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大学英语精读:第六册 UNIT 10

2007-03-02 16:13   来源:旺旺英语       我要纠错 | 打印 | 收藏 | | |

  Do animals think? How could the earth show so many signs of design and purpose and yet be random? Our best scientists are heatedly debating both sides of these and other scientific questions. In the following essay, the author takes a look at science education and argues that as well ass telling students the facts and theories that have already been proved and accepted, science teacher should spend more time introducing their students to the many mysteries that remain unsolved and the arguments taking place between scientists. What better way, he argues, to stimulate their interest in thing scientific?

DEBATING THE UNKNOWABLE

Lewis Thomas

  The greatest of all the accomplishment of twentieth-century science has been the discovery of human ignorance. We live, as never before, in puzzlement about nature, the universe, and ourselves most of all. It is a new experience for the species. A century ago, after the turbulence caused by Darwin and Wallace had subsided and the central idea of natural selection had been grasped and accepted, we thought we knew everything essential about evolution. In the eighteenth century there were no huge puzzles; human reason was all you needed in order to figure out the universe. And for most of the earlier centuries, the Church provided both the questions and the answers, neatly packaged. Now, for the first time in human history, we are catching glimpses of our incomprehension. We can still make up stories to explain the world, as we always have, but now the stories have to be confirmed and reconfirmed by experiment. This is the scientific method, and once started on this line we cannot turn back. We are obliged to grow up in skepticism, requiring proofs for every assertion about nature, and there is no way out except to move ahead and plug away, hoping for comprehension in the future but living in a condition of intellectual instability for the long time.

  It is the admission of ignorance that leads to progress, not so much because the solving of a particular puzzle leads directly to a new piece of understanding but because the puzzle —— if it interests enough scientists —— leads to work. There is a similar phenomenon in entomology know as stigmergy, a term invented by Grasse, which means "to incite to work." When three or four termites are collected together in a chamber they wander about aimlessly, but when more termites are added, they begin to build. It is the presence of other termites, in sufficient numbers at close quarters, that produces the work: they pick up each other's fecal pellets and stack them in neat columns, and when the columns are precisely the right height, the termites reach across and turn the perfect arches that form the foundation of the termitarium. No single termite knows how to do any of this, but as soon as there are enough termites gathered together they become flawless architects, sensing their distances from each other although blind, building an immensely complicated structure with its own air-conditioning and humidity control. They work their lives away in this ecosystem built by themselves. The nearest thing to a termitarium that I can think of in human behavior is the making of language, which we do by keeping at each other all our lives, generation after generation, changing the structure by some sort of instinct.

  Very little is understood about this kind of collective behavior. It is out of fashion these days to talk of "superorganisms", but there simply aren't enough reductionist details in hand to explain away the phenomenon of termites and other social insects: some very good guesses can be made about their chemical signaling systems, but the plain fact that they exhibit something like a collective intelligence is a mystery, or anyway an unsolved problem, that might contain important implications for social life in general. This mystery is the best introduction I can think of to biological science in college. It should be taught for its strangeness, and for the ambiguity of its meaning. It should be taught to premedical students, who need lessons early n their careers about the uncertainties in science.

  College students, and for that matter high school students, should be exposed very early, perhaps at the outset, to the big arguments currently going on among scientists. Big arguments stimulate their interest, and with luck engage their absorbed attention. Few things in life are as engrossing as a good fight between highly trained and skilled adversaries. But the young students are told very little about the major disagreements of the day; they may be taught something about the arguments between Darwinians and their opponents a century ago, but they do not realize that similar disputes about other matters, many of them touching profound issues for our understanding of nature, are still going on and, indeed, are an essential feature of the scientific process. There is, I fear, a reluctance on the part of science teachers to talk about such things, based on the belief that before students can appreciate what the arguments are about they must learn and master the "fundamentals". I would be willing to see some experiments along this line, and I have in mind several examples of contemporary doctrinal dispute in which the drift of the argument can be readily perceived without deep or elaborate knowledge of the subject.

  There is, for one, the problem of animal awareness. One school of ethologists devoted to the study of animal behavior has it that human beings are unique in the possession of consciousness, differing from al other creatures in being able to think things over, capitalize on past experience, and hazard informed guesses at the future. Other, "lower", animals (with possible exceptions made for chimpanzees, whales, and dolphins) cannot do such things with their minds; they live from moment to moment with brains that are programmed to respond, automatically or by conditioning, to contingencies in the environment, Behavioral psychologists believe that this automatic or conditioned response accounts for human mental activity as well, although they dislike that word "mental". On the other side are some ethologists who seems to be more generous-minded, who see no compelling reasons to doubt that animals in general are quite capable of real thinking and do quite a lot of it —— thinking that isn't as dense as human thinking, that is sparser because of the lack of language and the resultant lack of metaphors to help the thought along, but thinking nonetheless.

  The point about this argument is not that one side or the other is in possession of a more powerful array of convincing facts; quite the opposite. There are not enough facts to sustain a genuine debate of any length; the question of animal awareness is an unsettled one.

  Another debatable question arises when one contemplates the whole biosphere, the conjoined life of the earth. How could it have turned out to possess such stability and coherence, resembling as it does a sort of enormous developing embryo, with nothing but chance events to determine its emergence? Lovelock and Margulis, facing this problem, have proposed the Gaia Hypothesis, which is, in brief, that the earth is itself a form of life, "a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet." Lovelock postulates, in addition, that "the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been an is actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself."

  This notion is beginning to stir up a few signs of storm, and if it catches on, as I think it will, we will soon find the biological community split into fuming factions, one side saying that the evolved biosphere displays evidences of design and purpose, the other decrying such heresy. I believe that students should learn as much as they can about the argument.

  One more current battle involving the unknown is between sociobiologists and antisociobiologists, and it is a marvel for students to behold. To observe, in open-mouthed astonishment, one group of highly intelligent, beautifully trained, knowledgeable, and imaginative scientists maintaining that all behavior, animal and human, is governed exclusively by genes, and another group of equally talented scientists asserting that all behaviors is set and determined by the environment or by culture, is an educational experience that no college student should be allowed to miss. The essential lesson to be learned has nothing to do with the relative validity of the facts underlying the argument. It is the argument itself that is the education: we do not yet know enough to settle such questions.

  New Words

  debate

  vt. argue about (sth.) with sb., discuss

  n.  a discussion about a subject on which people have different views

  unknowable

  a.  beyond comprehension, esp. beyond human comprehension

  puzzlement

  n.  bewilderment, perplexity

  turbulence

  n.  agitation; great disturbance 骚动,纷乱

  turbulent

  a.

  subside

  vi. sink to a lower or more normal level; become less

  package

  vt. wrap or seal in a container, wrappings, etc. to  attract purchasers

  glimpse

  n.  a quick view or look

  incomprehension

  n.  lack of comprehension; inability to understand

  reconfirm

  vt. confirm anew

  skepticism

  n.  a doubting state or habit of mind; doubt

  assertion

  n.  a positive statement; firm declaration

  assert

  vt. state positively; declare firmly

  instability

  n.  lack of firmness; being unstable

  admission

  n.  (an) act of accepting the truth (of sth.)

  entomology

  n.  the branch of zoology that deals with insects 昆虫学

  incite

  vt. cause or encourage sb. to a strong feeling or action; provoke

  termite

  n.  an insect that looks somewhat like white ants and eats the wood of buildings and furniture 白蚁

  fecal

  a.  having to do with feces (waste matter discharged from the intestines)粪便的,排泄物的

  column

  n.  a long, thin, upright structure; pillar; post

  arch

  n.  a curved structure capable of bearing the weight of the material above it 拱

  termitarium

  n.  nest of termites

  flawless

  a.  without a flaw; perfect

  flaw

  n.  a fault or weakness that makes sth. imperfect 瑕疵

  air-conditioning

  n.  the system that uses machines to control the temperature of the air in a room or building

  humidity

  n.  moisture, esp. of the air 湿气;湿度

  ecosystem

  n.  an ecological system which relates all the plants, animals and people in an area to their surroundings, considered as a whole 生态系(统)

  fashion

  n.  the popular way of dressing or behaving at a certain time

  superorganism

  n.  a group of organisms (as of social insects) that function as a social unit

  reductionist

  a.  having to do with a procedure or theory that reduces complex data or phenomena to simple terms

  reduction

  n.

  insect

  n.  a small animal with six les, a body divided into three main parts, and often wings 昆虫

  exhibit

  vt. show demonstrate

  mystery

  n.  sth. that is not known or understood

  unsolved

  a.  not solved or explained

  introduction

  n. a written or spoken explanation at the beginning of a book or speech

  ambiguity

  n.  the possibility of two or more meanings; vagueness 模棱两可;意义不明确

  ambiguous

  a.  having more than one possible meaning, permitting more than one possible interpretation or explanation

  premedical

  a.  preparing for the study of medicine

  outset

  n.  the beginning

  engross

  vt. take up all of; absorb

  engrossing

  a.  (not of a person) very interesting

  adversary

  n.  a person or group to whom one is opposed; opponent or enemy

  adverse

  a.  hostile; unfavorable

  Darwinian

  a.  of Charles Darwin or his theory of evolution

  dispute

  n.  a quarrel, disagreement

  feature

  n.  an important part or quality

  reluctance

  n.  unwillingness

  reluctant

  a.

  doctrinal

  a.  of or having to do with doctrine

  doctrine

  n.  a principle or set of principles (esp. of a religious or political kind) that is taught 主义;教条,学说

  readily

  ad. without difficulty, easily; without delay, quickly

  perceive

  vt. become aware of by seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching; get an understanding of

  awareness

  n.  the quality or state of being aware

  ethologist

  n.  a person who studies ethology (the individual and comparative study of animal behavior, including that of man) (个体)生态学家;行为学家

  consciousness

  n.  the condition being aware and able to  understand what is happening; awareness

  creature

  n.  a living person or animal

  capitalize

  vi. (on) profit by; use to one's own advantage included

  hazard

  vt. venture; risk

  exception

  n.  the fact of being left out; (a cause of) not being included

  chimpanzee

  n.  a small African ape with dark hair黑猩猩

  whale

  n.  a large sea animal that resembles fish but breathes air 鲸

  dolphin

  n.  a sea animal that has a snout like a beak 海豚

  contingency

  n.  a chance happening; uncertain event

  automatic

  a.  done or produced by the body without thought or control

  automatically

  ad.

  dislike

  vt. consider unpleasant; not like

  generous

  a.  willing to give or share; unselfish 慷慨的

  generous-minded

  a.

  sparse

  a.  thin; thinly scattered

  resultant

  a.  happening as an effect; resulting

  metaphor

  n.  a figure of speech in which two things are compared without using "like" or "as"

  nonetheless

  ad. in spite of that; nevertheless

  sustain

  vt. maintain or keep (sth.) going; confirm

  genuine

  a.  real or true; not false

  unsettled

  a.  not yet settled

  debatable

  a.  lending itself to formal debate; having strong points on both sides

  biosphere

  n.  the part of the world in which life can exist 生命层;生物圈

  conjoin

  vt. cause to join together or unite

  coherence

  n.  natural or reasonable connection; consistency 连贯;一致性

  coherent

  a.

  resemble

  vt. be like or similar to

  embryo

  n.  the young of any creature in its first state before birth, or before coming out of an egg 胚胎

  emergence

  n.  the act or fact or emerging

  entity

  n.  sth. That has a real and separate existence; being; existence 实体;存在

  totality

  n.  the state of being whole; completeness

  feedback

  n.  a process in which the factors that produce a result are themselves modified,  corrected, strengthened, etc. by that result 反馈

  cybernetic

  a.  of, relating to, or involving cybernetics (控制论)

  optimal

  a.  most favorable; best

  optimum

  n., a.

  postulate

  vt. assume without proof as a basis of reasoning; take for granted

  notion

  n.  an idea, belief or opinion in one's mind; concept

  fume

  vi. give off vapor, gas or smoke; show anger or irritation

  faction

  n.  a group or party within a large group  派别

  evolve

  v.  develop gradually by a long continuous process 演化

  decry

  vt. express strong disapproval; cry out against

  heresy

  n.  a belief different from the accepted belief of a church, school, profession or other group 异教;异端

  sociobiologist

  n.  one who studies the biological basis for animal and human social behavior

  antisociobiologist

  n.

  behold

  vt. have in sight; see

  astonishment

  n.  great surprise; amazement

  astonish

  vt.

  imaginative

  a.  having or showing a strong imagination

  govern

  vt. direct or manage; rule; control

  Phrases & Expressions

  move ahead

  go forward

  plug away

  work persistently

  at close quarters

  very near or near together

  out of fashion

  not popular or approved of

  explain away

  give a satisfactory reason for; remove objection to by means of a convincing argument

  at the outset

  at the beginning

  on the part of

  of or by (sb.)

  have it (that)

  maintain, assert (that)

  think over

  think carefully about; consider; study

  capitalize on

  profit by; make full use of (sth.)

  in possession of

  having; owing

  stir up

  excite; stimulate; provoke

  catch on

  become popular or fashionable

  Proper Names

  Lewis Thomas

  刘易斯.托马斯

  Darwin

  达尔文

  Walace

  华莱士

  Grasse

  格拉斯

  Lovelock

  洛夫洛克

  Margulis

  马古利斯

  Gaia

  盖亚

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