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FEATURE REVIEW OF "CHANCE AND NECESSITY"* KARL H. PRIBRAMt Nowadays a man of science is not well advised to use the word philosophy , albeit qualified as natural, in the title (or even subtitle) of a book: nothing more is needed to earn it a distrustful reception from other scientists , and from philosophers a condenscending one at best. I have only one excuse, but I believe a sound one: the duty which more forcibly than ever thrusts itself upon scientists to apprehend their discipline within the larger framework of modern culture, with a view to enriching the latter not only with technically important findings, but also with what they may feel to be humanly significant ideas arising from their area of special concern. The very ingenuousness of a fresh look at things (and science possesses an ever-youthful eye) may sometimes shed a new light upon old problems. [P. 10] Jacques Monod, in Chance and Necessity, does indeed take a fresh look at a number of basic issues that have fascinated inquiring minds for millennia. Monod's book is not an easy one to use, perhaps for the very reason that it grapples with profundities. Yet, if the reader chooses his way carefully he can become illuminated by passages that clarify such complex problems as Maxwell's demon; the relation between the second law of thermodynamics, information and living organisms; and the role of macromolecular conformation in ontogenesis . In large part I am going to let Monod speak for himself in this review in order to present directly the richness of thought that characterizes Chance and Necessity. Before attending to specifics, however, I want to challenge Monod on the topic that gives title to his book. Just in this area—the relationships between chance (or probability) and structure—I feel that Monod has not seen the problem clearly. He is not unique in this respect—most statistical theory has failed to recognize a fundamental distinction which becomes obvious once pointed out. * By Jacques Monod. Translated from the French edition (Paris, 1970) by Austryn Wainhouse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971. Pp. 204. $6.95. + Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1972 | 617 The problem is this. The theory of probability was initially based on observations of gases where the action of a population of molecules could be described by distribution curves (e.g., Gaussian) that indicated randomness. The model for randomness that is therefore held by most scientists is that of an unstructured gaseous cloud made up of a population scampering about hither and yon in an unpredictable fashion, that is, unpredictable for the individuals of the population, but not for the population as a whole. I shared this fantasy with other scientists until one day I visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago where there is an overpowering statistical demonstration: Large steel balls are released in the upper dome of a large hall to bounce through a maze to the floor where they pile into a beautiful Gaussian heap. Loudspeakers drone the elements of statistics to those attracted by the noise of the falling spheres, and a written explanation adorns the exhibit. Having just participated in writing Plans and the Structure of Behavior [1], I was alert to the problems of chance and structure and was appalled that nowhere in the auditory or visual explanation of the museum's exhibit was there so much as a mention of the beautifully symmetrical maze through which the steel balls had coursed on their way to their final Gaussian probabilities. And nowhere since then have I encountered a published statement that recognizes clearly that our gaseous model for the production of chance or randomness may not be the only one. Symmetry, symmetrical structure, can also provide the occasion for randomness. Chance and necessity, randomness and structure, can be two sides of the same coin. Monod does not recognize this in any explicit fashion, although he comes close: We are now in a position to deduct the general law: it is that of chance. To be more specific: these structures are "random" in the precise sense that, were we to know the exact...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 617-621
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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