March 19, 2010

What is the Study of Life?

By Kim, Yong-Bock
Advanced Institute for the Study of Life

The Study of the life is a learning for all living beings to live together. It is a search for wisdom to sustain and fulfill the life of all living beings on earth. It is an integral study. It is not merely a specialized study to grasp a fragmentary part of life. It is not merely a biological study. It is an integral study of all living beings and of all dimensions of their life. It should not be misunderstood as a bio-technological study such as genetics. We are committed to see that the study of life is to sustain and fulfill the life of all living beings. Academically and philosophically the integral study of the whole life of all living beings is the ultimate aim.

Reductionist Fallacy

The chief fallacy of the modern science is the reductionism. The epistemological subject is reduced to the Cartesian Cogito or the Kantian transcendental subject. The epistemological object is reduced to a construction of a priori judgement on the phenomena. Human knowledge is based upon this abstract construction. In order to attain the certainty the indivisible fragment or unit is pursued to be the scientific object. The life of living beings is a complex whole, which cannot be reduced  to the indivisible fragment or a combination set of such fragments.

We concerned that the study of life is reductionist and fragmentary. Modern sciences study the life by reducing the life to an genetic bits; and the study fragments into bits. This approach is to objectify the life into an scientific object for control. We are concerned that the study of life is reduced to the study carried out by the human, making all living beings objects and making them instruments for the human life. This process has been driven by the modern science and technology, which  has in turn been driven by the Western industrialization process. This process is now called globalisation.

Victimology Of Life

The Study of Life begins with the victimology of the life of living beings rather than with the origin of the life. We are concerned that under the process of globalisation the human civilization has reached to a point where all living beings are under serious threat of destruction and death.  The victims of globalisation are many. Their victimization is unprecedented. The living beings, human and otherwise, are under grave threats today. The life of all living beings on earth are suffering actual and potential death and destruction in a qualitatively as well as quantitatively different way from the past history.

Our concern for life is not merely coming from ecological issues or bio-ethical issues, although these issues are more immediate questions in our global society. Our concern is the fact that so many living beings are being killed and destroyed in all different ways; and they are under threats of total annihilation by humans. The causes of the death and destruction is multiple and interconnected. The study of life has to deal with the victimology of life.

Deaths and destruction of living beings are a part of the history of the earth as well as human community. The natural cycle of life includes the “natural deaths” of living beings. Traditional causes of death and destruction of the life of living beings are familiar to human kind, and the human civilizations have been seeking to overcome such causes. One can think of natural disasters that have threatened the life of many living beings. Flood and earthquakes are some of them. Pandemic diseases have threatened the life as well. Traditional causes may be enlisted such as the natural disasters. But today the disasters are human made. Global warming due to modern industrialization, for example, may being about disasters of flood, droughts and earthquakes, which were normally regarded as natural.

Although some argue that these so?called natural disasters are not purely natural, but human factors are involved in them. There can be debate on this issue of whether the natural disasters are natural or human. But they have threatened and destroyed the life of many living beings. What we are concerned here is arbitrary human threats and destruction of the life of living beings. Historically the poverty and hunger has been one of the chief causes that caused deaths and destruction of the life of living beings. This is a socio?economic cause of death. This is closely related to the deaths and destruction of life by diseases, ordinary and epidemic.

The Study of Life is to overcome the powers of death and destruction that destroy the life. It begins with the investigation of the reality of the death and destruction and its causes. It assumes that the life as subject lives, overcoming the forces of death and destruction.

The Origin of Life: Creation Saga(story)

The question of the origin of life may be explained in the mythological stories. It is worth the while to pursue the mysterious beginning of the life. However, in so far as it does deal with the powers that destroy the life, it can be an integral part of the study of life. Religions and creation myths have abundant traditions to explicate the origin of the life and the universe. The Christian story of the Creation is one the classical examples.

The Origin of Life: Biological Explication

Modern biological science seeks to uncover the origin and function of the life. There has been advanced a several theories and hypotheses on the origin of life. The self-reproduction of RNA is regarded as the origin of life in the recent biology. Emergence of the catalytic RNA is regarded as the early crucial step for the origin of life. This may have occurred on earth in several billion years ago. Many biological experiments have been carried out for the last two centuries to determine this hypothesis since the evolutionary theory of life by Charles Darwin.  

There may no definite biological answer to the question of the origin of the life on earth. However, it has implications for the life on earth, for it seeks to control the life, by acquiring the objective knowledge on life. In so far as it seeks to overcome the powers of death and destruction of life, it can be a dimension of the study of life.

Meaning of Life

There are many religious, cultural and philosophical pursuits in search for the meaning of life. When such philosophical pursuit helps the life to live fully and abundantly, it could be an integral part of the study of life. The question of the meaning and value of the life has been concentrated on human life. The meaning of life may be sought for the sanctity and fulfillment of all living beings as well as for the human beings. This may be one of the chief tasks of the integral study of life. The meaning of life can not only pursued among religions, cultures and philosophies, but also among many academic sciences.

Whole and Integral Life

Mythological interest in the origin of life, scientific interest in the origin and objective knowledge on life, and philosophical pursuit of the meaning of life may all be integral parts of the study of life. However, in the light of the present reality of life which is being destroyed, by human civilization, these pursuits into the understanding of the life must be re?examined to promote a way to overcome the powers of destruction of life and the forces of death.

To overcome the modernist specialization, compartmentalisation, and reductionism in the study of Life as well as to overcome the totalistic for dominance by the modern civilization the Study of Life should an Integral one through the new approach of multi-disciplinary integration.

There are several dimensions in the integral study of life. The study should take seriously religious cultural traditions of the holistic view of life. Most of religious and cultural traditions have such a view. The modern sciences have dismissed such an integral view of life as pre-modern. This is due to epistemological reductionism, which the knowledge is only universally valid when based on human reason. In this context Asian religions and philosophy have a great relevance. The interface or integration or convergence between the Asian religious and cultural traditions and the modern Western scientific thinking is necessary to overcome the crude reductionism of the modern sciences.

The integration between the individual life and the collective life has been one of the fundamental tasks, although this question has been  a perennial issue of the modern sociology and social philosophy. There are different levels: Human, animal and plant...levels demand various forms of integration between the individual unit and the collective whole.

Another dimension of the integration of the life is between the cultural and the social life. This issue is relevant not only on the level of human beings, but also on the level of natural beings, for communication is an integral part of all living beings. Animals, insects and plants communicate among themselves as well as across species. This is to do with the symbols and codes in the life system on the individual and collective levels as well as on the ecological and comic levels.

In the modern civilization one of the key problematics has been the objectification of the life. The human subject has splitted the subject and the object, the human and natural. All living beings, human and otherwise, constitute the subject, individual and collective, and they form a community of living beings. The living together among all living beings on the cosmic, the earthly and the micro-cosmic levels demands a discovery of SangSaeng (Mutual Life) principle.

World civilizations have had many different histories of wisdom and knowledge for life. However, the Western modern science and philosophy have dominated past two centuries. One of the characteristics of the modern civilization has been the specialization and departmentalization in the system of human knowledge and wisdom that fragmented the life and reduced it to compartments of the specialized field.

When we observe the modern civilization on the level of epistemology, the modern spirit seems to be benign and harmless. The Cartesian Cogito and the Kantian a priori synthetic  reason has been the best expression of the HOMO SAPIENS.  The thinking reason is the most valid and universal subject which understand the world in truest way. This is the soul and the heart of the modern civilization. This is called as the modern scientific spirit. Fundamentally this modern spirit is the core dynamic of the modern Western Civilization.

What is the modern spirit? What is the scientific reason? There are many different explication about the modern reason. One of the most important structure of the modern reason is that it is a self-authenticating subject. This is the Cartesian Cogito.  Rene Descartes discovered the thinking subject as the self. Here the thinking is scientific reasoning which is clear and certain. This thinking subject objectifies the world and all thing therein. The subject and object dichotomy is the structure of the modern epistemology. Since all things are objects of knowing for the thinking subject, the objects are know in so far as it is in the framework of reason. The object cannot be clear and certain, so long as it is not grasped by the thinking reason. This thinking reason is the subject which does mathematical reason.

In this way the subject as knower is completely separated from the known. Even when the subject is reflect about the self, the knowing subject and the known subject is separated from the self as the known. In this situation the known self becomes the object, which is dictated by the mathematical laws. The known self becomes an abstract construct with the mathematical laws. In this context the subject is a permanently receding or transcending subject.

Modern epistemology treats the objects as mathematical constructs. It constructs the basic unit of the object in the utmost reduction. It is a reductionist epistemology. It pursues the irreducible to the last to grasp the individual object in the most valid and universal way. This irreducible individual unit is the basic unit of knowing, a building block of scientific knowledge.

The modern scientific thinking controls and dictates the world of knowledge about the objects. This is the world that the modern science has constructed. This is true of natural sciences. The same scientific rule is also applied to other sciences, social and human. It is also reflected in the arts and cultures. The same modernist spirit is also applied in the religious sciences. This is a kind of epistemological dictatorship. Anu sub or supra rational knowledge is underestimated and despised and even dismissed as unreliable. What is most reliable is the scientific and modern. This is the only criterion of truths. When this is applied to the study of life, the study becomes reductionist.

This epistemological reductionism is closely related to the compartmentalization and fragmenation of knowledge. The knowledge is divided into the individual units. The integral whole of things and events are suppressed. A part or a fragment is isolated to be organized and constructed as a sure knowledge. In the modern universe of sciences it is promoted in the name of specialization. Natural sciences are separated from social and human sciences. Social sciences are separated from the arts and religions. There are no organic links among sciences to have a holistic world of knowledge. This is increasingly felt to be problematic so that an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental study is being attempted within the modern scientific world. The study of life is holistic and such fragmenation and compartmentalization will distort the understanding of life.

The modern scientific knowledge is tautological and self-complete. The knowledge must be a complete unit, which does not permit any "space" which is not grasped. The unknown is not permitted as an integral part of the world of knowledge. The scientific mind must "conquer" the universe of the knowledge without allowing any room of the unknown, the "mysterious." or the transcendent. The modern scientific mind is like a dictator, or a totalitarian dictator, for it does not allow any other norms or ways other than its own rules in the universe of knowledge. When the modern science is applied to the study of life, it is totalistic and dictatorial. It invades the inner chamber of the mystery of life and exposes all the secrets of life only in so far as it grasps the life in a rational way.

Globalisation is the Consequence of Modernization: Cybernetic Technetronics

The modern scientific thinking is inherently organizing the globalisation in the form of modernization. The drive of this modern development in the West has been forcing a process of globalisation, which is engineered by the power of the globalizing capital. Modern technology is an essential element in this process of globalisation. Recent developments of cyber technetronics has accelerated in the speed and expansion of the process that has been unfolding over the globe. The study of life will require the impact of the cybernetics on the total globalisation process, including the geopolitical change due to the military technocracy,  the transformation of the global market due to managerial technocracy and financial cybernetics, the political governance due to the hi-tech surveillance technology and political information management, cultural change due to the convergence of cybernetics and media, and the impact of genetical industry due to the convergence of cybernetics with bio-technology. The technocracy will have a great impact upon the ecology of life on macro-cosmic and micro-cosmic levels. The study of life will have take these issues for investigation.

Convergence of the Cybernetics with the Modern Technology

This process brings about a colossal change on earth and in heaven. The life in the cosmos is to respond to this change and to sustain itself.  Some feels that the life is threatened to destruction by the modern science and technology, driven by the forces of the globalisation. Until recent times, the World War III had been regarded as an ultimate threat to life. The environmental destruction of the modern industrial civilization has loomed large, causing great concerns. Genetic modification of the life has deeply penetrated into the life process; and its consequences are uncertain. This is connected to the technetronics and cybernetics developments. This is an another dimension of the threat to life.

Wisdom of the Whole Life (생명학 生命學) as an Alternative Foundation

Without much theoretical discussion, it is our proposal that all resources of life and reflections on it to be integrated under the whole notion of Life Learning (생명학 生命學). This means that a paradigm of holistic integration for reflections on life should be manifest in any community of spirituality, art, wisdom, philosophy and science. This notion of life learning should be differentiated from the reductionist and fragmentary life sciences in the modern sciences.

In the Korean history this was called Soewon (서원 書院), the most advanced study and educational institute. The Tasan Chodang (茶 山招 堂) is another example. This notion of the integral study may be rehabilitated to apply to the present global situation. These study institutions have demonstrated the viability of the integral study. One of the outstanding achievement has been that of the Mokmin Shimsoe (牧民心書). This initiative can be introduced an alternative, transforming and overcoming the domination of the modern system of human wisdom and knowledge. Such initiative should be regarded as  a new, whole and creative effort to make a breakthrough into the future infrastructure for the study and reflection on the life in the wholistic way. There is also a need to inter-connect and cross-fertilize the local, national, regional and global initiatives inside and outside of the existing institutions, provided their perspectives are mutually converging across the various traditional boundaries.

In this integral study of life several dimensions may be considered. On the general level the wholistic understanding of life should be promoted through variety of ways. Traditional philosophical, cultural and religious traditions for the East and the West should be brought to the study of the integral study of life. How can these traditions  be resources to overcome the shortfalls of the modernity? Especially Asian religious, philosophical and cultural traditions may be reevaluated to enrich the integral understanding of life. There can be a creative "interfacing" between the East and the modern West and between the traditional wisdom and the modern sciences.

Another general question is how to develop a framework for the integral study of life though inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary studies to overcome the fragmentation of the wisdom of life in the modern scientific studies. It is clear that the life cannot be studied through a reductionist and fragmentary methodology of modern science. Biology, bio-technology and even bio-ethics will not lead to the wholistic wisdom of life for all living beings on earth.

There are several areas of concern to be integrated for the study of life in the context of globalisation.

1. The globalisation has caused the radical rift in the geopolitical conditions of life. The global market and the global military hegemony of the Empire has torn a part the local geographical or geopolitical security of life. The national security cannot be maintained for the security of the people and living beings in the locality. The living beings are losing  the security of their homes and habitats in the new global organization of geopolitics. The technocracy is the engine and the global market and the military order is dynamics that determine the global geopolitics, affecting every locality of life on earth.

The sustainable and suitable geopolitical order of life needs to be established for the new life situation and to overcome the hegemonic geopolitics of destruction and death. This calls for a forging a new geopolitics of the life in contrast to the globalisation.
Living beings needs  the geopolitical locus for their survival and fulfillment. What is the most suitable locus, the time and space, for the life? The shape and the nature of the geopolitics of life should be studied in the study of life. It is should be the geopolitics of peace for life.

2. The most fundamental question is the economy of the life for all living beings. The human economy is very destructive to the life. The economy is to sustain life as a whole, not merely the human life, not merely for the rich and the powerful, and not merely for the wise and strong. In the global market the capital dominates the economy, seeking the maximization of the profit and the power. It causes the hunger in the midst of abundance, the death of the people due to diseases, the deep gap between the poor and the rich, and the domination of the powerful over the weak . It exploits the living beings and nature in an unsustainable way. It destroys the ecological base of life due to unlimited growth and expansion. The global market is not an economy of life for living beings.

3. The integral study of life means an alternative economy of life for all living beings for their conviviality and fulfillment. The modern economics for production and distribution would not sustain the life on earth. Questions such as how to overcome the neoliberal ideology of human greed, and how to conceive a new economy of life and how to implement such a vision, should be answered. There are a mushrooming of alternative way of living the economic life in every corner of the earth, generating rich wisdom for the new economy of life. There are may attempts to draw traditional wisdom of the economy of life. There is a need to investigate these experiences in search for the wisdom of life in economy. Economy is a wisdom for the household of living beings.

4. The integral study of life means to restore and establish the subjecthood of living beings. The politics and governance of the globe is dictated by the principalities and powers of the global market and by the geopolitical (military) hegemony of the Empire. Political system of the modernity has been co-opted by the powers, and they are no longer true expression of the sovereignty of the people. The modern state never instituted the sovereign subjecthood of the living beings on their polity. It assumed the supremacy of the human subject over the subjecthood of all living beings. It never realized that common sovereignty of all living beings is necessary condition for the conviviality of life.

There is a rising tide for direct participation and for global solidarity as a new politics of lie for all living beings. Civil society and citizens movement for participation and solidarity is an expression to recover the sovereignty of life for all living beings. the integral study of life will have to undertake the task of articulating a new political vision for the common sovereignty of all living beings. It demands new polity and new political culture for life.

5. The Integral study of life need to search for a new vision of "life together." Globalisation drives all living beings into an absolute jungle, where the rule of the survival of the fittest id dominant, where the strongest devour all the weak, and where all traditional contradictions and conflicts are intensified and are limitlessly violent. Conflicts of class, race, gender, caste, ethnicity and culture and so on become complex without any orientation towards justice and peace.

There is a need for a new social vision in which all living beings, not merely humans, live together in conviviality. In the history there have been rich traditions of messianic vision of life of peace and justice. There is need for vigorous social imaginations for a new order of life for all living beings for their security in justice and peace.

6. The culture is the substance of life. It is not a monopoly of human beings. The culture is an integral part of all living beings. This integral understanding of culture should be restored. Identity of culture, unique cultural perception and sense, cultural value orientation, and cultural creativity and subjectivity are to be restored and realized in fullness. Global market destroys the culture of life of living beings, by dominating, eroding, commodifying, homogenizing, and suppressing the culture of life. Market, especially market-dominated media, makes a genocidal impact on the culture of all living communities.

Integral study of life should seek the restoration of the creativity and subjectivity of living beings for the cultural fulfillment. It should recover and uncover rich cultural wisdom from the historical traditions and from the natural community of living beings.

7. The life is the spirit with the body. There can be no split between the body and the spirit for the life to be subject. The spirit is bodily, communal and cosmic(economos). In regard to the subjecthood of life there is a need for much study and imagination. The spirit lives in the world of mystery beyond the grasp of human understanding and perception. This is the world of religion. There is a traditional distortion of religion by the powers that be. There is a contemporary distortion of religion by the power of the market.

The integral study of life needs to restore a spiritual movement in the religious movement as well as in all living beings. This is a task of religious reformation and creativity. The task is none other than laying a new foundation for the civilization of life.

8. The life is understood in a fragmented way in the modern world in the cosmos as well as in the micro-cosmos. In the modern world humans conquer the life for their survival and power. In this process the life in the macro-cosmos and micro-cosmos is being exploited, dominated, manipulated and destroyed in the name of its survival and sustenance. This is an impact of globalisation. This needs to be examined to find an alternative vision of the cosmos.

The above issues and problems are to be studied in an integrated way. These threats and destructions are all interconnected. No fragmentary approach will suffice our need to find a new vision of life for this century.

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