Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Erwin Chargaff

Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 132

Note 1: I take notes of books I read and comment on events and edit sentences that fit my style. The page is long and growing like crazy, and the sections I post contains months-old events that are worth refreshing your memory.

Victor Hugo wrote “war on rhetoric” in 1858. Three decades later, rhetoric was scraped from the curriculum in the public schools in France till mid 20th century. Plato had condemned the oratory techniques of the Sophist philosophers: they were the main teachers of the elite class destined to politics and city administration.

If late Abdullah Saleh of Yemen had agreed to rule in South Yemen (Aden) he would still be alive and the war would have ended with a unified Yemen.

Do you believe Trump will actually move US embassy to Jerusalem? What for? Tel Aviv is Not more convenient among all the other world embassies and far more secure?

As of 2013, Israel had been condemned in 45 resolutions by United Nations Human Rights Council since its creation in 2006—the Council had resolved on almost more resolutions condemning Israel than on the rest of the world combined. Not a single resolution in favor of the Palestinians has been applied.

Uri Avnery: The simple fact is that for 11 months before the preemptive war on Lebanon in 1982, not a single katyusha shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Erwin Chargaff: In the essential of progress we might still be as developed as the Neanderthal. We do not need to have more superior musicians or philosophers in order to claim progress. The history of the world is a catalog of violent acts and accidents, and beauty has no place in that history. Nobody can teach us in the domain of literature and human sciences and we are on our own to conquer these fields.

If you say governments are meant to think for your best interest, then your lazy mind has given up on thinking

Threatening with an empty pistol? An Israeli commentator on the reactions of the Palestinians and “Arab” people on the eventual proclamation of Trump on Jerusalem as Capital of Israel. As if the readiness of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the reconquest of Syria and Iraq in this world war to divide their territories were done with empty pistol.

Religious institutions mastered the fact that people need stories (myths) to be attached to abstract concepts for viability and credibility

Believe whatever you want in religious abstract concepts, just don’t step out your zeal to include civil responsibility and people dignity for survival and life.

Es-ce un avantage qu’avec l’age on prend la vie comme elle vient? Et lui dire merci aussi? C’est dommage que meme avec l’age on n’apprend pas grand chose qui vaille: on le subit.

Il y a des personnes qui revent qu’ils se composent leurs numeros de telephone pour entendre le dring dring pour se reveiller. Moi, je reve de toilettes sales, debordantes et nauseabondes.

Plusieurs d’autres vies existent en nous: n’allez pas chercher ailleurs.

Hannah Arendt on Science, the Value of Space Exploration,

and How Our Cosmic Aspirations Illuminate the Human Condition

A case against human solipsism

 A clarion call for non-egocentric curiosity about the nature of reality.

Hannah Arendt on Science, the Value of Space Exploration, and How Our Cosmic Aspirations Illuminate the Human Condition

“Who indeed will set bounds to human ingenuity?” Galileo asked in his magnificent letter to the Grand Duchess of of Tuscany as he dethroned the human animal from the center of the universe. “Who will assert that everything in the universe capable of being perceived is already discovered and known?”

Half a millennium later, as we continue to make revolutionary discoveries that invite us to revise our understanding of the cosmos and reassess our place in it — discoveries like the detection of gravitational waves, perhaps the greatest breakthrough in astronomy since Galileo pointed his telescope at the heavens — we continue to struggle with the same discomfiting questions: How are we to live with any sense of importance and meaning if the more we find out about the universe, the less significant we seem to be and the more meaningless it becomes? What, then, is the human and humane value of knowing more at all?

That’s what Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975) addresses with great subtlety and uncompromising intellectual rigor in a 1963 essay titled “The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man,” later included in her altogether spectacular and timely book Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (public library).

The essay’s title was inspired by a question posed by the editors of the magazine Great Ideas Today for a special feature focusing on “what the exploration of space is doing to man’s view of himself and to man’s condition” —

the question of whether humanity’s so-called conquest of space has increased or diminished the existential stature of human beings.

Hannah Arendt

Five years after she weighed the difference between how art and science illuminate the human condition, Arendt writes:

To understand physical reality seems to demand not only the renunciation of an anthropocentric or geocentric world view, but also a radical elimination of all anthropomorphic elements and principles, as they arise either from the world given to the five human senses or from the categories inherent in the human mind.

The question assumes that man is the highest being we know of, an assumption which we have inherited from the Romans, whose humanitas was so alien to the Greeks’ frame of mind that they had not even a word for it. (The reason for the absence of the word humanitas from Greek language and thought was that the Greeks, in contrast to the Romans, never thought that man is the highest being there is. Aristotle calls this belief atopos, “absurd.”)

This view of man is even more alien to the scientist, to whom man is no more than a special case of organic life and to whom man’s habitat — the earth, together with earthbound laws — is no more than a special borderline case of absolute, universal laws, that is, laws that rule the immensity of the universe.

Surely the scientist cannot permit himself to ask: What consequences will the result of my investigations have for the stature (or, for that matter, for the future) of man? It has been the glory of modern science that it has been able to emancipate itself completely from all such anthropocentric, that is, truly humanistic, concerns.


For the scientist, man is no more than an observer of the universe in its manifold manifestations. The progress of modern science has demonstrated very forcefully to what an extent this observed universe, the infinitely small no less than the infinitely large, escapes not only the coarseness of human sense perception but even the enormously ingenious instruments that have been built for its refinement.

Although science is, as astrophysicist Janna Levin has memorably noted, “a truly human endeavor,” Arendt argues that the task of the scientist is to stand outside and beyond human solipsism; that setting out to answer such questions as what man’s stature should be, how we differ from other other animals, and why we pursue knowledge at all would shackle science to constraining concerns, to a sort of smallness of curiosity. She reflects on the paradox of such questions:

All answers … whether they come from laymen or philosophers or scientists, are non-scientific (although not anti-scientific); they can never be demonstrably true or false. Their truth resembles rather the validity of agreements than the compelling validity of scientific statements.

Even when the answers are given by philosophers whose way of life is solitude, they are arrived at by an exchange of opinions among many men, most of whom may no longer be among the living. Such truth can never command general agreement, but it frequently outlasts the compellingly and demonstrably true statements of the sciences which, especially in recent times, have the uncomfortable inclination never to stay put, although at any given moment they are, and must be, valid for all.

In other words, notions such as life, or man, or science, or knowledge are pre-scientific by definition, and the question is whether or not the actual development of science which has led to the conquest of terrestrial space and to the invasion of the space of the universe has changed these notions to such an extent that they no longer make sense.

So if science ought to be concerned with questions far beyond the human scale, free of human ego, then the very notion of the “conquest” of space and man’s “stature” implies a sort of hunger for power antithetical to the real enterprise of science.

Fifteen years before the pioneering scientist Erwin Chargaff made his beautiful case for the poetics of curiosity, she considers the true animating force of scientists — amplified access to what Einstein famously called the human “passion for comprehension.” Arendt writes:

It is, I think, safe to say that nothing was more alien to the minds of the scientists, who brought about the most radical and most rapid revolutionary process the world has ever seen, than any will to power. Nothing was more remote than any wish to “conquer space” and to go to the moon…

It was indeed their search for “true reality” that led them to lose confidence in appearances, in the phenomena as they reveal themselves of their own accord to human sense and reason. They were inspired by an extraordinary love of harmony and lawfulness which taught them that they would have to step outside any merely given sequence or series of occurrences if they wanted to discover the overall beauty and order of the whole, that is, the universe.


It is, in fact, quite obvious that the scientists’ strongest intellectual motivation was Einstein’s “striving after generalization,” and that if they appealed to power at all, it was the interconnected formidable power of abstraction and imagination.

She turns to the particular case of space exploration and its immense humanizing value in enlarging not only our knowledge but our humility:

The magnitude of the space enterprise seems to me beyond dispute, and all objections raised against it on the purely utilitarian level — that it is too expensive, that the money were better spent on education and the improvement of the citizens, on the fight against poverty and disease, or whatever other worthy purposes may come to mind — sound to me slightly absurd, out of tune with the things that are at stake and whose consequences today appear still quite unpredictable.

There is, moreover, another reason why I think these arguments are beside the point. They are singularly inapplicable because the enterprise itself could come about only through an amazing development of man’s scientific capabilities. The very integrity of science demands that not only utilitarian considerations but the reflection upon the stature of man as well be left in abeyance.

Has not each of the advances of science, since the time of Copernicus, almost automatically resulted in a decrease in his stature? And is the often repeated argument that it was man who achieved his own debasement in his search for truth, thus proving anew his superiority and even increasing his stature, more than a sophism? Perhaps it will turn out that way.

At any event, man, insofar as he is a scientist, does not care about his own stature in the universe or about his position on the evolutionary ladder of animal life; this “carelessness” is his pride and his glory.

Complement this particular portion of Arendt’s altogether indispensable Between Past and Future with physicist Sean Carroll on how “poetic naturalism” helps us wrest meaning from an impartial universe, then revisit Arendt on the crucial difference between truth and meaning, the power of being an outsider, how tyrants use isolation as a weapon of oppression, and our only effective antidote to the normalization of evil.

“Le livre des saviors” edited by Constantin von Barloewen, (December 22, 2007)

This manuscript is a series of interviews of thinkers that Barloewen considers as representative of this century such as, the Syrian poet Adonis, the Egyptian diplomat Butros Butros Ghali, the biochemist Erwin Chargaff, the French politician Regis Debray, the Latin American writer Carlos Fuentes, Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Jay Gould, Samuel Hutington, Philip Johnson, Leszek Kolakowski, Julia Kristeva, Federico Mayor, Yehudi Menuhin, Czeslaw Milosz, Oscar Niemeyer, The Israeli writer Amoz Oz, Raimon Panikkar, Cardinal Paul Poupard, Ilya Prigogine, Arthur Schlesinger, Michel Serres, Wole Soyinka, Edward Teller, Tu Wei-Ming, Paul Virilio,, and Elie Wiesel.

Adonis said: “I was born in the Koran”.  Adonis is the pseudonym of the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber; he published his first poems at the age of 17.  Adonis collection “The chants of Mihyar of Damascus” started his career in 1961.  He founded the magazine Poems “Chi3r” with Yousef Al Khal and then “Mawakif” and translated many French poetry manuscripts.  He published “The time of cities”, “Memory of the wind”, “Prayer and sword”, and “Grave for New York”.

Adonis says that there are two texts for the Koran; the first text is the compilation of the revelations proper of the Prophet Mohammad, and the second text is a compilation of what the prophet said or alluded to and the interpretations of the ulamas called” Hadith”.  The jurists, the philosophers, the politicians and Caliphates favored the second text “Hadith”, which has eclipsed the main text in matter of daily rules and obligations.  The reliance on Hadith mainly transformed Islam into an ideology. The present problem is related to this dualism of the two texts.

Religious fundamentalism is a form of anti-modernity but we need to define and differentiate the meaning of modernity among regions.  Fundamentalism is anti-liberty, anti-change and anti-openness to other cultures but Moslem fundamentalism was encouraged by the Western Nations to counter communism. The Moslem mystics interpret the notions of hell and paradise symbolically.  Islam had been a culture opened to other religions and adopted the mixing among various cultures and Israel has to realize that it existence is linked to her intermingling with the culture of the neighbors.

Many believe that identity is pre-set and that the citizens have to find their identity at the source but identity is related to the future and is formed by perpetual openness to other cultures. My tradition is not just Arab but go al the way to over five thousand years before the Arab conquests.

The late Erwin Chargaff said: “No scientist knows what is life”.  Chargaff  is a renowned biochemist who contributed in the understanding of the DNA and taught at Columbia University for 40 years.  He considers the USA as a big waste disposal State with no culture: the melting pot or the lowest common denominator among the various ethic groups revolves around money.   It would take a miracle for the USA to acquire a homogeneous culture.

There is a mechanism in place that paralyses spiritual thoughts and sensibility: any form of pure poetry is viewed as grotesque in the US culture. The lyrical thinking of the 18th century was replaced by natural sciences; thus, instead of explaining what is life, the scientist analyze the components of life and try to colonize nature.  Chargaff states that what we comprehend is far remote from what we can do with science: the irreversible genetically altered genes in human and vegetables are very dangerous, scary and criminal.

The scientist of previous centuries used to dabble in the spiritual but the little scientists of this century have no idea of the general context and are very indifferent. Chargaff claims that science is interesting but should not be given too much importance: there should be no time limit imposed on any scientific discovery and thus, the less scientific institutions receive in grants the better for science and societies.

In the essential of progress we might still be as developed as the Neanderthal. We do not need to have more superior musicians or philosophers in order to claim progress. The history of the world is a catalogue of violent acts and accidents, and beauty has no place in that history. Nobody can teach us in the domain of literature and human sciences and we are on our own to conquer these fields.

Chargaff has religious sensibilities but he has no religion; he said that everyone should build his own chapel in order to defend his internal forces against the ambient impiety. It is dangerous that the sacred is vanishing from our culture and traditions.

Regis Debray said: “The Futurists are always wrong”.  Debray is a French writer, philosopher, and political activist.  He was President Francois Mitterrand’s third world foreign affairs. He was a war correspondent in Venezuella and Bolivia and served three years prison term in Bolivia in the 60’s. He published articles in “Les temps modernes” of Sartre and is the founder of the “mediology” and is more oriented toward the effects of religions in the secular domain.

He says that religion is linked to the idea of institutions and personified divinities but the religious has no need of a God or of confession; communism, fascism and Nazism were religious secular atheist ideologies.  Debray has coined this maxim “The less the secular authorities are spiritual the more the spiritual power is secular” and he gives as an example of the extensive secular meddling of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The source of cohesiveness in any community is founded on the sacred or faith in a final objective that guarantee its continuation; the sacred cannot be manipulated because it is not controlled by man.  A community has to open up to transcendental values such as lost paradise, myths, or even a Constitution in order to keep its internal unity and has to set boundaries too.  Thus, what attaches a group together is a certain faith, unlike individuals who may know but not necessarily have faith.  The group or community may be specialized organizations that set up rules and regulations and programs as sacred rituals.

The marketing tendencies of setting political programs in the Western States, which are supposed to satisfy peoples’ wants and wishes, do not enhance the political will or rationality, but purely the cult of emotion; and thus, the social and humanitarian aspects are replacing diplomacy at the expense of the ideal.  Communication used by the media propagate information in the dimension of space, while transmission of knowledge and traditions propagate information along the time dimension; and thus, the transmission vehicles, which characterize human development, such as family, school, university, and organization for educating and preserving the heritage of our ancestors are losing ground.

Carlos Fuentes talked about “the Creole or mixed offspring or the Latin American drama and the future myths”. Fuentes was born in Panama and is a Mexican writer, academic, politician and diplomat; he served a term at the UN in the section of international work and founded several literary magazines with Octavio Paz. His publications are “Days of carnival”, “The most limpid region”, “The death of Artemio Cruz”, “The songs of the blinds”, “New skin”, “Terra nostra”, “The old gringo”, and “The century of the eagle”.

Fuentes thinks that the 21st century will be marked by mass immigration from the South and East to Europe and the USA and poor Latin America will have no choice but to invade the USA, unless mass investment are allocated to that impoverished continent.  He is saddened that the Greek tragic dramas have been replaced by Hollywood melodramas, where one party is right and the other is the bad:  tragical dramas are not necessarily unhappy and pathetic stories because the two protagonists are both right in their positions depending on your philosophy and focus in values.

He described Don Quixote as the book of uncertainty; the name, locations and even the author are not clearly defined.  The locus of novels should be the media of the doubt, of re-questioning the dogmas and the uncertainties in the world.

During the revolutions for independence from Spain in 1820, the Latin American States decided that they had enough of Spanish culture but they had to seek education and culture from Europe and France because the indigent Indian and black minorities could not be of any substitute.  At that year, the USA issued the “Monroe doctrine” which stated that the USA reserve the right to intervene in Latin America and consequently, the population get their distance from acquiring knowledge and culture from this Calvinist and utilitarian State.

The Cuban Alejo Carpenter explained the Negro traditions, the Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias explained the Indian traditions, and the Argentinean Borges explained the Islamic and Jewish traditions; thus, the identity of Latin American took form in the 20th century.




September 2020

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