We celebrate today forty years since the introduction of humanistic studies in Costa Rican higher education, which took effect on the occasion of the university reform of 1957 and the corresponding establishment of the General Studies program. The Costa Rican humanist movement that was then launched got its inspiration from contemporary European thought, in particular, the historicism of José Ortega y Gasset, the neo scholasticism of Jacques Maritain, and existencial philosophy –especially Jean Paul Sartre's–. Let me quote, as an illustration, the following sentence of the French existentialist, often commented during those years in the classes of "Fundamentals of Philosophy":
without any support or help, is condemned at every instant to invent man.
( SARTRE & HEIDEGGER 60).
Sartre's humanism, no doubt, is richer than this sentence. Stated with this simplistic formula, it appears to be a narrow variation of romantic idealism. It sounds like an irrational slogan emotionally protesting against the many undeniable constraints that nature and nurture impose upon us. In any case, thanks to the first chairman of philosophy Constantino Láscaris' prestige, we can consider this version of Sartre's as the humanism more widely spread in Costa Rica during the second part of the XXth Century.
The foundation and spectacular development of molecular genetics, clear product of this century, have provided evolutionism with its missing piece, which Darwin y Mendel anticipated without having any inkling about its true nature.
In this vein, the humanist creed that I consider viable for the conditions which will be in force during the XXIth Century could be stated in a succinct manner by the following paragraph:
I believe in man –male and female– and in the forces of life that formed him through the aeons and, even today, support, nurture, and promote him to ever better things. With the help of nature and society, man is compelled at every instant to recreate himself, by setting up goals and postulating values, as a being responsible for his own destiny. His weapons to meet these challenges are rational capacity and expansive knowledge of the laws of nature. Since the humanization of man, culture has complemented evolution in the task of developing his capacities, and innumerable technics have immensely expanded the reach of his intelligence. In recent times, computer science and technology have bestowed upon him fabulous powers of computation, memory and connectivity. Those powers are currently transforming the world in a unity-in-diversity mankind had never encountered before. Knowledge, the energizing element of this transformation, has become the most important factor of production, far over labor and capital. These facts are placing the intellectual activity and development of the person in preferential position within the new society. But in spite of those achievements, no technical prowess can take the place of each one's personal commitment to become self responsible and to actively contribute, in freedom and solidarity, to the survival and continuous flowering of the species and all life on the surface of the Earth.
We may wonder, as many philosophers before us, what foundation we have to claim the human person as the center of ethics. ¿Why not the human species, or a particular group of persons (our nation, religious confession, or neighborhood), or the totality of living beings, or nature as a whole, or an "omega point" beyond nature, or a "superman" still to be produced by evolution? All these are profound and important questions we can hardly eschew, but this is neither the place nor the occasion for tackling them.
Rather than attempting such philosophical disquisitions, let us better pose what probably constitutes the main problem of ethics: when and why have we started talking morals or ethics? The most straightforward answer is that moral talk is part and parcel of human existence, of our "being there," of our "finding ourselves thrown in the world," as existentialists will put it. Since we began to humanize ourselves –in prehistoric times–, or to socialize ourselves –in early infancy–, we have begun to talk morally. The first "not" o "should" we heard from our parents or guardians implied already our entrance in the universe of moral imperatives. Our first relationships with our little siblings, with mom and dad, were fraught with moral content. We will not dwell on this topic: The relevant material for the individual case is readily available to everyone in one's own memories and experiences, as a child or as a parent, and of course abundant illustrations of it are also to be found in child-rearing or child-psycology manuals.
The electronic microscope and other methods of molecular biology, including gene manipulation and gene inventory, have clearly established the causal and "mechanical" nature of life.
Thus, the problem about morals is never when we started being moral. The brute fact is that we have always been it, since the very beginning, personally or historically. The general moral problem is rather something totally different: it is the question of ethics, as we might call it. The impressive generative fact is that we humans have always pretended to justify our acts on moral grounds. We have always done this through the ages and along the continents, with moral laws of various and even opposing sorts, only partially if at all congruent. The dual moral problem is rather that of resolving moral disagreement, and of making sure that our moral rules and ethical principles really contribute to choosing the best among all possible actions. Fortunately, as rational animals, we humans have at our disposal to tackle these two questions –moral disagreement and moral progress– the whole arsenal of logic, the very same that warranties both survival in the natural world and successful social insertion in human culture (GUTIÉRREZ Y CASTRO 92).
The intimate unión between ethics and logic has its foundation in the very structure of our brain. An explosive development of the cerebral cortex began to occur all of a sudden in our linage (100.000 years count as a paleontological instant–DAWKINS 86), at some point after its separation from the chimp's linage, about five millions years ago. (DENNETT 95) That was the opportunity for the emergence of two closely-related kinds of phenomena: logical thinking and ethical reasoning. With time, evolution decanted specialized cortical areas for language (which subsumes logic): Broca's for generation; Wernicke's for comprehension. Such neural configurations enable symbolic thinking and facilitate learning the particulars of historical tongues.
The decoding of genetic language has disclosed the digital nature of all biological phenomena.
In addition to this basic endowment of our genes, the innate dual capacity to talk congruously and morally (abilities essentialy linked) we have at our disposal for building our ethical edifice the great tradition of the West (and East), rich in philosophical reflections on justice, the good life, the "way," the "just man," and the ideal society. The history of culture is an abundant source not only of moral ideas and motives but also of personal experiences (the inexhaustible lode of all literatures and historical narratives, fraught with moral lessons). That tradition stands today on its own immense merits against the insolence of ultra modernism, both from right (FUKUYAMA 92) and from left (GORBACHEV 86), which proclaims "the end of history" or "the collapse of the West"; the former, since the superiority of the capitalist over the socialist system has been demonstrated; the latter, as a justification of the at first imminent and later catastrophically consummated disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Even if our ideals and longings, our choices and freely assumed moral values are all important, it is not possible, on this day and time, trying to build our ethics on the sole base of subjective attitudes. We know that no morals work in a social vacuum, since our ethical convictions emerge only through the rational criticism of collective convictions.
During this century "algorithm," a key concept of mathematics, finally obtained its most needed formal definition. A side-effect of this formalization was the digital computer, with the far-reaching consequences familiar to all of us.
For all the lofty function of ethics in the conformation of individual and social life, its foundations are rather humble and basic. Moral decisions are not essentially different from those that we make every day when we formulate our action plan for the next twelve or fourteen waking hours: we take into account the weather report, our health and that of our loved ones, the economic circumstances of our family, the state-of-the-art of technology –will we commute to work by diligence, on mule-back, or using a motorized vehicle; will we communicate with each other through drum tom-tom, smoke signs, word of mouth, mail, telephone, fax, or e-mail, or not commute at all, but work at home instead, connected through a modem with the whole world?
At a deeper lever, our vision of what we are and should be, is crucially affected by our conception of the world. During our waking hours, will we worry about being ensnared by witches, charms, enchantments; or rather for viruses, pollution, street crime, car accidents? Should we take precautions against the conspiration of the bourgeoisie to enslave the workers of the world, or against the risks of international competition in a worldwide economy? Should we toil to earn indulgences for eternal life, or for a monthly or weekly salary, or for the benefits of incurred risks as entrepreneurs?
The simple enumeration of these possibilities makes us see that in most of our decisions social group and culture did choose already for us. That is no obstacle, however, for still exiting persons in our own communities who cling to anachronic conceptions which lack any modern rational foundation. I know Costa Ricans that today, three years before the XXIst Century, firmly believe that they should eliminate any human representation (pictures, ornaments, etc.) from their homes to defend the members of their families from respiratory ailments (supposedly induced by demons dwelling in those idolatrous representations). There still exist in the United States of America a "Flat Earth Society" claiming that the sphericity of the Earth is a fabrication or an illusion.
The algorithmic character of natural selection permits today to assimilate the biological evolution of the species and the research and development processes pertaining to contemporary industry.
The existence of these eccentricities should neither surprise nor irritate us. They result from the very variety and pluralism of the human; more still, of all life. The existence of such variety in cultural manifestations guarantees, in the social sphere, the possibility of a continuous movement toward richer and more satisfying forms of human cohabitation, in the same fashion that, in the biological sphere, variety insures the possibility of evolution and survival of the species. Upon other times, in multiple occasions, the eccentric and unpopular opinions were persecuted; even today, they are in many places. Many times this arrested, as even today in some cases it still does, the introduction of more convivial forms of living and of doctrines closer to the truth. But we would rather tolerate aberration (as today the existence of pornography or racist preaching on Internet) as an insurance premium against totalitarianism and the eventual elimination of creative variety.
You are all surely familiar with arguments in support of liberty, part and parcel of our civic tradition and upbringing, which have their roots in the romantic ideology of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries. They are based on English and French liberalisms, who present to their credit the important, and transcendental to contemporary life, American and French revolutions. These arguments pose as doctrines on the "inalienable rights of the human person," God or Nature-given rights, who nobody is entitled to trespass or diminish. I prefer a humbler defense of liberty, much better grounded on the nature of things.
The concept of algorithm makes possible to see biology as reverse engineering, and has produced a synthesis between contemplative and productive thought of incalculable potential.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment, believed that the human spirit has the capacity of perceiving truths about human nature by internal illumination. One of them would be this on the existence of inalienable rights of the person. In such a conception we can trace the strong influence of theological ideas about people as children of God, today much less popular. Of course, there was also the self-interested influence of the bourgeois class, emerging at the time, whose growing power was based on chattel property, the inalienable right par excellence. But in any case, the doctrine of inalienable rights was grounded in a methodological error: modern epistemology teaches us that "interior illumination" does not exist or is deceitful, and that the only sure ways of getting closer to the truth are logical reasoning and experimentation or observation, objectively controlled. Are we left without a grounding for liberty? Not at all. We have only discovered that the grounding, although much more solid, is considerably humbler.
The ground of freedom, as we now understand it, is simply the enormity of our ignorance. Freedom of thought or of action is socially important because, in spite of the immense progress of science, we still know very little about the universe and ourselves. As a consequence, it is to our best interest that many opinions and action plans continue to be produced, so that the great selector of truth and good which is experience may tell us which ones are less incorrect. The great instrument of nature in the evolution of the species has been the combination of variety and natural selection. The great instrument of culture for its own development and improvement is trial and error, both in science and in everyday life. Scientific methodology has taken this principle to its ultimate rigor, by the constitution of the hypothetical-deductive method. Contemporary industry has promoted it as its great innovative tool, R&D (research and development), which furnishes us with the wonderful new products we enjoy today thanks to the freedom of commerce.
It is both edifying and educational to verify that the source of our major force, as living beings, as human persons, and also as citizens, is what on first sight one would take rather as a shortcoming: ignoramus, we do not know enough, that is why we have to be free, to better create the conditions that facilitate the acquisition of the knowledge we lack. Freedom is the natural habitat of experimentation. We cannot select the best of alternatives if we do not have enough alternatives. You surely have wondered, as I have more than once, how in the world do professional photographers obtain their magnificent shots of animals in their normal surroundings, for instance, the excellent reproductions of wild life published on the pages of the National Geographic Magazine. The answer is very simple: they take hundreds of photos, they generate variety, as a condition for selection, the necessary editing that will follows. To plan the ideal shot, theoretically the way to go, results impossible in practice. As much as it also turned out to be impossible the planning of socialist economies with their now-infamous "five-year plans". Freedom, only freedom, does that creative work, through the miracle-worker machine of competition, a particular case of the AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm aptly called "generate and test".
When someone argues in favor of liberty, it is customary that the interlocutor's reply includes something to the effect that freedom is not absolute, that it should have some limits, that "one should not equivocate liberty with libertinism".Unfortunately, most of the times this riposte is branded, the one that uses it is not inspired by the social interest, rather he or she is being held hostage by the psycho-social sickness so well characterized by psychologist Eric From: fear of freedom. I do not mean that in fact there are no limits to liberty, but the ones that can be justified by rigorous rational analysis are only two, and rather lean:
1. My liberty ends where the other fellow's starts. Of course, I cannot exert my liberty in order to destroy the freedom of my brother, since in that case I would be destroying the very justification of freedom: the need to produce variety in social life. Remember: we are not defending freedom as an inalienable right of the human person, a feeble defense based on discredited metaphysical theories or questionable methodological doctrines. We are defending freedom as the foundation for social creativity. We are defending freedom for the same reason we defend bio diversity: the reduction of species thwarts life possibilities to persist into the future, when environmental circumstances might change in drastic manners.
2. Liberty may be suspended on occasions of a public calamity, and only to the extent necessary for overcoming it. When there is no other way than to act fast, we go ahead on the basis of the information available, meager as it might be, and stop operating under the generate-and-test principle (which requires more time).
Some authors, among them the Costa Rican economist Alberto Di Mare, add one more case: to the extent that humanity obtains specific knowledge on important matters, with high reliability, to that same extent the utility of multiple initiatives diminishes and, as a consequence, also the importance of liberty. Nevertheless, I consider this a sub case of case -2-, provided we interpret "to act fast" in a flexible manner so that the exception to freedom covers not only earthquakes or floods but also slower calamities like epidemics.
Biology's firm foundation on genetics, through detailed analyses of DNA, has permitted to demonstrate the homogeneous and single nature of all known life forms on Earth.
Unfortunately, fear and the lust for power joint together in our society, as in all others, to limit freedom more than it is just and necessary. The fear to use one's own liberty, because of the risks freedom implies. The lust of power that reduces the liberty of someone else, for the sheer pleasure of controlling. The result is a gravely obnoxious doctrine, of insidious character: "Let us limit freedom (of others, of course), for their own good, because they do not know what they are doing". And who is going to warrant that the controllers, the censors, "know what they are doing"? Of course, no one. This attempt to limit freedom in the name of love, "because I love you I beat you", is the worst enemy of liberty: all the way from the dictatorial doctrines of Plato ( POPPER 45) to the ignominies of the Welfare State of our time! Reminding ourselves of Kant's wisdom, let us clearly state that the foundation of morals is not love, since "there are loves that kill". The true foundation of ethics is and should be only respect: to be ready in all occasions, in all circumstances, to let the others (neighbors, contenders, children, enemies, or lovers) lead their lives literally as they want to.
This doctrine of liberty as based on ignorance and on the need for social variety –so that natural selection may have its say– seems to depend on something external to us, more utilitarian (related to convenient living) than ontological (related to what we are). In that sense, the Enlightenment had the better of us, since its doctrine of inalienable rights was grounded on a theory of human nature and thus had to do with something intimate to the person (the soul, perhaps). Right? Profoundly wrong!
First of all, the innovation of a "variety + selection" principle is an appeal to the productivity principle more general in the entire universe, so much so that it has generated the human species and life itself.
Neurological research is beginning to decipher the secrets of the brain's activity and establish beyond doubt the non existence of a cerebral "oval office".
Such Darwinian explanations of the nature of individual rationality coincide with results in AI where the use of genetic algorithms, based on the generate-and-test strategy, are becoming increasingly popular for building computer models of human intellect.
The immune system offers an example of transition between classical natural selection –concerned with the evolution of the species– and the type of natural selection needed to explain individual rationality –dealing with the evolution of neural configurations in the brain. In fact, the immune system is already an intelligent system, since it is able to tell friend from foe within the body.
Clarified the nature of mental life as interconnection of all neurons with all other neurons, the humanities become also clearer, since the theory of meaning has now in cerebral connectivity a physical and tangible model.
In their constant replication, antibodies create random variations to cope with uncertainty, in a similar manner as organisms do, but much faster. When a new germ comes, some already randomly-diversified antibodies will turn out to be capable of facing the invader with various degrees of efficacity. Then, by a credit-assignment mechanism isomorphic with the one used by AI genetic algorithms, the most efficient of them will be replicated handsomely, which will augment the organism's capacity to resist future attacks. But in addition, the antibodies generate mutations which in time will increase their efficacity. We have here all the traits of an interesting case of intra organismic evolution, pointing already toward the conceptual framework we need in order to understand mental processes as also based on natural selection.
Gerald Edelman uses the immune system as an analogy and starting point in his theory on the nature and origine of human reasoning. To duly understand his explanation one has to make reference to some facts of macro evolution. The main difference that distinguishes us from our closest cousins in the primate family tree, the chimpanzees, lies on the fact that our cerebral cortex is four times larger than theirs. The extra human cortex, with the possible exception of the aforementioned areas committed to language comprehension and generation, seems to be mostly vacant. They are the famous "associative areas" of XIXst-Century neurologists.
This lack of assignment of most human cortical neurons to a motor o sensitive purpose (in the case of the chimpanzee or other mammals practically all neurons are assigned to those functions) has created the popular legend that we human beings actually use only a fraction of our brains.
A "crucial experiment" of the theory that the wealth of nations is created by division of labor and free competition has taken place massively and in parallel between many socialist states and free-market economies with decisive results.
Edelman's thesis, increasingly accepted by other neurologists and neurophilosophers, reckons that those planning or interpreting activities take place in the associative areas of the cortex precisely under the guise of genetic processes, based on the generate-and-test algorithm. In other words, neurons organize themselves in patterns that replicate themselves at high speed, and the "fittest" of them are selected. Except that here we are not dealing with the need to contain an invader, as in the case of the antibodies, but with the competition between solutions patterns to particular problems, either sense-data interpretation, motion anticipation, or symbolic abstract operations.
Consider as an example this paragraph that I am writing and you are reading. An ample number of neural patterns –of which only a few reach consciousness– offer themselves as candidate expressions, until a particular one gains preference to all others. The replicators in this case are configurations, i.e., alliances of vast number of interconnected neurons. Beautiful confirmation of Darwinian theory in a field very different from the evolution of species! It occurs not only intra organismically –as the immune system– but also in the lofty intellectual realm! And it clarifies, en passant, the tremendous enigma of intelligence.
So far we have been describing a landscape of scientific data supposedly useful as a foundation to build a new humanism. But you may wonder why a humanism based on the ideas of natural-selection evolution, first formulated more than a century ago, should be considered new. The reasons are several and diverse. But let we begin by saying that our position is one of historic continuity, not of rupture with history. If there is a well-confirmed fact, it is the eminently temporal character or human culture. In spite of the tragedies that mark mankind's trajectory, many of which happened during our own XXth Century, it is an incontrovertible fact that the past lives in the present and each epoch merges into the following one, with the same kind of organic compenetration with which an age of an individual life pours into the following one. The attempts to arrest history, or the pretense of restarting it, cannot be branded any other way than as obtuse or frivolous, and do not deserve to be treated seriously. But of course, and precisely because culture develops itself within history, each period enriches it in unique and non repeatable ways, with its own contribution of creativity and discovery of the untried. In that sense, worthwhile old ideas are rethought and renewed, in such a manner that the passing of time contributes even more to their vigor and actuality.
In the particular case of the evolutionist conception, several new facts have made it shine with an even brighter light and stand on the cultural ground with more solid roots and far-reaching deeper implications. Let us review them.
Fact 1: The foundation and spectacular development of molecular genetics, clear product of this century, have provided evolutionism with its missing piece, which Darwin y Mendel anticipated without having any inkling about its true nature. With the discovery of DNA and the decoding of genetic language the replication mechanism of life and its random variety were exposed to view as a tangible physical content.
Fact 2: The electronic microscope and other methods of molecular biology, including gene manipulation and gene inventory, have clearly established the causal and "mechanical" nature of life, puting to rest the élan-vital or misterious-force idea as an explanation for organic phenomena. The reduction of biology to physics and chemistry became total and complete.
Fact 3: The decoding of genetic language has disclosed the digital nature of biological phenomena. This has led to understanding the genetic code as a true programming language, not essentially different from any other computer-science language. The only differences are of style: the number of instructions (more compact for genetic code than for Pascal, let us say); and the character of the addressing system (pattern matching in genetics instead of coordinate system for computer languages). And these differences are neither general nor unmovable: higher-order AI-research computer languages, like Prolog, use pattern-matching addressing; and some hardware systems, like IBM's RISC machines, are parsimonious in the number of instructions.
Fact 4: It was during this century that "algorithm," a key concept of mathematics, finally obtained its most needed formal definition, thanks to the work of Alan Turing and other great theoreticians. A side-effect of this formalization was the marvelous invention of the digital computer, with the scientific, social and economic far-reaching consequences familiar to all of us. Implicit in this formal definition was the conceptualization of mathematical reasoning as a purely mechanical process that, by itself, constitutes a landmark of monumental proportions in the history of culture. One of the superlative implications of this event has been the fruitful use of the concept of algorithm –as an orderly recursive procedure of perfectly identifiable and distinct steps– in numerous fields where one did not anticipate the relevance of this mathematical concept. Its application to the theory of evolution, for instance, has produced a better understanding of the logical gist of natural selection, to such a degree that one has been able to produce artificial evolution within a computer (RAY 92). With this, the integration of genetics, molecular biology, and computer science was established on firm logical, mathematics, and philosophical grounds.
Fact 5: The algorithmic character of natural selection permits today to assimilate, in their fundamental nature, the biological evolution of the species and the research and development processes pertaining to the creative activity of contemporary industry. The processes of the history of culture fall on the time-line between these two extremes, and become explicable according to the same algorithmic principles within a grand general theory of design. This theory has the peculiarity of not postulating the intervention of a personal designer: the algorithm itself explains the design. The processes may be associated to the activity of one or many persons, or rather to natural phenomena of fractal character (i.e., recurring at multiple levels) along very extended periods of time. What is essential here is only that the operation of every agent, personal or not, imposes conditions to the other agents' actions, creating constraints for their respective operations, thus making the improbable probable and the impossible factually necessary (DENNETT 95). As a corollary, the supernatural is exorcized from the scientific conception of the external world as a hypothesis completely unnecessary for the explanation of phenomena.
Fact 6: A consequence of this generalized theory of design it the complete assimilation between biology and engineering, which only differ now as disciplines by the direction of thought: forward in the case of engineering –from preexisting materials and constraints to resulting products (machines, buildings, etc.)–; backward in the case of biology –from resulting products (organisms) toward materials and constraints (more elemental organisms, systems, tissues, cells, organelles, DNA, energy demands and other physical constraints, etc.). This interpretation of biology, the richest of scientific disciplines, as reverse engineering, produces a synthesis between contemplative and productive thought of incalculable consequences for any humanistic perspective of the future.
Fact 7: Biology's firm foundation on genetics, through detailed analyses of DNA –the essential grounding of all organisms–, has permitted to demonstrate the homogeneous and single nature of all known life forms on Earth. The commonality of all living beings, with the complementary and concomitant destruction of the spurious scientific concept of "race," is pushing humanity to the understanding of its fundamental unity and fraternal consanguinity with all life. Ecology thus acquires a richness and irresistible ontological urgency which will stamp its trace on all future forms of humanism, with an abundance of important consequences.
Fact 8: Neurological research, with the help of molecular-biology instruments, is beginning for the first time to decipher, both anatomically and physiologically, the secrets of cerebral activity. The search for consciousness as a neural phenomenon (CRICK 94) is starting to bear fruit. It is establishing beyond doubt the non existence of an "oval office" in the brain where the soul or any other homunculus may hide, and where the film of subjective experience might be projected (DENNETT 91). The discovery of neural connectivity as the sole seat of cerebral activity is establishing personality theory on a new basis. The virtual existence of the self is replacing its previous mythological reification, which led to the absurd concept of a mind made out of an infinite succession of Russian dolls, ones inside the others, or to the no less insane "ghost in the machine" concocted by Cartesian rationalism.
Fact 9: Clarified the nature of mental life as virtuality, as interconnection of all neurons with all other neurons (each of our one hundred billion cortical neurons connects itself on the average with ten thousand other neurons), all the humanities become clearer as a consequence. The theory of meaning, the nucleus of social and humanistic disciplines, has now a physical and tangible model in cerebral connectivity and its resulting virtuality. Dialectical thought, which has always insisted in the recurring round trip between the particular and the general, the whole and the parts, obtains here its best vindication. Hypertext as the best expressive instrument of the new cultural reality, and Internet as the best vehicle of social communication, acquire a privileged place in this new humanism. Spirituality will begin to be understood as the dynamic virtuality resulting from the activity of the brain, and from the universal conflagration of all brains, passed and present. As a corollary, again, the supernatural is exorcized, this time from the scientific conception of the internal and trans-subjective world.
Fact 10: One of the roots of Darwinian evolutionism is classic economic thought: the theory that the wealth of nations is created by the division of labor and the exchange of goods and services in a free market. This theory was worked out in the main by Adam Smith in the XVIIIst Century. This powerful idea is not, as many persons believe, a result of Darwinism (so-called economic Darwinism) but its principal precursor and inspirer. We have here an impressive case of a powerful idea that is taking humanity two hundred years to assimilate. The major enrichment of this idea occurred in our time is the "crucial experiment" that has taken place massively and in parallel between the socialist states and the free-market economies. The fashion in which this experiment has concluded in the case of multiple "couples" (USA vs. URSS, West Germany vs. East Germany, South Korea vs. North Korea, China vs. Taiwan, you name them), is such a catastrophic disqualification of the socialist model and corresponding vindication of the libertarian model, that nobody can today honestly think the same about the matter than before the experiment. We already referred to the extreme reactions of Fukuyama and Gorbachev. The balanced reaction in this field is to understand that the "economic algorithm" –the one that relates rigorously and formally the production of wealth in societies with the degree of freedom that reigns in them– is as valid and important in the social sphere as the "biological algorithm" –natural selection, which produced the explosion of life on this planet– is in the organic sphere.
I have friends very dear to me who still today, eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have not been able to reconcile themselves with the disappearance of social utopias and still devote their talents as writers to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to their lapsed dreams. To them I address, with respect and affect, the following paragraphs. They are persons full of compassion who during the high tide of the socialist enterprise committed them deeply to the cause of building a world without social differences. To that effect, they supported the expedient of everybody working for an all-powerful Welfare State, and that (presumably benign) Leviathan satisfying the needs of all. When irrepressible historic events demonstrated that the project was a chimera, their inner world grounded in ideals of human solidarity, elevated but unrealistic, crumbled strepitously and left them looking for a new North toward which orient their good intentions. Even today they crave for the lost utopia and preach, like the apostles after Jesus crucifixion, a Second Coming of "Planetary Communism," as if nothing important had happened in our succulent XXth Century.
To these friends I say that it is about time humanity builds its dreams with more resistant threads than the simple wish to do good and the preaching of "love thy neighbor" (I know that my friends have the best intentions, not always the case in a world plagued by demagogical wolves under sheepskin). The only way that a building can stand, be it physical or social, is by respecting the laws of nature, be they the law of gravity, materiel resistence, of economic laws. We have to make them work for our benefit, not against us. The humanist program I am proclaiming distrusts any mediation in the satisfaction of needs or in the determination of which these needs are. My father, with great popular wisdom, used to say that each neighbor's son knows better where his shoe hurts. If this is so, what a bad decision would be to delegate in others the judgment about big things when we would not let them supplant us regarding the smallest ones. This fundamental commonsense inclination is not egoism; it is essential wisdom of genuine stock. It is self-love, the keystone of all morality, already consecrated by biblical religion when it prescribed to love thy neighbor as thyself.
This self-love, conservation instinct, self-esteem, you name it, is the foundation of ethics. But in addition, is a fundamental fact of nature, since life begins with the creation of a border between self and not-self, internal and external, be it at the cell, organism, group, or species levels. This basic instinct supports the universal competition of living beings of all orders, the result of which has been the general populating of the Earth's globe, with all the magnificence and splendor we admire in the planetary ecology. Such abundant wealth is the fruit and product of the struggle of species and organisms to find a niche in the world and profit from it in their own and their descendants' benefit. This is a law of life that no philosopher or dreamer can abrogate, and rather than considering it an obstacle or a curse on the building of the "new man," one should understand it as the indispensable foundation to build a society compatible with the aspirations of the human species.
We take for granted, as part and parcel of the laws of nature (both biological and social), that freedom, a promoter of variety, es the only path to establish a healthy and productive society. From there does not follow that society should be the scenario of a struggle of everybody against everybody else. Since the humanization of man, social solidarity among co-specimens has been one of the adaptive traits of our species, bestowing superiority to our kind and insuring its predominant role in the planet's ecology. This solidarity is an essential part of the ethical edifice built by human culture. Thus, our material origin in a long chain of natural-selection mutations does not detract from our commitment to mutual responsibility among fellow human beings. To Cain's question "Am I my brother's keeper?" we have to respond both "yes" and "no". No, if by keeper we understand the guardian of a prison, who replaces the brother in his decisions, imposing life plans on others with total disrespect to their personhood. But Yes, in the sense that we are committed to make sure that all other human beings, especially the members of our immediate community, have a fair and equitable access to the spiritual and material goods collectively created by human culture.
One of the best instruments to insure such fair access in this new era of "knowlege economy," is, without a doubt, education. (TOFFLER 95). No other factor better suited than education to grant citizens the means for building their own destine within the new society of abundance based on automation and globalization. And no graver and more paralizing deprivation for the young generations than the lack of timely, adecuate and permanent opportunities to prepare themselves, morally and intelectually, for the challenges of tomorrow. Since challenges they shall have: the leading role which all of us, each in his or her niche, will be called to play in a participative society of immense complexity and prosperity.
In this drive for fair access one should not fall prey of illusions about human nature. We will have to overcome many obstacles. We must fight politicians' myopia and demagoguery, bureaucracies' laziness and vested interests, the attraction of easy wealth, the insidiousness of drogue, and the menace of powerful organized crime. Against all those enemies we will have to brand our ideals. We must also fight our own discouragement, shortcomings, and frustration. Against all that we will have to brand our realism. Human beings are capable of the best and the worst, as this tragic century has amply demonstrated. We could not possibly base our humanism on the essential goodness of the human savage, as Rousseau attempted, neither on a doctrine of "original sin" that condemns us to depend absolutely on supernatural redemption to do something valuable in life. We are part of nature, and both collaboration and discord rule within it; it is only the permanent interaction between these two forces what attains the fleeting states of equilibrium that we enjoy as ecological landscapes.
It is interesting in this respect to confront XIXth Century's romantic humanism with contemporary empirical-science data. In all mammal species that have been carefully studied, with the exception of domesticated animals, the liquidation rate of co-specimens is several thousands higher than the homicide rate in any large city of the US. (GOULD 93). The new humanism, informed about facts like these, cannot avoid to position itself very far from "à la Rousseau" idealizations of primeval goodness; rather than buying those childish phantasies, one has to accept Hobbes' description of life in the state of nature as "nasty, brutish and short". Only our excessive cranial capacity, with the concomitant emergence of culture, has made possible the still-only-partial overcoming of those sad constraints.
Our emancipation from this "law of the jungle" has taken place thanks to the existence of those innate modules of ethics and logic (language) which define our rational condition and we commented before. Unfortunately, it is not consummated, and perhaps never will be, given that our biological constitution conserves, under a thin cortical veil, all the deep cerebral strata we share with other vertebrates. Man will continue being, probably forever to a certain degree, –again in Hobbes' words– "homo homini lupus". Only a personal and collective moral commitment, constantly renewed and without wishful thinking, will be able to compensate our lower-animal tendencies, without ever getting to overcome them completely.
The real challenge in the struggle against crime and war is to face these dangers with more and better education, with more and better moral motivation based on the knowledge of natural laws. And to avoid building –to combat those dangers– repressive structures or disproportionate political forces which would put to risk our fundamental freedoms. As a humanist and a citizen, I would rather have technological solutions –alarms, bars, or electronic gadgetry– to problems of security than an excessive development of police forces tantamount to occupation armies over one's own country. But above all, I would always prefer, as the best protection of civilized life, an army of teachers and students extended over the whole national territory. As I would also prefer, by far, an educative society of free citizens, busying themselves in producing wealth and culture, to the "Welfare State," interventionist, profligate and corrupt, that most of our democratic countries currently have.
From the Darwinian thesis it follows that you and I are all artifacts of nature. But our subjectivity is not less real because being the effect of millions of years of algorithmic "research and development," instead of the result of a magic act of instantaneous creation. If at the beginning it may seem difficult to think about oneself in this fashion, those of you who still have not done it will have to dare for the simple force of historic circumstances. They will soon discover that this new perspective, based on the concurrent findings of all sciences, neither makes life any less beautiful, nor ethical motivations less noble or our feelings any less moving. On the contrary and on the other hand, the new perspective makes us more realistic and gives us a sense of security, bestowing on us finally that holy freedom of supernatural terror that Democritus dreamed of and his disciple Epicurus defended with such a passion.
But be ware! If we do not have a miraculous origin we neither do have a miraculous providence who lovingly cares for us. If we ourselves do not care for our own survival, individually and collectively, nobody will in our stead. Let us remember that we are not even the center or summit of life: we are only one of its branches, and we have to compete with all other in order to survive and keep going; especially with the microscopic viruses, sort of new "demons" which we have constantly to exorcize! Ecology has two faces: it is conservationism, since we march mounted on the biological variety that has produced our bounty. But it carries with it the persuasion that we are part and parcel of a universal arms race among all species, which will endure as long as life exists on Earth. The AIDS', like the poor according to the Gospel, will always be with us.
For the first time in history we have today clear evidence, based on DNA chemistry, of the total homogeneity of life, which makes us authentic relatives of each and everyone of past and present living beings on our planet. There is no more than one single genealogical tree which encompasses all species, from human beings to the most insignificant virus or bacteria. But our family bonds do not brake down by their ever widening in concentric circles until embracing everything organic. The new humanism gladly accepts our deep consanguinity with the rest of living beings: it is now a welcome given that we are part and parcel of the universal ecology of planet Earth. The XXIth-Century humanism will not help being an environmentalist century. We have no assured survival as a species beyond the parallel assurance of any other of our cousins in the animal or vegetal reigns. To conserve the environment is without the shadow of a doubt to conserve ourselves.
Language and ethics are the stuff our dreams –our web of meanings– are made of. The humanities, which we so much appreciate, the content we find and modify in the arts, literature, philosophy, and our private and public fantasies, are all made of meanings. This means that they are pointers, arrows that show the way in various directions toward many more meanings. The beautiful myths with which self-esteem and the identity of nations and persons are fabricated, consist also of meanings. As such, they represent the emergent product of an infinity of microscopic processes, meaningless by themselves. They are being created all the time by the totality of the biosphere, through the wonderful productivity and unceasing activity of the natural laws.
To so acknowledge, to understand the work of nature as a design –prolonged without end– formed by the operation of millions of years of automatic "research and development," does not demerit those contents. It rather allows us to approach them with an attitude of analysis and control which is the closest we can get to realize the Sartrean ambition of "inventing man". But not "without any support or help," as Sartre pretended; on the contrary, with the immense help of collective knowledge that science puts at our disposal, and by means of the expanded intelligence and will with which contemporary computer technology has empowered us. Not ignoring the constraints of nature, but knowingly accepting them: committing ourselves consciously to the natural chain of events –now mediated by culture– of the grand R&D cosmic program.
I have much talked in this Manifesto in terms of biology, computer science, and engineering, all disciplines not normally associated with the humanities. That comes from my conviction that these scientific aspects will belong essentially in the humanistic perspective of the new society. But all these elements acquire sense within the theory that has always been the kernel of humanism: the study of meaning. The origin of meaning is humble and immensely extended in time, since it is coextensive with the development of life and mentality on Earth. But that long and lowly origin does not detract from the value of cultural contents, which we can enjoy precisely thanks to those very same humble foundations. Our reasons are not the reptile's, simply because we descend from the reptile. Our reasons are ours and the reptile could never comprehend them. They have their own logic, their own dialectics, since they are meaningful only at the human level.
Each and all of our meanings are transcendent on and by themselves, although they all live in an immanent world, i.e., self-contained by nature. But their transcendence consists of the fact that each of them has some sense only in relationship with all the others meanings. Hence the paramount value of hermeneutics, the humanistic method par excellence. Hence the value of the old idea that was the first and supreme working method of General Studies in the Costa Rica of 1957: the commentary of text. Text commentary, hermeneutics or exegesis, in the same sense found in the explication of sacred books or in jurisprudence, but applied in a generalized manner to decipher the laws of nature and to make understandable the sacred book of life. Commentary of texts which, let us say in passing, is now perfectly convenient in writing, with the revolutionary tools of Internet that can exhibit cultural content like a sort of gigantic protein, folded on itself by means of thousands of hypertext links creating multidimensional meaning.
Meaning, although essentially based on the realities of nature, is deciphered neither by biochemistry, nor by the theory of evolution, computer science or engineering. Meaning is only decoded by hermeneutics, the working method specific to the humanities Hermeneutics is based on the textual interpretable reality of thought of other human beings, our predecessors or contemporaries, or even ourselves, but cannot dwell indefinitely within the orbit of the objective. Its best moment is found in the concrete construction of the individual self, in the virtuality of a personal existence deeply felt. Humanism, whatever its persuasion, can only be realized fully within the dramatic subjectivity of each person, individual and concrete.