Self-Transformation and Univironmental Determinism

Sometimes seemingly trivial word usage is extremely telling in a philosophical sense. For instance David Perlman, the eminent science reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on January 12 about: “stem cells that proved able to transform themselves into a variety of other tissue cells.” Perlman, still going strong at the ripe old age of 90, has a wonderful facility with the “philosophy of science”—the philosophy of today’s scientists. That philosophy, however, is systems philosophy, whose main claim to fame is the exaggeration of the importance of the system (microcosm) over its environment (macrocosm). The truth is that stem cells cannot “transform themselves.” If they could, we would have no possibility of controlling them. They would form tissue cells willy-nilly, in tune with their “own capricious desires.” Instead, they are controlled by the univironment, the interaction of the microcosm and the macrocosm. Our goal is to use stem cells to produce spinal cords and other organs. To do that, we will have to change the macrocosm of each stem cell to produce the desired effect—a good example of univironmental determinism in action. “Transform themselves” should be dumped into the same linguistic garbage barrel that is labeled “self-organization.”


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