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GETTING TO KNOW OURSELVES

Дата публикации: 02 октября 2018
Автор: Boris YUDIN, Maxim MANUILSKY
Публикатор: Шамолдин Алексей Аркадьевич
Рубрика: БИОЛОГИЯ
Номер публикации: №1538501243 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!


Boris YUDIN, Maxim MANUILSKY, (c)

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by Boris YUDIN, RAS Corresponding Member, Chief Editor of the magazine CHEWVEK (Man); Maxim MANUILSKY, Cand. Sc. (Philos.), Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the same magazine

The interest towards the studies of man was rekindled by the end of the 20th century. And there were several reasons for that. First of all that was the understanding that no matter what new technologies we produce, no matter how we improve our social institutions and structures, man has always been and remains the "focal point" of all such improvements. Second, intensification of integratory processes in the associated studies, such as active utilization of what we call interdisciplinary approaches. Third, despite the gaps dividing science, the arts and religions there can be a productive and fruitful dialogue among them. Finally, one should not forget that the architects of different technologies - biomedical, information etc., being motivated with good intentions (to broaden our potentials) can far from always anticipate all consequences of applications of such technologies. Trying to put them into practice leads us as often as not to new and hitherto unknown threats and risks not only for human health, wellbeing and personal dignity, but to our very existence in general.

Russia has features of its own in respect of the progress of sciences about man. On the one hand, a unique humanitarian tradition had emerged in the public thought of the 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to the contributions of scholars and thinkers like Pyotr Lavrov, Vladimir Solovyov, Vasiliy Rozanov, Nikolai Berdyaev and Father Pavel Florensky, to name but a few. They produced an organic combination, or blend of philosophical, religious, psychological, sociological and ethical approaches and principles. Of interest in this respect is the title of a two-volume work of a professor of the Kazan Theological Academy, philosopher Viktor Nesmelov - Science of Man (Nauka о Cheloveke), Kazan, Vol. 1,1898; Vol. 2,1907. Many fruitful contributions to studies of this kind were provided by our natural scientists of that time: Ivan Sechenov, 1904, Nobel laureate Ivan Pavlov*, Alexei Ukhtomsky and Vladimir Bekhterev. The latter, for example, set up in 1908 in St. Petersburg the Psychoneurological Institute (now bearing his name), and in 1918 - the Institute of Studies of the Brain and Psychic Activities (now - RAS Institute of the Human Brain).

On the other hand, during the Soviet years many problems of this kind were investigated in a kind of "underground" manner because of the ideological taboos of the time. With the advent of "perestroika" in the latter half of the 1980s we faced the task of "rechanneling" these studies into a positive way and of restoring the somewhat interrupted traditions.

All of these things fell to the lot of many of our academic and college cen-


* See: Yu. Natochin, "Pavlov. Science. Russia", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2004. - Ed.

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ters which continue this work to this day. Such studies rose to a new level with the establishment in the early 1990s at the USSR Academy of Sciences Presidium of the All-Union Inter-Departmental Center of Sciences About Man, of the Institute of Man and of the Chelovek(Man) magazine.* Their founder was Acad. Ivan Frolov (1929 - 1999) - a philosopher and scholar of international recognition. And it was him who put forward the idea of comprehensive, inter-disciplinary studies of the problem as a whole.

According to some estimates there are some 200 scientific disciplines in Russia today, which are dealing with the aforesaid problems. They can be split up into six sets. And let us begin with trying to understand Homo sapiens as a common biological species (that includes primatology, archeology, paleosociology, paleolinguistics, populations genetics, etc.). Then we are dealing with our contemporaries (sociology, economics, demography, ethnography, politology, culturology, etc.). Then we come to people's interaction with nature, noosphere** and studies of space (including general and social ecology, biogeo-chemistry, space medicine, space psychology, etc.). The next section deals with the understanding of personality-personalistics (social psychology, pedagogics, ethics, aesthetics, linguistics, psychology of inter-personal relations etc.). Of no less importance is ontogenetics of man (his ontopsycho-physiology-age and sex peculiarities of development, biology, pedagogics, gerontology etc.). Finally people have to be regarded as co-participants in theoretical and practical activities (genetic psychology, epistemology-one of the sections of the theory of cognition, ergonomics, engineering psychology, semiotics-teaching about the existing in our language and culture signs and symbols, heuristics and other associated disciplines).

And naturally enough, in addition to these more or less established areas of knowledge of the late 20th century special anthropological studies have been launched on a broad scale. Added over the past 10 - 15 years to the "traditional" disciplines (philosophy, religion, sociology, culture) have been politics, jurisdiction, linguistics, pedagogics and even... anthropology of poetry (the subject of that, in the opinion of Moscow psychologist, Acad. Vladimir Zinchenko, are problems of the spirit, of the soul, of multifaceted personality in their poetic expression). Also achieved recognition is tanatology-comprehensive studies of the phenomena of death and dying. Here the spectrum of problems is really broad-from euthanasia and hospices to what we call "life after death".

Within the scale of one article it is impossible to review even briefly the results achieved in the aforesaid fields of science. That being so, let us take a closer look at only the key areas.

THEORY OF THE ORIGIN OF MAN

Several important discoveries have been made here in recent time. It has been established, for example, that man and monkeys have much more in common than had been thought before. This conclusion rests on the studies of American geneticist Prof. M. Gudwin and his staff which were published in the year 2000. They established, for example, that their blood groups are not only similar, but absolutely identical. That means that blood transfusions can be made to people from chimpanzees and the other way round-with due consideration, of course, for the blood groups.

In the opinion of scientists of the RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after A. Zubov, of much greater importance is the associated theoretical conclusion: chimpanzees are our "close relatives". And that involves many parameters, above all


* See: B. Yudin, "Multidimensional Man", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2002. - Ed.

** See: E. Mirzoyan, "Noosphere: Inevitable as a Given", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2004, - Ed.

Pages. 68


genetic ones. Some experts believe that by the number of homologous genetic loci they are close to people by 95 and even 99 percent. And one more important systematic feature-the scribbled pattern (seen under the microscope) of chromosomes of both species. That provided the basis for putting both into a common gender of Homo, which splits into two sub-groups: Homo Pan-chimpanzees, and Homo Homo which is ourselves. This being so, many experts, including geneticists, believe that we had a common predecessor which existed some 7 mn years ago. But later on they followed different lines of evolution and continued to develop in different ways.

And what does that mean in scientific terms? In the opinion of Acad. A. Zubov the problem of the "missing link" which has been with us for more than 100 years has lost its importance with the line of the evolution from monkey to man having been mainly reconstructed. Today, at the start of the 21st century we can say with confidence that Darwin's theory of the origin of man is absolutely sound.

And what is the age of the modern man? It was earlier believed to be 40 thous. years, and now it is thought to be 150 thous. years at the minimum and even 200 thous. years at the maximum. Naturally enough that "early" Homo was somewhat different from ourselves: there were traits in his behavior which have been lost a long time ago. But anatomically we are nearly identical.

Supporters of the "monocentric" theory are of the opinion that from Africa these ancients started spreading up mainly in the eastern direction. In the process of this propagation they began to acquire some new features caused by the changing climate and habitat. This gradually led to the diversity of mankind*. And polycentrists believe that race groups of today, such as the natives of Africa, or Australia-are the result of only the local conditions.

But believe it or not, humans have covered a long way and often were on the verge of extinction, proving finally the great "viability" of their line of the evolution as a whole.

HUMAN GENOME

Today one can say with confidence: it has been decoded. In any case a well-detailed version of the chemical composition of man's hereditary apparatus was published in the latter half of the 1990s.

In the opinion of Acad. Lev Kiselev that was a "qualitative jump" in our knowledge.** That was because of the commonly accepted view (absolutely fair) that people cannot be used as objects of biological studies like mice, rats or bacteria. Therefore the decoding of the human genome has been a truly historic achievement: we received for the first time a vast volume of data about each and everyone of us although much of this data remains a puzzle for scientists in many respects. This problem is being elaborated by proteomics - a science which has emerged as continuation of genomics in the studies of functions which are implemented well enough by the genetic structures already known today.

And what have they found out? To begin with, humans have a much smaller number of genes than specialists believed only ten years ago: 80 - 100 thous. In actual fact this figure approaches 35 - 40 thous. only-as many as other animals, such as mice (and they have very similar structure).

What is more, if we compare with man such relatively primitive organisms like the drosophila fly - the favorite target of genetics research-or the nematode cylindrical worms which consist of some 1,000 cells each, we find out that each of us has only 2 to 3 times more


* See: L. Zhivotovsky, "Genes and Races: We All of the Same Kith and Kin", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004. - Ed.

** See: A. Mirzabekov, L. Kiselev, "Cognize Thy Genome", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1997. - Ed.

Pages. 69


genes. In other words, the number of genes draws no radical distinction between Homo Homo and other living beings. And that was a very unexpected discovery because many were convinced that, being the "crown of creation", we must be the most intricate organisms on this planet.

So, what is the difference here after all? In the opinion of Acad. L. Kiselev, man's system of "combination" of different proteins from fragments of genes is more perfect than those of other organisms at the steps of the "ladder of evolution"-monkeys, mice, etc. This assumption has so far had no empirical "proofs", but it is reasonable and lends itself to verification. The thing is that "our own" genome supplied the organism with a rich menu of proteins and supports a greater number of complex functions, such as psychic ones. And it is they which are of the greatest complexity. That is although at the genes level the differences between our evolutionary predecessors and ourselves are small, at the next level of development, where genes "realize" themselves through the formation of the appropriate protein structures, humans have a greater variety of them as compared with mice or monkeys.

Studies of the past few years make it possible to speak of the emergence of a new section of biology-biology of man. At the same time this requires a most fundamental comprehension within the framework of not only biology as such, but of the whole range of sciences focusing on humans. We seem to have to reconsider many of the established notions about their nature, and about the ratios of the biological and social factors (determinants) in the establishment and development of humans. The biological foundations of man's existence, as has been demonstrated, for example, in publications in the magazine Chelovek (Man) by Acad. Yuri Altukhov and Acad. Nikita Moiseev, are exposed to serious impacts of many risk factors. Thus the intensity of mutagenesis has increased and one of the results of that have been

Pages. 70


growing numbers of imbeciles. And we still do not know the full consequences of consuming genetically modified foods, etc.

DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN POTENTIAL

This conception is one of the promising and socially important trends of research. It was not accidental that from the early 1990s the official UN document in the field of humanities have been annual Reports issued within the framework of the UN Development Program. Later on a similar document related to the Russian Federation began to be published in this country. And let us recall that these new documents replaced earlier reports on the standards of life of people in different countries which were intended to provide fuller assessments of people's development. Their authors suggested an integral system of criteria which make it possible to assess the possibilities for self-realization of an individual. These depend on the natural-biological factors (above all the state of health); available economic conditions; levels of education and prospects for their improvement; social conditions in which each of us can realize his "talents"; the state and progress of science, technology, such as the advent of new technologies which offer people broader opportunities even though they often do harm to our health and psyche.

The results of current studies provide a conceptual and methodological basis for a humanitarian expert assessment. In a most general way this concerns a most comprehensive and manifold assessment of all kinds of innovations of human activities. As a rule experts choose some concrete technology, including social ones, and then try and identify in the course of interdisciplinary studies and discussions both: its positive sides which offer people greater possibilities for the realization of their potentialities and also those which are fraught with different risks.

One of the first examples of expert assessments of this kind was an analysis of the available school programs in the field of humanities. The project was carried out by a working group set up in 1994 on a volunteer basis which included specialists from different sciences about man and society. Its experts were deliberately chosen not from professionals dealing with school education, but from those who could anticipate the requirements of middle-school graduates 10, 15 and even 20 years ahead.

One of the apparently unquestionable, although not yet fully understood peculiarities of the 20th century culture and science has been the humanitarian revolution with the formation of new fields of knowledge with their methodologies. This revolution is different from what we call the scientific-and-technical one and that of natural sciences. The humanities (such semiotics, psychology or culturology) have made an obvious "departure" from the social sciences to which we habitually refer sociology or politology. On the whole, as different from the traditional forms of humanitarian knowledge, current studies are much more "intertwined" with federal, corporative or social (communitarian) scientific-practical programs. This being so, we are dealing more and more often with the formation of a whole complex of humanitarian strategies and technologies.

One more thing. Today the media often turn to the problem of transplantations of organs and tissues, cloning and euthanasia. And they practically never mention the fact that these discussions were initiated by scholars engaged in studies in the field of bio-medical ethics with Acad. Yuri Lopukhin and Acad. Rem Petrov*.

Bioethics is one of the first and successful enough attempts to offer concrete practical recommendations, backed by "lofty truths". That includes discourses about good and evil, justice, responsibility and one's duty formulated as medical, legal and ethical recommendations and norms. Many of these are being disouted (one of the most debatable examples is "supportive" treatment of a patient in a coma). And almost every day there appear some "innovations". That concerns reproductive technologies, xenotrans-plantations, etc.

Summing it up, studies of man as a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach is a dynamically progressing and institutionally established scientific discipline. And there are already appropriate specialized structures-including the Chelovek magazine. Over the past decade appropriate centers have appeared in the institutes and colleges of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Izhevsk, Novosibirsk and other cities. There has appeared in the Russian Fund of Humanities a section called "Comprehensive Studies of Man".

And what are the prospects of development of these disciplines?

The truly revolutionary results in the studies of man achieved over the past few decades, the emergence in the second half of the 20th century of inter-disciplinary areas like cybernetics, theory of systems, informatics, synergetics, development of a whole complex of biological disciplines, emergence of a whole range of hitherto unknown areas in psychology and personalistics and also the advent of the latest trends in the traditional humanities-all this considerably narrows the gap between the two cultures: of natural science and humanitarian, of "sciences about the spirit" and "sciences about nature" (according to the formula of Wilhelm Dilthey - a German philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Next on the agenda is the integration of the aforesaid sciences into one effective model of Homo Sapiens.


* See: R. Petrov, "Bioethics", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2001. - Ed.

Опубликовано 02 октября 2018 года



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