La tercera cultura

[ Mon. Apr. 16. 2007 ]

Alfonso Elizondo

In 1992, John Brockman defined the concept of the third culture in his essay entitled "The Emerging Third Culture": " The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

For John Brockman, the strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet. Scientific subjects now receive outstanding  treatment in the pages in newspapers and magazines. 

Molecular Biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, the neuronal theory of the chaos, networks, the inflationary universe, adaptive fractals, complex systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotecnology, human genome, the virtual reality, etc., are some of the new scientific subjects that they are transmitted to the present society under new metaphors created by the intellectuals of the third culture.

In the third culture a new philosophy of the nature is being born whose sustenance is in the understanding of the complexity of the evolution. According to Brockman, very complex systems, such as the organisms, brains, the biosphere or the own universe, were not constructed following a deterministic design, but all are evolutionary processes, whose interpretation through images and metaphors has been the function of the intellectuals of the third culture, and in this regard they attempt to express their deeper reflections in an accessible way for the intelligent reading public.

In spite of its critics, the third culture is alive and in the heat of development. Books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond, Brian Greene, Stephen Pinker, Martin Rees, etcetera, are indispensable not only for their information, but they are also great successes in the bookstore. Their subjects deal wth the main controversies of the western world in the last decades: abortion and euthanasia, demographic policies, the increase of differences between rich and poor countries, pacifism, migrations, racism and xenophobia, the causes of the ecological crisis and the implications of the technology that lead to a postulation of an ethics of the responsibility and the social control of the scientific policies.

The world-wide phenomenon of the third culture is not only the interruption by the natural scientists of the postmodern intellectual scene, but a movement towards a global intellectual vision caused by the intensive use of the images and  hypermedia in the communication between the human beings, which has allowed the scientific knowledge of second half of 20th century  to permeate all society, providing for the utlization of information for confronting the great universal challenges of 21st century.

However, in spite of the serious warnings of the natural scientists, the mainstream political leaders of the world have not managed to include or understand that present political action must be focused to the preservation of the habitat of human beings. Although the contribution of the scientific knowledge is falsifiable, ephemeral and almost always probabilistic, it is always helpful in making important decisions, indicating what it is not due to do. As Machiavelli wrote: "To know the ways that lead to hell is to avoid them".

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