The latter part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st have witnessed a surge of scientific discovery in the field of biology.
From this explosion of fresh knowledge has evolved an entirely new industrial sector, known as biotechnology; while innovative disciplines, areas of research and medical practices have together grown into the field of ‘life sciences’.
Victims or rulers of our biology?
What is the impact of this knowledge on individual human beings, society, and humanity’s perception of itself and its destiny? The consequences of new developments, such as the mapping of the human genome, cannot be restricted to the laboratory or the test tube. Such discoveries have a fundamental impact on the lives of citizens everywhere, even if they themselves have no say and no control over the resulting technology and how it is used.
For centuries, many have equated science with progress, and believed that the knowledge acquired through scientific inquiry is of a different, or higher, order to other forms of cultural, artistic or emotional understanding.
At the same time, scientists have insisted on the objective nature of their discoveries, giving access to a realm of ‘reality’ beyond the reach of value judgements and social ideologies.
But there are voices challenging these interpretations. Is it really possible for scientists to work outside their social and cultural environment? What are the dangers of biological discoveries being abused, and at what point should research be subject to democratic control?
A groundbreaking encounter
To find answers to some of these questions, the European Group on Life Sciences has organised a special encounter, bringing together experts from a wide range of disciplines: scientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, sociologists, politicians, journalists, writers and poets. Their task was to put modern biology in a broader context of historical, philosophical and emotional understanding, and assess how this new knowledge is affecting humanity’s vision of itself.
Videos of the encounter on Modern Biology and Visions of Humanity are now available.