November 20, 2001

Elisabet Sahtouris

California Institute of Integral Studies

1453 Mission Street

San Francisco, CA 94103

lifeweb@pacbell.net

Re: Biology Revisioned

Dear Dr. Sahtouris:

I agree with many of your conclusions Ė we need to attempt to achieve a better balance with nature, and stop destroying the web of life that makes our existence possible. But to blame "reductionistic science" for this problem is, I think, unjustified.

It is obvious that humans harmed nature long before science ever appeared. You try to minimize this, but it is well documented. Native peoples arenít that different from us. Most of the difference in our impacts can be traced to our possession of oil and machines, not to any large difference in our philosophy or behavior.

You dismiss "Neo-Darwinism" ("[It] contains the implicit assumption that all variations are relatively small, large changes being made up of an accumulation of small ones", p.71), but I think that you mischaracterize it. Evolution is caused by mutations. But mutations can cause small or large changes, depending on where they happen. A change to a gene that controls a fundamental chemical process may make an enormous difference, whereas a mutation in a gene that determines eye color will probably make only a small difference. Saying that evolutionary theory, as a cause of "miraculous" structures like the eye, is hard to believe, really proves nothing.

Like all religions, you exploit the gaps in our understanding, and fill them with claims that are not testable. I donít see what good this does. For example, you claim that "reductionistic science" can not explain consciousness and intentionality. You offer no evidence to support your claim. So why should we believe you? I think that not only is it not obvious, but it is actually false.

Consciousness is really very simple: it is the registering of an effect. For example, a scale registers the weight of an object. Thus, it is conscious of weight. If the scale could be designed so as to weigh itself, then it would be self-conscious in that one dimension. Human beings are simply conscious of more dimensions than just weight. A camera is conscious of light, and a camera aimed at a mirror is self-conscious in that dimension. What else could it be? In other words, consciousness is not something special, for which new laws of physics need to be posited!

To claim that there is something mystical going on, that science canít possibly explain, is an assumption, based on no evidence. For example, on page 161 you state "we do not see how consciousness could emerge from unconsciousness", implying that "reductionistic science" (actually, just certain scientists) must be wrong for denying consciousness to primitive life forms. I could just as easily say that you are wrong, for assuming that humans are conscious in a way that science canít explain.

The same goes for intentionality. There is nothing magical about a single-celled organism sensing the presence of food, and moving toward it. There is no reason to assume there are mystical forces at play. Even if science canít fully explain a given phenomenon today, that is no reason to assume that it can never do so.

You also confuse "mechanism" and "determinism" (on page 160 you quote Margulis and Sagan from What Is Life?: "Life is more impressive and less predictable than any thing whose nature can be accounted for solely by forces acting deterministically"). Quantum mechanics demonstrated that there are mechanisms that are totally obedient to the laws of physics that are not deterministic. The best that we can predict is a probability. Thus it is quite possible for living things to be "machines", without being predictable.

On page 116 you state "For Lovelock, Ďorganismí and Ďmechanismí are equally appropriate concepts, but in fact the two concepts contradict each other logically. Ö [A] mechanism is Ö programmed by its inventor". Here you again fall prey to the same fallacy: you assume that all mechanisms are deterministic. They are not! Those that operate on a microscopic scale are subject to quantum (probabilistic, "chaotic") physics.

On page 194 you state "there is no reason to suppose that reductionistic science can ever provide an adequate understanding of the whole". That is a pretty bold assertion to make without any evidence! You also donít define "adequate". I wonder what you would accept as an "adequate" understanding? And I donít understand why the fact that science may not be able to explain something today is an excuse to resort to mysticism.

The bottom line is that I donít see any reason why biology needs to be "revisioned". Many of your conclusions seem to follow from mistaken premises, as I explained above. I read your book with an open mind, but I didnít hear any cogent argument, or evidence, that would lead me to abandon current scientific principles (which demand hard evidence) in favor of nebulous, undefined terms like "consciousness" and "intentionality".

Sincerely yours,

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

References:

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Grumbine, R. Edward, Ghost Bears. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1992.

Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

Liddle, Michael, Recreation Ecology. Chapman & Hall: London, 1997.

Myers, Norman, ed., Gaia: An Atlas of Planet Management, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1984.

Noss, Reed F., "The Ecological Effects of Roads", in "Killing Roads", Earth First!

Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

Souleí, Michael E. and Gordon H. Orians, eds., Conservation Biology -- Research Priorities for the Next Decade. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2001.

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially "Wildlife and the Ecocity", "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation", "Telling the Truth about Chimpanzees", and "Where Man Himself Is a Visitor Who Does Not Remain"

Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

"The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

Wilson, Edward O., The Diversity of Life. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Wuerthner, George "Selfish Genes, Local Control, and Conservation", in Wild Earth, Winter 1999/2000, pp.87-91.