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JB: Brian, if I didn't know you better, I'd say you're beginning to sound like a quack.

GOODWIN: Holism has a bad name because it has been associated with a rejection of precision and the disciplines of science without anything systematic to put in its place. But I believe that a science of wholes and their qualities can be developed as systematically and reliably as our science of quantities. When Galileo came along and showed people how to measure things precisely, and how you could get intersubjective agreement on quantitative matters, people said, What the hell are you trying to get us to do? We don't understand what this is all about. It took a long time for that way of thinking about the world, that degree of precision, to actually get into peoples' heads and actions, resulting in our present-day science. It still needs a lot of training. The same slow process will be required to develop a precise science of qualities, which requires a different way of relating to the world.

JB: What's the scenario that would lead to great discoveries and experiments how would it change the way a theoretical physicist thinks?

GOODWIN: It's not with theoretical physics that the 21st century lies. Theoretical physics is a beautiful structure, the essence of the intellectual adventure that characterizes current science. But now what we face is crises of the environment, crises of health, crises of community. These are the problems that we now face and we need a science that will actually address these issues and give us ways of being in the world that will allow us to live a life of quality.

The steps as I see it will be to have an integrated educational system, in which children as they learn about the world are encouraged to use all their senses, their feelings, and their sense of beauty. Everybody knows that biologists are attracted to nature because of the incredible beauty of natural phenomena. And yet when they become scientists they're told to put that aside and just pay attention to the quantitative aspect. Now what a more integrated approach can do is to open the door to a way of relating to the world that heals our relationship with nature. We've been alienated from nature by turning nature into an object. Restoring the whole person will allow us to relate to organisms, to trees, to flowers, to squirrels, to badgers, to coyotes, whatever as beings with their own intrinsic nature. That means recognizing their subjectivity as well as ours in other words, recognizing them as subjects that have a sense of quality in their own lives, acknowledging that in order for a badger to be a badger, it's got to be able to live its life in a particular environment in a particular way.

It's the same thing with a cow, or indeed domestic animals. Here we are busily manipulating farm animals, and farm plants, with genetic engineering. According to current biology, genes determine organisms, and organisms are simply accidental collections of genes that are functionally useful, allowing organisms to survive in some environment. Therefore it's perfectly legitimate to change the genetic composition of an organism to fit into a new environment, for example, the environment we define. It's just an extension of evolution. So we can create chickens or turkeys with enormous amounts of breast meat, even though they can't reproduce, they can't actually function properly, can't live a normal life. But we can create an environment in which we can bring about their reproduction, so it's OK to change them in this way.

Such things are deeply wounding to our relationship with the natural world and with each other because it means turning everything in life into a commodity. It encourages me to think of you as just a bunch of commodities your blood cells, your skin, your genes. These are all just commodities that have potential commercial value. As far as I'm concerned, that's suicide. A lot of people share that intuition. This is where science is going too far. I don't want to stop science; I just want to balance it. One of the things I love about science is its self-correcting quality, which is really a property of human activity. We always go to extremes and then we reach a brink, reach the edge of the cliff and say, oh shit, we didn't intend to come here! so we turn around, if we can, and go off in another direction. We've reached one of these brinks, and so it's time to re-balance to get this other part of our natures back into functioning order.

People are very distressed about this, and quite rightly so. People in Europe and the States are very concerned about genetically engineered food. Industrialization of food has actually had incredible effects on our health. There's the recent outbreak of mad cow disease, bovine E. coli contaminating cooked meat and causing human deaths, and rapid spread of antibiotic resistance. Human fertility is dropping fast, and the viability of human sperm is pretty perilous at the moment because of the effects of environmental contamination from chemicals. And now we've got a whole new level of possible contamination, genetically engineered organisms in agriculture, some of which will cause serious ecological damage and food allergies. We are dealing here with an unpredictable science because of the complexity of genomes. You simply cannot predict what will happen when you move a gene from one organism to another, so this technology has to move very slowly and carefully if we're to avoid disasters.

I'm not against biotechnology. It can function responsibly and serve important needs, like inserting the human insulin gene into bacteria so that you get a more plentiful and cheaper source of insulin than by previous methods.


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