A review by Carroll Quigley in
The Washington Sunday Star, 17 September 1972,
of two books:
1) FACING REALITY:
Philosophical Adventures By A Brain Scientist,
by John C. Eccles.
Xxxxx: Springer, 19xx
2) CHANCE AND
NECESSITY: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology,
by Jacques Monod.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 19xx
"Holists, Reductionists in a Battle"
By CARROLL QUIGLEY
FACING REALITY: Philosophical Adventures By A Brain
By Jobn C. Eccles. 210 pages. Springer,
CHANCE AND NECESSITY: An Essay on the Natnral
Philosopby of Modern Biology.
By Jacques Monad. Knopf. 199 pages.
In a world filled with noisy quarrels about social issues,
the controversy represented by these two books has attracted little
attention outside scientific circles. Yet the future of our civilization
is more likely to be determined by the outcome of this scientific
dispute than by any of the social and political controversies now
filling our newspapers. Sir John Eccles and Jacques Monod are both Nobel
Prize winners in medicine and physiology (in 1963 and 1965), one for his
work on the neurology of the brain, the other for work on the genetic
code and the process by which living cells synthesize proteins. Both men
are members of the Royal Society in London and of our National Academy
Monod, whose book is a best-seller in France, is director of the
Pasteur Institute in Paris and professor at the College de France.
Eccles, a former Australian Rhodes Scholar at Oxford with the great C.
S. Sherrington, was later president of the Australian Academy of
Sciences and is now professor at the State University of New York at
Buffalo. A layman who reads these two books together will find it almost
impossible to believe that experts of such outstanding eminence in the
same special area of science could hold such antithetical views.
At issue here is the age-old intellectual dispute between the
"reductionists" and the "holists," between those who believe 'that any
object can be understood and explained by taking it apart and those who
feel, on the contrary, that explanation and meaning come from studying
the object as a functioning whole. If, for example, a man has a certain
personality, the reductionist would try to explain it by examining the
balance of his body fluids or the elements of his genetic endowment,
while the holist would seek explanation in terms of the man's family
situation, his social class, education and his whole living contest.
While this basic difference in viewpoints may be found in any
subject or in any intellectual discipline, it is of fundamental
importance in biology. The reductionists insist that life can be
explained by analytical methods which will show, they believe, that all
life (and all human actions) can be reduced to simple physical and
Monod's title reflects his conviction that all life can be
explained by the accidents of chance mutations of genes subjected to the
deterministic necessity of the struggle for survival. He has little use
for broad, tolerant, tentative approaches to anything. Of mutations he
says, "They constitute the only possible source of modifications in the
genetic text, itself the sole repository of the organism's hereditary
structures; it necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of
every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere."
Monod's whole position can be refuted by a simple question: What
happens to the determinism of natural selection when a chance mutation
produces the characteristic of plasticity or indeterminism? When this
occurs, it produces an organism which is dependent on learned behavior,
which leads to extreme dependency of the young upon adults, provides
freedom to develop a variety of learned patterns of behavior, and leads
to choice and thus to rationality, intensified by the growth of
communication (especially verbal communication) as part of the training
process. All of this destroys the "necessity" of the selective process,
and gives rise to a new, and quite different, ballgame in which choice
among the numerous options provided by plasticity may permit survival of
types which would have inevitably perished under earlier conditions when
individuals were not shielded from nature by culture.
Monad's view of philosophy is as narrow as his methodology. He
restricts his comments on this subject to praise of Descartes and
condemnation of Henri Bergson, Teilhard de Chardln, and Frederick
Engels. What he likes about Descartes, apparently, is that philosopher's
materialism and his assumption that the universe, even in its ultimate
reality, is logical and intelligible to human reason. But Monad forgets
Descartes' explanation of how it happens that man has a mind capable of
understanding the rationality of the universe: That God made it that
way, for "God is good and would not deceive us," says Descartes. Today
the view that the universe is rational and ultimately intelligible may
still be acceptable to technicians, but it is not accepted by most
scientists, any more than the latter would accept Monad's view that
molecular biology has now explained everything except consciousness.
When we turn from Monad to Eccles, we shift from a 19th century
technician to a 20th century scientist who is also a philosopher. Eccles
sees that the universe is not necessarily either rational or
intelligible, and that its ultimate nature may not be attainable by
scientific methods alone. He gives a simple way for distinguishing
technicians from scientists:
Technicians treat their theories as part of their own egos and defend
them bitterly, while scientists welcome refutation of all theories,
including their own, since they see that science advances by disproving
hypotheses, since this makes it necessary to devise newer, more
inclusive, and more fruitful ones.
--Carroll Quigley is a professor of Georgetown University.