statesmen.

There are at least eight sub-trends of the overarching shift from the Information Age to the Biology Age [1]. Each is significant, each is currently increasing its power, and each must be understood by the statesmen and social leaders of our day.

The first four trends are:

1. Business is coming to life.
2. Technology is coming to life.
3. Information is coming to life.
4. Culture is coming to life.

Together, these four trends are causing and will cause four other macro-trends, including:

5. The end of stability in national domestic life.
6. The end of security in all aspects of life — business, economic, governmental, etc.
7. The rising philosophy of General Evolution (not to be confused with micro- or macro-evolution).

And finally:

8. Biology as a branch of leadership and a central tenet of all statesmanship.

The impact on our lives can hardly be overstated.

All our central models and worldviews will change — or at least the language we use to support our views.

For example, in the 20th Century our vocabulary and ideas were infused with the teachings of physics: time, distance, size and mechanical interactions were the rule. We understood things by asking who? what? where? why? when? and how?

In contrast, in the Biology Century our central metaphors will be creativity, initiative, adaptability, and the organic interconnections of things.

Instead of seeing a world made up of atoms, we will see a universe that can only be understood by comprehending relationships — not just knowing that relationships exist, mind you, but truly understanding them.

(As a side note, some authors including Tom Peters have suggested that therefore the 21st Century will be totally dominated by women).

In short, as Daniel Pink put it, the Right Brain will lead the 21st Century [2].

Relationships in business will dominate the bottom line; relationships in government will determine success in security, trade, economics, and even freedom; relationships in families will create a new class system, just as family arrangements created all historical class systems.

Relationships, not atoms, are the building blocks of our universe.

Let’s consider some specific examples of this shift into the Century of Biology, starting with the future of business. Twentieth century business emphasized the mechanical approach, including planning, strategizing, predicting, engineering the company, and controlling change.

A whole mechanical-based leadership industry grew around dozens of books which outlined the seven keys to success or the three choices of leaders. All of this is now turning to biology [3]. Just consider the following business phrases now in use in the general corporate world:

  • Adaptive Organizations
  • Metabolic Companies
  • Evolutionary Corporations
  • Permanent Volatility
  • Connectivity
  • Non-Linear Systems
  • Organic Leadership
  • Cell Management
  • Organism Organization
  • People Power
  • Mutation Marketing
  • Going Viral
  • Responsive Customized Manufacturing

The list could go on. But consider another huge trend which is not only re-seeding the way leaders and managers work, but is actually re-focusing the products and services businesses offer.

Technology is literally coming alive.

In the excellent book It’s Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, & Business by Christopher Meyer and Stan Davis, the authors outline several major fields of bio-technology in the coming decades, including, but not limited to, nano-tech and materials science.

Nano-tech, which literally means the technology of the very, very small, has virtually exploded in the past decade — and it is growing exponentially.

To summarize this exciting new field, suffice it to say that with current optical technology and the latest generation of super microscopes, almost anything can be done smaller.

For example, researchers can now manipulate atoms, see genes in action, watch proteins as they interact and DNA strands as they fold. Scientists have “slowed” light down enough to capture a photon particle, and they can routinely manipulate the gene.

Medical researchers can “see” directly into the cell and even laser inject a medication directly into a cell without a needle. Nano-technology is being pursued by numerous national militaries and a host of private companies.

Also consider the breakthroughs of materials science. Research is currently underway to create the matter compiler, which would deconstruct a substance and then re-pattern the molecules to form a different pre-programmed substance.

What does this mean?

Imagine if ancient alchemy and Star Trek replicators meet in the middle sometime around the year 2052.

Or consider the concept currently under design of the Universal Mentor — a wrist watch or a pair of glasses with a world wide web link and audio capability which listens to your conversations and pipes answers, facts, quotes and sources directly into your watch or earpiece.

Experience Entertainment may be the closest to manufacturing these coming gadgets — where the interactive movie or CD connects directly to the central nervous system or visual cortex so that you are Arnold Shwarzenegger or Angelina Jolie.

And already in operation is the Social Science Simulator, which scholars are using to predict the results of a certain policy or law.

As fantastic as these ideas may be, they are still all based on mechanical technology, right? For now, yes. But significant funding and research are being put into “smart” technologies — machines which think, learn, evolve and possibly even “feel”.

Of course, the movie industry has shown the dangers of this in a barrage of movies in the last twenty years. But two facts remain: bio-tech research is in its embryonic stage, and embryos grow and develop.

The ideas and developments I highlighted in the last article may all seem impossible, or at least impractical. But listen to Dr. Rodney Brooks, MIT Professor and Director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. He says:

Fifty years ago, just after the Second World War, there was a transformation of engineering. Before that, engineering had been a craft-based exercise, but starting around 1950 it was transformed into a physics-based discipline. Now we are seeing the beginnings of a transformation of engineering again, this time into a largely biologically-based discipline…At MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where I am director, I see signs of this transformation every day. We have torn out clean rooms where we used to make silicon chips and installed wet labs in their place, where we compile programs into DNA sequences that we splice into genomes in order to breed bacterial robots. Our thirty-year goal is to have such exquisite control over the genetics of living systems that instead of growing a tree, cutting it down, and building a table out of it, we will ultimately be able to grow the table. . . Similar transformations are happening throughout engineering departments, not just at MIT but all over the world.” [1]

Professor Brooks continues:

“Some of the early biological augmentations of ourselves may entail increasing the number of neurons in our cortex. Already these sorts of experiments are being carried out on rats. When extra layers of neurons are placed in the brain of a rat at a critical time in its development, its intelligence is enhanced relative to rats without this augmentation. As we better understand the hormonal balances that control the growth of our brain in childhood, we will perhaps be able to add sheets of neurons to our adult brains, adding a few points to our IQ and restoring our memory abilities to those we had when younger. There will likely be some errors and horror stories about augmentation gone haywire, but make no mistake — the technology, in fits and starts, will proceed.

“By the midpoint of the twenty-first century, we will have many, many new biological capabilities. Some of them seem fanciful today, just as projections about the speed, memory, and price of today’s computers would have seemed fanciful to the engineers working on the first digital computers in 1950.” [2]

Psychology and mathematics are also turning biological. As Marc Hauser, Professor in the Department of Psychology and Program in Neurosciences at Harvard University, wrote:

“A chicken with a piece of quail brain bows its head like a quail but crows like a chicken. A seventy-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease, confined to his wheelchair, receives a piece of brain from a pig and in no time at all is out golfing, without a hint of his porcine accessory. This is not science fiction, a la Douglas Adams. This is scientific fact. Today we can swap brain tissue not just among individuals of the same species but between species. In the next fifty years such exquisite neurobiology will have revolutionized our understanding of the brain—of how it is wired up during development and how it has evolved over time.”

And consider these thoughts from Ian Stewart, the 1995 recipient of the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday medal:

“Far more influential, and far more radical, will be the mathematics inspired by the biosciences: biomathematics. As the triumphal announcements about the human genome give way to a new realism about the results, it has become clear that merely sequencing DNA does not get us very far in understanding organisms, or even in curing diseases. There are huge gaps in our understanding of the link between genes and organisms. . . .

“Genes are part of a dynamic control process that not only makes proteins but modifies them and gets them to the right place in a developing organism at the right moment in its life history. The understanding of this process will require much more than a mere list of DNA codes, and most of what’s missing has to be mathematical. But it will be a new kind of mathematics, one that blends the dynamics of organism growth with the molecular information processing of DNA. . . . The new biomathematics will be a strange new mixture of . . . analysis, geometry, and informatics. Plus lots of biology, of course.” [3]

Stewart also says:

“Today, complex systems are being studied in two main areas—biology and finance. A stock market, for instance, has many agents who interact by buying and selling stocks and shares. Out of this interaction emerges the financial world. The mathematics of finance and commerce will be revolutionized by throwing away the current “linear” models and introducing ones whose mathematical structure more accurately reflects the real world.

“Even more dramatically, mathematics will invade new areas of human activity altogether—social science, the arts, even politics. However, mathematics will not be used in the same way as it is currently used in the physical sciences.” [4]

And National Medal of Technology recipient Ray Kurzweil writes:

“. . .‘narrow’ AI [includes] machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence for specific tasks. Every time you send an e-mail or make a cell phone call, intelligent algorithms route the information. AI programs diagnose heart disease, fly and land airplanes, guide autonomous weapons, make automated investment decisions for a trillion dollars’ worth of funds and guide industrial processes. These were all research projects a couple of decades ago.

“So what are the prospects for ‘strong’ AI . . . with the full range of human intelligence? We can meet the hardware requirements . . . . [W]e need about 10 quadrillion calculations a second to provide a functional equivalent to all the regions of the brain. IBM’s Blue Gene/L computer is already at 100 trillion. If we plug in the semiconductor industry’s projections, we can see that 10 quadrillion calculations a second will be available for $1,000 by around 2020.” [5]

The ramifications are mind boggling, and the science is clearly here to stay.

But how is this all shifting to the realm of statesmanship and social leadership? The answer is profound. Genetic engineering, cloning, bio-mathematics and direct genetic healing cross the boundaries between science and leadership on many levels.

Jefferson spoke for all the great freedom philosophers of history when he wrote, “all men are created equal.” Indeed, this is the most basic tenet of free government, free markets and just laws.

But what if a new generation of children aren’t created equal?

What if only the very rich, or citizens in certain leading nations, can afford the gene scripting that gives their children the brains of Aristotle, the strength and speed of a professional football player, the height of a pro basketball center, and the looks of Apollo?

What if some men and women really are created “more equal than others?”

Politicians may try to stop the use of this technology for a time, just like they met in diplomatic summits and signed treaties to stop the technologies of the machine gun, chemical weapons, mind-enhancing drugs for entertainment, or nuclear weapons.

But where the technology exists, human beings will find a way to use it. The statesmen of the 21st Century will have to do better than just passing laws or signing treaties.

Indeed, the statesmen and social leaders of our generation will face a host of challenges unimagined by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill, or Mother Teresa. Which is why we must be better prepared than any generation before us — in virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage.

We must be the best educated of any generation — ever.

Just consider the emerging concept of General Evolution[1], as taught by Meyer and Davis[2].

Whereas micro-evolution means that external pressures, adaptation and mutation lead to evolution within a species, and macro-evolution refers to one species evolving into another, the evolution debate is now infused with a whole new issue.

General Evolution argues that all things, not just biological organisms, evolve along the same lines as Darwin’s micro-evolution.

In short, agents act to create, the creations face selective pressures and either perish or overcome, they overcome by connecting with other agents and then adapting, such adaptation causes them to evolve to a whole new level, where they self-organize, replicate or reproduce, and start over.

In biology the agent is the cell, made up of smaller agents such as proteins. In society the agent is the family, in an economy it is a business, in physics it is an atom, and so on. In the Information Age the agent is software, and if it actually does evolve, then it will naturally meet the criteria of being alive.

This may seem far-fetched, but who is to say that the biology code of G,T,A,C is inherently superior to the binary code of 1 and 0? Both were created or inspired by the same God. Indeed, numerous researchers are currently combining the two.

Interestingly, many of the strongest proponents of both sides of the 20th Century debate over macro evolution versus creationism are natural believers in General Evolution.

The atheistic skeptic already believes that man is god, so why can’t we create other beings in our own image that hopefully are like us in all the good ways but don’t inherit our flaws?

And the religious person believes that God created man, and that He also gave us the gift to create.

Why then can’t we create smart machines that learn and improve themselves as well as those that just do what the programmer says?

They will never take the place of human beings, just like cats and dogs never take the place of our children — but for people who don’t have children in the home, pets and smart machines might be excellent company.

In any case, in more practical terms, many (if not a majority) of the entrepreneurs of the 21st Century will only succeed if they infuse biology into their companies — in terms of products and especially relationships.

The mothers, fathers, entrepreneurs, social leaders, social entrepreneurs, community leaders and national and world statesmen of the 21st Century need to think biologically. They need to realize that families, schools, nations, and societies are organic, not mechanical.

For example, mothers are much more like arms than bumpers — you can’t just pull one off and replace it, without creating excruciating and lasting pain. Schools that treat teachers like factory workers instead of best friends will be full of students with glazed over eyes who can’t wait to get out of school. Why should they study if they hate the place?

Nations which pass laws mechanically, just assuming that whatever is legal will be followed by everyone regardless of their deepest beliefs, will not succeed.

People are disposed to “suffer a long chain of abuses,” but at some point the soul comes out and slaves rise against masters — not because they want to, but because deep within them they have to. It’s who they are. It’s their biology, and their spirit.

In less extreme nations, where slavery is outlawed, but the laws slowly promote immorality and become less and less just, the same pattern emerges. Eventually the people stand up, speak out, and do whatever it takes to win back their freedoms and re-institute virtue and goodness.

When positive change occurs, it does so biologically, organically, not mechanically. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Civil Rights movement, few can predict it and then suddenly, in a few short years it is over and the world is changed. In retrospect, it seems inevitable.

That is what statesmanship and social leadership are about: preparing yourself to recognize unforeseen opportunity and lead change when the time is finally right.

20th Century experts may continue to suggest a mechanical strategy and a well-formed plan for the change, but a deep reading of history shows that the most important changes don’t happen that way.

Missions Worth Pursuing

The great changes of the 21st Century will happen biologically, naturally, as you submit to your Higher Power, focus your life on the mission given to you, and do what our generation was born to do.

In the 21st Century, there is nothing stopping us from feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, educating the ignorant, and freeing the captive. These are each biological imperatives. They are why our generation was born.

These are the missions worth pursuing. If you are giving your life to something else, please reconsider. You were born for a purpose. Find out what it is, and dedicate your whole biology to it — your body, heart, mind, and even your soul. Such grand purposes are the core of the human being. It is who we are. It is why we were born.

7 Areas of Focus for 21st Century Leaders

Specifically, the leaders of the 21st Century will lead biology in the following seven arenas. Each of us needs to become a student of all of them, and others that will naturally emerge in the decades ahead. Indeed, by 2020 I predict that to “be educated” will mean that you are literate in all seven, and a master of at least a few.

The 7 divisions of the new biology are:

  1. A vision of the future that is simultaneously accurate, good, and transformational.
  2. Adaptability and flexibility in the face of frequent change.
  3. Robustness and strength in overcoming all the challenges of this generation.
  4. The spirit of innovation, of destabilizing things that seem to be okay but are actually mediocre.
  5. Exploration and experimentation of good ideas and “impossible” dreams.
  6. Depth relationships — meaning a life focus on the most important relationships, with spouse, children, family and a few intimate others.
  7. Breadth relationships — including ministering to the people of the world by building friendships in every nation and people.

These are the great imperatives of statesmen, social leaders, mothers, and fathers in the 21st Century. And each of these is a biological process.

Where & How to Get This Education

Our vision is to train world-class statesmen who are true experts in these organic processes.

Leadership Education provides an in-depth study of what constitutes our society — the basic political, governmental, legal, economic, social, cultural, business and family forms which make up a society. It is, in the broad sense, the new biology.

Whereas rocket science studies inanimate objects, students study these seven biological challenges. They also master an eighth challenge, which is the highest struggle biology has ever known: how to build the ideal society.

If you were born to be one of the statesmen or stateswomen of the 21st Century, let nothing stop you from getting a true statesman’s education.

What Will You Invest In?

Whatever your focus is during the next decade, in the Century of Biology it is finally time to dedicate ourselves to solving the world’s problems.

Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, liberating the captive and teaching the ignorant are not just good ideas; they are our biological purpose in the decades ahead. They are why we are here.

We are biological beings. Biological entities don’t just exist, they live. Such beings learn, adapt, and at the highest levels, serve. They meet challenges and change the world. This is your heritage. It is the reason you are here. Live up to it.

Finally, the highest level of biology is investment. Whatever living organisms invest in tends to create their legacy and their future. Most living things invest primarily in survival. Man-made organizations tend to focus their investment on growing.

The Caucasian cultures that arose in Europe and spread throughout Western Civilization invest mainly in assets. In contrast, the Hebrews traditionally saw education as the highest investment. Many cultures around the world invest in relationships or family as the highest goal. And a number of Asian cultures emphasize investing in beauty or meaning.

michelangelo-finger-of-godYou are what you invest in– you’ll put your best time, best effort and deepest desires into your primary investment in life. So choose your investment well. Because whatever you choose, it will define you, as well as your failure and your success.

For statesmen and social leaders, there is only one choice: a special type of biological relationship called Service. If your life is lost in serving the good of the world, you will find yourself.

And maybe, if I can be so bold, you will become something much, much more than a biological being.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd Online.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

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Category : Arts &Education &Leadership &Science &Statesmanship &Technology

2 Comments → “Biology: Not a Science Anymore”


  1. Jacob Dean

    5 years ago

    A simple thank you from me.


  2. Allen Levie

    4 years ago

    I just read through this again. This commencement address came at the time when I had just experienced many epiphanies about personal-relations. Since that time they’ve been magnified and proven as they’ve been integrated with one concept after another. I’m going back to school now and will be spending time in the sciences first. Thank you for the great foundational education, I hope I can play my part in the collective attempt at repayment as it continues to occur.


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