Depressive views of Jacques Monod

Lately I have met the name of Jacques Monod several times with respect to his depressive views on nature of mankind. Below is information about him from books and papers that I have read.

I. Prigogine and I. Stengers, The new alliance, Scientia 112 (1977)

Epigraph to the paper. J. Monod. “The ancient alliance has been broken; man finally knows that he is alone in the indifferent vastness of the Universe whence he chanced to emerge”.

“There is also a strange contrast between Diderot’s optimism and Monod’s tragic mood, significantly so close to Pascal’s tragic Christian mood «… man needs must finally awaken from his age-old dream and discover at last his total solitude, his radical strangeness. He now knows that, like a Gypsy. he is on the outer edge of the world in which he must live, a world that is deaf to his music, indifferent to his hopes, as well as to his suffering or his crimes».”

“The thought of Monod is still tributary to this alliance; although remaining unexpressed, it saddled his conclusions with a formidable contradiction; but who is this man, formed by chance from an association of atoms, who is able to discover his solitude in the indifference of the Universe!”

Christian de Duve, Vital Dust: The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth

p. 350 “Chance and Necessity, by J. Monod.

In this book, which sparked major controversies when it first came out, a master of modern biology (who died in 1976) defends a stoically and romantically despairing existentialist view of the human condition. Somewhat outdated but still beautiful reading.”

p. 288 “The main philosophical message of this work is that biological evolution, far from being in any way directed by some sort of élan vital, radial energy, or other mystical force, depends entirely on random mutation (chance) screened by natural selection (necessity). There is no meaning, purpose, or design to be read in the appearance and evolution of life, even intelligent life. ‘The universe’, Monod writes, ‘was not pregnant with life, not the biosphere with man.’ And he concludes with a mixture of austere grandeur and stoic romanticism: ‘The ancient covenant is in pieces: man knows at last that that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out; nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.’ Monod’s kingdom has nothing to do with heaven, of course; it is what he calls the ‘ethic of knowledge,’ the freely chosen, self-imposed rule of the scientist, based on the ‘postulate of objectivity’. His darkness is any form of ‘animism’, an all-encompassing term that  includes myths, superstitions, religious creeds, vitalistic and teleological explanation of life, and Marxist ideologies. The ‘ancient covenant’ is the age-old alliance between man and nature under the aegis of one sort of animism or another.”

p. 267 ‘As clearly stated by Monod, “the positing of the principle of objectivity as the condition of true knowledge constitutes an ethical choice and not a judgement arrived at from knowledge“.’

Rupert Sheldrake, The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry

p. 43 “These seemingly abstract principles are the hidden goddesses of neo-Darwinism. Chance is the goddess Fortuna, or Lady Luck. The turning of her wheel confer both prosperity and misfortune. Fortuna is blind, and was often portrayed in classical statues with a veil or blindfold. In Monod’s words, ‘pure chance, absolute free but blind, [is] at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.'”

See also

Comments are closed.