Thursday, January 31, 2013

In Praise of Imperfection


Photo: Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana
In his obit of Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini (“Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Winner, Dies at 103,” NYT, 12/30/12) Benedict Carey quotes the following passage from her autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work: “It is imperfection—not perfection—that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain and of the influences exerted upon us by the environment and whoever takes care of us during the long years of our physical, psychological and intellectual development.” In his obit Carey describes how Levi-Montalcini “began studying chicken embryos in the bedroom of her house in Turin, Italy, during World War II.” Dr. Levi-Montalcini’s great contribution lay in her discovery with Stanley Cohen of NGF or nerve growth factor and as Carey points out their work “altered the study of cell growth and development."Those who believe in God often point to the order of the universe to prove that everything is there for a purpose. Scientists who argue for the existence of God often underscore the miraculous connections that exist in say mathematics to argue for the fact that there must be a higher form of intelligence who possesses a divine storyboard, sketchpad or architectural plan by which the complexity of nature unfolds. Levi-Montalcini was obviously an over-determinist more impressed by the disorder of the natural world. If she did believe in a God who created the world in his or her image, it probably would have been an imperfect God who was actually more like man.

2 comments:

  1. jylle benson-gaussJanuary 31, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Wonderful imagery: God working on a blueprint at His drafting desk, completing His great design. Wonder if he sticks his tongue out in concentration at the particularly tricky bits?

    I love the way you obliquely take the scientific/religious chicken-and-egg question about the existence of God and relate it to the teachings of a Nobel Laureate who actually studied chicken's eggs.
    Perfect. Or should I say 'imperfect?'

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  2. The old snowflake paradigm i.e. no two snowflakes being alike can also be brought into play. In fact the snowflake is a perfect example of the appearance of some kind of conformity in nature is belied by the underlying rebellion at work. Cheers!

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