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PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE Volume 28 · Number 1 · Autumn 1984 THE PEARLS OF WISDOM: AN EXPOSITION N.J. BERRILL* I Biology is literally the study of life. It is a genuine form of experience dealing with the real world. Just as music has to be heard if it is to have any reality, so living things must be seen, touched if possible, and, in ourselves, inwardly felt as consciousness. Whether biology can properly be called a science depends on how science itself is defined and also on what kind of biology we have in mind. Biology as a whole includes life as a whole, present and past and perhaps elsewhere. It contains all the complexity of the universe, and however it is approached, it is seen to be a mix of many things. Therein lies one ofthe difficulties in communicating it to students ofany level. It has to be a true learning experience or it is nothing. Another difficulty oflong standing is that biology has slowly emerged from the study of anatomy, as structure clothed in nomenclature and formaldehyde. In comparative form, this has been the basis, established by T. H. Huxley, for introductory biology in both college and school until very recent times. Although it had much informative value, it was a ball and chain fettering free instruction, an unattractive and even repelling approach to the study oflife on earth, although for potential physicians and surgeons it remains a solid meal to be digested or at least stuffed away, a veritable rite of passage. More generally, and in biology especially, in school even fifth graders must learn more new words than the Foreign Language Association recommends for a year's study of a new language. They are turned off, then and later. ?Address: 410 Swarthmore Avenue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/85/2801-0412101.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 28, 1 ¦ Autumn 1984 \ 1 There is no simple, straightforward approach to biology except direct exposure to nature and the cultivation of perception. This is the premise , and somehow it needs to be incorporated into any course of study. There has to be curiosity, discovery, and wonder, for otherwise it all becomes mere scholastic exercise. Offering biology to a class ofstudents, whether they be arts or science, necessarily presents two radically different points ofview, one appealing more to the left side of the brain and the other to the right—to the analytical and the holistic, respectively. Moreover, any assortment of students reflects the whole spectrum of the right-left range of mental aptitudes. In contemporary biology the analytical-reductionist approach now holds sway, whereas the complementary holistic-spatial-intuitive approach (the classical one, perhaps) is to a great extent ignored. The pendulum, however, is at the point ofswinging. Certainly it is extremely difficult, in teaching especially, to combine them as one. We are each innately connected to a compartmentally organized mind. A colleague of mine wrote a textbook on the cell. When he came to collaborate on abook on developmental biology he said he had to make a complete switch in his mind from chemical thinking to biological thinking . Different modes appeal to different persons or even to the same person at different times. In any case, starting with the cell, one can delve inward to the nucleus or build upward to the multicellular organisms . In the inanimate world the atom is the unit of organization, to be studied as such. Atoms have been taken apart, and the science of subatomic physics has come into being. They have also been studied at the higher, molecular levels. Each hierarchical level has attained the rank of a science in its own right, and no one studies or teaches them except as separate entities. In the living world the cell is the basic unit of organization, to be studied as such in all its diverse manifestations and as a self-maintaining system. Delving inward one finds an alphabet soup of amino acids and nucleotides, a mix ofcatalysts, helixes, genes andjumping genes, a world as magical as the subatomic. Moving up in the hierarchy of the living world we are taken to...


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