Enlightenment to Enlightenment

Intercritique of Science and Myth

By Henri Atlan
Translated by Lenn J. Schramm

Subjects: Myth
Paperback : 9780791414521, 416 pages, July 1993
Hardcover : 9780791414514, 416 pages, July 1993

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Table of contents

Introduction. Right or Wrong?

1. (Experimental) Proceedings


A Radio Encounter between Assiduous Listeners of "Cultural" Broadcasts, a Biologist, and a Philosopher
November 1978: The President and the Biologists
Versailles, 1974
California, 1967-1968
Cordoba, 1979--Science and Consciousness: Two Views of the Universe
Initial Questions
Cosmic Consciousness and the Collapse of the Wave Function
Confusions of Levels and Disciplines


2. Scientific Knowledge and Levels of Organization


Biological Organization
From the Experience of Separation to the Joy of the Encounter
The Temptations of Reductionism
The Mind-Body Problem
Reductionism, Self-Organization, and Levels of Observation
Language as the Locus of the Articulation between the Physiological and the Psychological
Creation of Meaning and Neoconnectionist Models
Self-Reference in Language and White Space on the Page
Psychosomatic Organization and Unconsciousness of Self
Weak Reductionism
The Role of Mathematics
Biological Functions and Intentionality: The Outflanking of the Scientific by the Quotidian and the Ethical


3. Mysticism and Rationality


The Rights of Irrationalism: Unreason and Antireason
Order and Chaos in Symbolic Rationality
Reason as Complement of Illumination
Scholastic Theology and Kabbalistic Rationality
Maimonides and Nachmanides
Kabbala and Alchemy as the Midwives of Modern Science
A Word about Gnosis: Rationality, Strangeness, and Cunning


4. Intermezzi


Unicorns, Electrogenic Demons, and Parapsychology
The Undecidability of Noncontradiction
About "Possibles"


5. Interpretation, Delirium, Black Mud


The Interests of Reason and the Interpretive Impulse
An Attempt at Classification
On the Relativism of Knolwedge and the Reality of Interpretands
The Reality of the Real, According to Kripke
Physical Science as Interpretation
Causality as Proximity
Explanation is a Bonus in the Sciences
On the Reality of Numbers
The Dualism of Access Paths
Animism as the Explanatory Absolute; Ethics and Monotheism
The Sciences Humaines and the "Rational Myth of the West"
Disinterest: The Price of Entry into Scientificity
Frued versus Jung and the Scientificity of Psychoanalysis
The Scientific Wager in Modern Psychoanalysis


6. Ultimate Reality


Physical Reality and Quantum Representations
The Reality of Meanings in Interpretation
Science and Mysticism: Games of Speech and Silence
Natural Science and the Wisdom of Israel in the Talmudic Tradition
Moral Law and Natural Law
The Normative as a Dialectic of Openness
Ethics Comes from Somewhere Else
"Wisdom Is Superior to Folly"


7. Man-as-Game (Winnicott, Fink, Wittgenstein)


"Is That Supposed to Be Serious?"
Playing and Games
Playing as the Symbol of the World
Reality as a Reduction of "Possibles"
The Opportunities Provided by Modern Atheism
Language Games: An Alternative to the Disclosure of Ultimate Reality
Real and Unreal in Language
A Review of the Possible and the Logical
Games of Knowledge and Language; Domains of Legitimacy
The Need for a True Ethics versus the Jokes of Theory


8. An Ethics That Falls from Heaven; or, A Plea for Wishful Thinking


The Impulse to Knowledge and the Question of Ethics
The Ethics of Life Dissociated from Objective Knowledge
A Genealogy of Ethics
The Voices of the Right Brain
Modified States of Consciousness as Sources of Ritual
Transcendentalities of Ethics and Logic
Symbols and Rituals
The Rationalities of Magic and of Science
Modern Unifying Temptations: Jung and Complementarity
The New Myths of Science Fiction
Severing Science from Its Origins
Scientific Temptations
Science Fiction and Prestidigitation: Effective Nonbeliefs
From Relativism to Social Theories of Knowledge: The Last Temptation?
Taking One's Desires for Reality: The Scope and Limits of Wishful Thinking
Knowledge Games about Knowledge
Cunning Reason: "Two-Tier Thinking"
Norm and Experience
The Barrier of Responsibility
"Otherwise that Knowing, Otherwise than Being"?
A Game of Games


9. Naked Truth


The Garments of Modesty
The Great Temptation of the Dogmatic
The Games of Scientific Legitimacy
Speaking to Say Nothing




This book is a thorough and critical, comparative analysis of the logic of modern scientific thought and of traditional teachings generally referred to as mythological and mystical.

Different rationalities with different domains of interest and legitimacy exist, which should not be confused and cannot be unified in any theory of "Ultimate Reality. " Atlan suggests they must coexist in practice, although each of them presents itself as an exclusive and all-encompassing truth. The book introduces teachings from Jewish talmudic, midrashic, and kabbalist sources and text from Zen and Taoism to exemplify the kind of rationality or controlled irrationality at work in such traditional thinking.

Henri Atlan is Professor of Biophysics at the University of Paris and Ishaiah Horowitz Hadassah Scholar in Residence for studies in Philosophy and Ethics of Biology at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. He is a member of the French National Presidential Committee for Ethics of Life and Health Sciences.