Free will, Science and Claude Bernard

Do we really have free will? Or are we determined to act in a specific way depending on specific and given circumstances, as the planets are determined to revolve in ellipses around the sun? What makes us different from a rock? To what extent are we a product of physico-chemical conditions? Is it just higher levels of complexity? How can we know? How can I tell? Could science answer these questions? What is science? What is a scientific law? According to Claude Bernard, science is mastering the knowledge of something so well that we are able to predict what is going to happen under certain situations or circumstances given that these circumstances are always the same. A scientific law gives us numerical relations of an effect to its cause, between two or more bodies.

“When we have the law of a phenomenon, we not only know absolutely the conditions determining its existence, but we also have the relations applying to all its variations, so that we can predict modifications of the phenomenon in any given circumstances… once the conditions of a phenomenon are known and fulfilled, the phenomenon must always and necessarily be reproduced at the will of the experimenter”

To read this quote from “An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine” after analyzing excerpts from “The Origin of The Species” made me wonder if it will ever be possible for us to achieve this sense of control and mastery of nature and the laws that govern it. I do not think that Darwin would have agreed with Bernard because, according to the former: our world, –and I would add to it-, our universe, is so complex and change occurs so slowly, that for us to be able to predict variations and what is going to occur for instance if we remove one species from the surface of the planet or trying to predict how we are going to evolve one million years from now becomes an impossible task. This is why I think Bernard’s views on science in this sense are very questionable, based on the limits of our very human sphere or cone of vision and on the complexity of the relationships between both organic and inorganic bodies in the whole universe. Bernard asserts that the scientific method closes the door to supernatural explanations believed by faith and leaves us with “fixed laws” that are based on a reliable criterion (if they are to be accepted). But, would we ever be able to fulfill Bernard’s outlooks on science? Can there be any exceptions to a scientific law? Claude Bernard claims that exceptions are unscientific, that an “exception” only means that we have not yet traced or determined every physico-chemical reaction acting upon a specific phenomenon. An exception in science means merely ignorance. But, can we trace every numerical relation between every cause and effect?

Bernard studies the field of biology which itself studies organic phenomena that is always doubly conditioned by its interior and by its outer environments. Since biology deals with living beings:  Should the laws of biology be different to the ones of the physico-chemical sciences? In what sense should they be equal? To what extent do they differ? Is determinism possible in the phenomena of life? Bernard claims that the main difference between physics and biology is that physics just ponders upon the external environment, while biology also needs to study the inner environment of very complex living beings. E.g. If I move my hand, a scientist should be able to trace this phenomena to its roots by finding the relations which produce it, the neurons firing from my brain and the nerves and chemicals pushing each other in a domino manner until they find my hand. This changes our focus from the big picture (me moving my hand) to the little things that take place in order to make me act in specific ways. If you also take into account my outer environment, where I am and what made me react in that certain way and if you find out all the stimuli that played a role in my action, then, according to Bernard you should be able to predict that if the conditions were to be exactly the same at any other moment, I would react in the exact same way.

Now it is my last turn to question what struck me the most about Bernard’s “An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine”: determinism in the phenomena of life. Are we determined by the lower levels of our body? Do we really act in the same way under identical conditions (internal and external)? Are we as humans capable of explaining everything under the same terms in which we explain Newton’s three laws of motion? Bernard’s argument seems to me very logical; at least it is valid, although I am not sure if it is sound. There is something within me that does not let me believe that this absoluteness is applicable to human beings. In my everyday experience I truly feel like I am making decisions and that I am the only one in charge and in control, and therefore I am the only one responsible for my actions. Bernard mentions that science replaces feelings with reasoning and, as Newton points out in his rules for philosophizing in the Principia, we should only consider the necessary conditions for the appearance of a phenomenon. Last year I read “Gödel, Escher, Bach” and writing this essay reminded me of the epiphenomena: From the given rules and lower levels acting without our control in our body, something else beyond and inexplicable by all these conditions emerges. Free will is a vital aspect of life. I would even say that Bernard feels uneasy about this idea because he literally expresses that “manifestations of life cannot be fully elucidated by physico-chemical phenomena known in inorganic nature.” So maybe, epiphenomena is the answer to our question of determinism in living beings, and the source of our decision making. If it is, our knowledge should not only be based on the material conditions that act within a phenomenon. Science could still study epiphenomena by looking at the lower levels within our bodies that permit for marvelous, creative and new actions to take place.


How does Newton establish the Law of Universal Gravitation?

Newton is building up his argument on the Law of Universal Gravitation throughout his book titled Principia. This book is divided in three parts or three books. The first bricks that he gives us are his definitions (Quantity of Matter Defined) laws of motion and lemmas. Afterwards he writes his propositions and rules for philosophizing (Books II and III). I would say that everything that Newton writes is of utter importance to his law of gravity and therefore to the way in which humanity perceives the world. Even after reading the scholium which follows his eight definitions, one can notice that Newton is redefining ordinary concepts and everyday ways of seeing and thinking about our world and the universe.

One of the most important Definitions concerning the question on the table is Definition number five: “Centripetal force is that by which bodies are pulled, pushed, or in any way tend towards some point from all sides, as to a center.” Later on, in the Scholium After the 5th proposition of Book III, he states that centripetal force or the force by which celestial bodies are kept in their orbits is called gravity. I mention this now just to give a sneak peak of the connections that come out through the entire book. Newton’s argument is built little by little and by constructing one thing on top of another.

My favorite proposition is the first one from the First Book called “The Finding of Centripetal Forces” This proposition states that: “The areas which bodies driven in orbits describe by radii drawn to an immobile center of forces, are contained in immobile planets and are proportional to the times.” In this proposition Newton applies Lemma 3, Corollary 4 because the force impressed is being impressed upon the object all the time, which is what creates a curve. The force is always being impressed; it is constantly impressed upon other forces. Newton establishes that if in real life we see things falling in curves or parabolas, it means that a force is being impressed upon them. In Corollary 6 of the same proposition he says that the same proposition applies when the centers of the forces are not at rest but also moving in a straight line. This means that inside our huge universe, there could be things moving and affecting one another all of the time. To what are these forces proportional in real life?

It is not until Book III that Newton mentions calculation on the planetary theory and his explanation for the cause of these phenomena, a.k.a gravity. One of my favorite phenomena is number 3: “The five primary planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, enclose the sun in their orbits.” Based on our observations of Venus and Mercury’s lunar phases, Newton proves that they revolve around the sun and based on how the planets look from Earth he also proves that Jupiter, Saturn and Mars also revolve around the sun. Besides, the moons and the shadows they cast upon the planets let us know that these planets have no original light but light borrowed from the sun. Phenomena 3 goes really well with Proposition 2 of Book III: the forces of these planets are always drawn back from rectilinear motions, that’s why they move in ellipses periodically and they look towards the sun, these forces are inversely as the squares of the distances from the center of the planets. The same is said in the 3rd proposition of the same book but instead of the sun and the planets it is the earth and the moon that Newton talks about. Proposition 4 is very powerful because it demonstrates that the moon works just in the same way as a big rock on Earth. It means that the same rules that apply in space are applicable on Earth; the same laws that govern the movement of the moon govern a rock or any other thing on Earth. After referring to this, Newton mentions that his third law of motion is applicable to everything in our universe. That means that the planets gravitate towards each of their moons and their moons towards them, that planets gravitate or impress forces on one another and on the sun, and the sun on the planets, etc. It is a big mutuality of constant and eternal impression of forces. In the corollaries of proposition 5, Newton states that: “gravity is inversely as the square of the distances of places from its center.” This is why centripetal force is the same as gravity; the distances are measured from the center of one planet or objet to other planets or objects. In proposition 6 Newton adds to proposition 5 that the weights at equal distances from the center of the object to a planet are proportional to the quantity of matter in each. Corollary 1 of Proposition 8 gives a great example of the Law of Gravity: bodies gravitate or are attracted towards each other proportionately to the mass of each body and inversely as the square of the distances between the bodies. In this Corollary Newton figures out how much would an object weight in the surface of different plants only by knowing the mass of them and by the previous observations and calculations made before him. Sure he was standing on the shoulders of giants!

Before presenting us with his rules for philosophizing, Newton claims that one argues philosophical matter with math. It was not until I read this rules that I started to question under what assumption is Newton’s argument resting. What if other things besides the ones sufficient to explain the cause of a phenomenon are also part of the equation? Should we take them into account? Though on this, which deals with his first rule I do agree with him. My questions go more into the second and third laws because what we see happening one or more times does not necessarily mean that it will continue to happen forever and ever. This is the problem of induction. Some other assumptions that Isaac Newton and I (while writing this essay) make are: taking for granted that we are sane and believing that we are capable of finding the truth because it is simple enough for us to understand. How do we know if something is the truth? It is very platonic of me to believe this, but I think that our reasoning allows us to figure out what is true or truer. We consider true what appeals to our sense of logic, beauty and goodness. Can the law of universal gravitation be considered true? I say yes, because it appeals to all of my senses, it matches what I see happening in the real world and the observations made by astronomers with a simple law that is very logical, simple and that serves as an explanation to the motion for everything we see, both on this planet as well as in the entire Universe.

¿Qué es Arte?

El arte es mucho más complejo y hermoso de lo que a primera vista puede parecer. Arte es algo más allá de lo que vemos, está en la mente. Primero está dentro del artista, en su consciencia, que finalmente consigue sacar y compartir con el mundo sus ideas pasando sus pensamientos a sus manos, boca, dedos o cualquier parte del cuerpo que utilice para exteriorizar sus ideas. La mente está moldeada por el contexto social de la época con la historia, economía, ciencia, filosofía y cultura por lo que el arte es una expresión y combinación de todas estas ideas y valores. Además está el espectador que a través de sus sentidos y mente entiende, disfruta, cuestiona, sonríe, siente empatía o descontento cuando procesa lo que el artista ha creado. El arte, no está alienado de los sentidos ya que se percibe por ellos y se obtiene finalmente una reacción dentro de ellos mismos. El arte es algo complejo, es orden y desorden a la vez.

Hablemos primero del artista. Aunque hay corrientes marcadas compuestas por individuos, nunca debemos olvidar, como dice Mises que solo el individuo puede decidir y actuar. El colectivo y los nombres que se le dan al conjunto solamente se utilizan para referirnos con facilidad a distintas épocas y para tratar de clasificar lo que vemos. La mente del individuo está inspirada en muchas entes, incluyendo los grupos de los que ha formado parte desde niño, todo su contexto intelectual, cultural, filosofal, personalidad, gustos, etc. favorece de alguna manera u otra a su proceso de creación y es por esto que nuestras mentes son distintas, aquí es donde está el nicho de la creatividad, en la variedad y complejidad.  Sin embargo, muchas veces nos hacemos preguntas sobre la originalidad de ciertas formas artísticas. Nos preguntamos cómo Mark Twain se preguntó alguna vez: ¿Habrán ideas originales? ¿Habrá obras de arte originales? Estoy con Mises en la respuesta a esta pregunta: la naturaleza es algo dado para nosotros, las formas y la geometría que allí vemos es algo dado; lo que decidamos hacer con eso, como lo reorganizamos, lo trasformamos, lo unimos o separamos es una creación original del hombre. Para mí esto es arte. Entre las cosas dadas a la humanidad a parte de la naturaleza está nuestra lógica y raciocinio. Todo individuo tiene una mente que probablemente fue evolucionando poco a poco gracias a que era beneficiosa para el Homo Sapiens en su lucha por sobrevivir.  Nuestras mentes son entonces un instrumento, nuestras manos, pies, ojos, etc. también lo son y nos ayudan a interiorizar y exteriorizar ideas y conceptos.

Josep María Montaner habla de las formas en el arte, que es para él la esencia de las cosas. Montaner escribe en “Las Formas en el Siglo XX”  que un mecanismo es algo distinto de la forma, e.g. un mecanismo creativo es el proceso de creación del individuo, lo que está en la mente del artista, sus capacidades, etc. Mientras que el mundo formal es la obra misma. Me parece maravilloso que podamos reflejar lo que percibimos y pensamos por medio de un mecanismo creativo y crear algo que también tiene vida por sí mismo en los mundos formales. Esto es trascender de nuestros cuerpos, exteriorizar lo que sea que esté dentro de nuestros cerebros y compartirlo para siempre con el mundo entero. Podemos hacer tantas cosas, podemos crear y trasformar tantas formas. Desde la mímesis o mímica e imitación de lo que vemos hasta la abstracción y representación de la forma en su estado más puro de todo lo que nos rodea. Desde pensamientos hasta emociones, desde ideas brillantes hasta teorías de genios: expresar todas estas cosas, crear, es un arte. De acuerdo con Montaner no es tanto sobre la técnica, la función social o el lugar o época en la que el arte fue hecho. Va más allá de eso, va hacia la forma, la esencia, el contenido de las obras de arte. Detrás de cada corriente artística hay influencias y concepciones concretas del tiempo y del individuo o sujeto, de lo que está bien, de lo que está mal, de lo que nos gusta y de lo que cambiaríamos si pudiéramos. A pesar de todo esto, no debemos creer que es el esfuerzo lo que hace al arte, el esfuerzo es parte de, pero no es lo que hace que una obra sea más valiosa que otra. Lo que agrega valor es siempre la mente, desde el artista hasta el espectador que es él que ultimadamente valora las obras de arte. Al espectador probablemente le influencie lo que esta pieza trasmite, lo que significa para su época y para él mismo.

Encuentro un paralelo entre la República de la Ciencia de Michael Polanyi, la comunidad de científicos es en verdad una comunidad de artistas. Las personas dentro de ella se organizan y se juntan por su propia voluntad, siguiendo lo que les apasiona y lo que más les gusta hacer. Nadie podría organizar tal fenomenología por ser tan amplia y compleja. En el arte tenemos también innovación y de cierta manera regulación del espectador, lo que siente y lo que quiere ver en ciertas épocas. Algunos artistas se han atrevido a desafiar las reglas del momento y su arte ha sido recibida con gran asombro en su época o en épocas por venir. El arte no es algo estático, evoluciona de la misma manera en que nuestras mentes y cuerpos cambian. El arte suele ser representativo de la era, al ver el arte creado después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, uno nota como la gente está dolida, asustada, preocupada por la humanidad en general y años después viene la cultura pop y claramente se nota una diferencia en el espíritu y emociones de la gente, relajación y tranquilidad. El cambio se explica con el individuo que marca la tendencia y a diario define de distintas formas la belleza y el arte.

Entonces, ¿cómo apreciamos el arte?  E.H. Gombrich en “Historia del Arte” está dándonos consejos del tipo Sócrates, de acercarnos a las obras de arte y verlas como a unos extraños. Sin prejuicios, olvidando por un momento nuestros viejos hábitos y conocimientos que podamos tener sobre la obra, el artista y los estilos para realmente apreciar lo que tenemos frente a nuestros ojos. El artista hizo todo para que su obra estuviera perfecta para él, lo único que nos queda a nosotros es deleitarnos ante ellas. Ahora, creo que Joseph Montaner y E.H. Gombrich no están de acuerdo en algo: Para Montaner si existe la obra como tal a pesar de que fue creada por el individuo, él hace una distinción entre mecanismos creativos y los mundos formales. Gombrich dice que solo está el artista y no el arte como tal. Obviamente sin artista no habría arte, sin individuo y sin humano no existiría el arte. Sin embargo yo estoy con Montaner en esto. Creo que también existe la obra como tal, el mundo formal. Lo bonito de esto es que todo lo que creamos va a perdurar, va a trascender nuestras mentes y va a estar siempre aunque el artista muera. Son tantos los años de historia del arte, desde cientos de años antes de Cristo, cuando se empezó a pintar en las cuevas, a tallar cuchillos y piedras. El mecanismo creativo quedó atrás, no lo conocemos, lo único que tenemos hoy y lo único que podemos conocer, observar y estudiar es ese especial mundo formal. A través de la obra misma, podemos conocer mejor las mentes de nuestros antepasados, ¡así de poderoso es el arte!

Arte en pocas palabras es conseguir que lo que imagino en mi mente llegue a mi mano y así transcienda de mí interior.  Arte es entonces riqueza, porque es un intercambio de ideas que nunca se asfixian ni se acaban. Arte es un diálogo en el que todos podemos aprender de lo que otras personas hacen, en el que nos expresamos y somos escuchados. Para que el artista sea exitoso tiene que poder transmitirles a las demás personas como él o ella piensa y se siente. Para ser Artista tenemos que preparar nuestro cuerpo y mente con trabajo y estudio, porque ultimadamente lo que hacemos es lo que pensamos, vemos, conocemos y sabemos. El descubrimiento y la creación favorecen a las mentes preparadas, dice Henri Poincaré.