Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Pro-Chancellor, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, and Friends,
My first duty is of course to render warmest thanks to this eminent University on behalf of all honorary doctors who have today been here created. Radiotherapy and medicine, education and civil administration, the law and commerce, biochemistry, embryology and the history of science, have all been honoured on this memorable occasion. I should like to take this opportunity of saying something about the position of science in the world at the present time as it appears to different generations of mankind; and how the great culture of China could be involved in this.
As the Orator has been so good as to tell us, I spent the second world war (1942 to 1946) in China as director of the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office (中英科學合作館), an organization composed jointly of Chinese and British scientists, engineers, and doctors, which had the task of assuring liaison in these subjects between beleaguered China and the Western Allies. Having already learnt something of Chinese language and culture in Cambridge from friends who had come there to work for their research degrees, especially Dr. Lu Gwei-djen, now my chief collaborator, it fell out very naturally that the history of science, scientific thought, engineering, technology, and medicine in that great civilization acquired an almost obsessive fascination for me. To cut a long story short, the volumes of 'Science and Civilization in China' are still steadily appearing, though I may or may not live to see the last one through the press. During the last thirty years, however, since my first decision to engage in this collaborative effort, two great changes have come about.
First, I had no idea, when I decided to go over from chemical morphogenetics to oriental studies, how topical the subject would turn out to be. It was undertaken as an entirely disinterested enquiry into the history and sociology of science, pure and applied, in east and west. The primary question was, why had modern science originated only in Western Europe soon after the Renaissance; the one that was hiding behind it was, why for fourteen previous centuries had China been more successful than Europe in accumulating scientific knowledge and applying it for human benefit? Alongside these there were the obvious questions how far did the Chinese really get, in the sciences before the modern era of world communications developed, and lastly, could that have contributed something important to the origins of modern science itself? This is not the time or the place for any answers to these questions: suffice it to say that as my collaborators and I worked untiringly on, events occurred in China which led to her unquestionable elevation to great power status, events which induced in people all over the world a veritable passion for information about all the aspects of Chinese culture. This was good incidentally for the Cambridge University Press as an institution in business, but it had not been foreseen when we began our work.
In any case, my forty years of intimacy with Chinese friends showed me beyond all doubt that they were, as Andreas Corsalis wrote in the sixteenth century, 'di nostra qualita'. I was profoundly convinced of the baseless arrogance of Westerners in behaving like the fools in Holy Writ, who said that "we are the people, and wisdom was born with us". Even Arnold Toynbee had fallen for the quite erroneous aphorism that the Greeks and Europeans were distinguished beyond all other peoples by a "mechanical penchant". Gradually I came to see why our work was so particularly annoying for conventionally-minded Westerners - it was because the achievements of modern science and technology were what they were most proud of; and to show, as the Syrian Bishop Severus Sebokht said in the 7th century, that "besides the Greeks, there were others who knew a thing or two", was hitting where it really hurt. I had no wish to injure anyone, but for the misguided certain shocks are salutary and therapeutic. All this probably applied mainly to middle-aged and older people, not so much to the young.
For the second great change that has come over the face of things during these thirty years is a powerful movement away from science and all its works in the generations born since about the time when my Chinese friends first came to Cambridge. Once could call it a basic psychological aversion, this anti-scientific movement, stronger no doubt in the highly industrialized countries of the West, but not unknown in the under-developed parts of the world. Youth has become disenchanted with science. For myself, I want to say that I have not lost faith in science as a part of the highest civilization, and in its development as one single epic story for the whole of mankind. I believe that science has done incalculably more good than harm to human beings. But I recognize that the control of its dangerous discoveries is a political and ethical matter; and this perhaps is where the special genius of the Chinese people could affect the whole world in days to come.
Some time ago at a dinner party I sat next to an elderly woman who had spent her life in plant biochemistry and physiology. She remarked that when she was young, being a laboratory worker was a delightful thing, because one could do what one wanted to do in the happy assurance that it was socially approved; one could enjoy oneself in an occupation that was also thought high-minded. But nowadays if she told a young man or a girl what she did, they would not be at all impressed, and would be likely to comment: "Ah, something to do with defoliants for use in Vietnam, I suppose". This was quite a good illustration of what young people feel, namely that the evil application of scientific discoveries has never been more rampant than at the present day. It is common knowledge that a scientist can hardly do anything without attempts by the military to make use of it. The comparative psycho-physiology of dolphins is applied for naval warfare, anthropological studies are appropriated for "counter-insurgency" purposes, and special-sense physiologists see their findings used for intellectual cruelty of sensory deprivation techniques. Against all this the young are in full revolt. It is in fact part of the wide movement of student protest which has for sometime been sweeping the Western world; and it certainly must have a connection with the fact that in several Western countries student places for the natural sciences are not fully taken up, while for the humanities there are not enough places to go round.
More or less philosophically-minded scholars have not been lacking to formulate this attack on the natural sciences - I am thinking particularly of a book such as Theodore Roszak's 'The Making of a Counter Culture". He inveighs against "the myth of objective consciousness", though he cannot deny the pragmatic value of science, that aerodynamics and thermodynamics lead to actual airplane flight, and that pharmacological knowledge leads to the relief or cure of disease. He and the young are against modern science because they feel that it has evil totalitarian and inhuman consequences. They abhor its "alienative dichotomy", which separates the observing self from the phenomena in Nature regarding this as an "invidious hierarchy", which rates the observer as higher than the object and free to torture it in whatever way will bring intellectual light; and lastly, they feel that science embodies a "mechanistic imperative", i.e. an urge to put into execution every possible device, whether or not its use is good for human beings or for the world of the living and the lifeless in which they find themselves. Thus there is a call for nothing less than the subversion of the scientific world-view itself, with its egocentric and cerebral mode of consciousness.
Now there are two aspects to all this. First, the complaint is deeply sound that all too often science is taken as the only valid form of human experience; in that case it works are only too likely to be evil. But Roszak probably overrates the number of scientists throughout the world who look at things like this - they certainly cannot be the majority in China, where "politics (i.e. human values) are in command". As for me, I learnt long ago from my brother Oratorians, priest and lay, that "nothing is ever 'merely' anything". Roszak even goes so far as to condemn scientists who make "occasional private excursions into some surviving remnant of the magical vision", forgetting that only existentially in the individual can the seeming contradictions of science, religion, aesthetics, history, and philosophy be reconciled in a lived life. One can never be sure whether he is speaking for himself or expounding the inarticulate world-view of his hippy drop-outs, but after all it is always open to any of these to end up in a Zen temple or a Trappist abbey - I could have no objection.
But secondly Roszak raises most justifiably the all but intolerable ethical choices which applied science presents and will present the human societies of our time and in time to come. The young do not want to have to make such choices, and they resent the fact that humanity is challenged by them - better to renounce such knowledge and call a halt to scientific research. Though far from Christian in any traditional sense, they suspect that Faust has sold his soul to the devil once again. It is a commonplace to speak of nuclear power and the devastation of nuclear weapons, but mathematical engineering is following very close behind; and no one is quite sure how to control the activities of computing machines, with their enormous speed of calculation and their fabulous "memory" stores of information. Here the privacy of the individual is at risk, the right of the child to be taught by a living reasoning teacher, the safety of millions exposed to the danger of an electrical or mechanical mistake in some monitoring computer harnessed to "defence" decisions.
But it might suit best my own profession to speak of the difficulties already evident in feasible projects of biological engineering, well described for example, in Gerald Leach's book 'The Biocrats'. Partly they arise in connection with generation, as in the coming mastery of both contraception and infertility, of population control and foetal medicine. Legal considerations and changes already lag far behind the actual possibilities of artificial insemination, using sperm banks fed from donors outstanding for physical health or intellectual brilliance, and perhaps several generations older that the receiving womb. The current bitter controversies all over the world about abortion are another case in point. Moreover, the new knowledge of the genetic code is likely to furnish is with means for improving human embryos more direct than breeding for quality or breeding out faults. But there is much more to come. In principle, H.G. Wells' 'Island of Dr. Moreau' has already arrived, for human cells can, by the aid of certain viruses, be hybridized with those of other mammals; and Aldous Huxley's fictional cultivation of isolated totipotent blastomeres so as to reproduce many identical twins is not at all impossible. Much work is being done on the fertilization and cultivation of human gametes in vitro. Robots of flesh and blood could result from all such knowledge. More urgently needing ethical decisions are the elaborate machines still in short supply, such as kidney-substitutes and "iron Lungs", or the manifold problems that arise in connection with the transplanting of organs both of man and animals. "Spare Part" surgery has undoubtedly come to stay, but when it involves plastic or metal parts the problems are not so serious as when organs have to be obtained as quickly as possible from the recently dead. After all, we still co not quite know how to define physiological death.
All this forms part of "man's conquest of Nature" and domination of her, a concept which has recently been given a thorough examination by William Leiss. Though the formulation stems essentially from Francis Bacon, there were earlier manifestations of the idea, and not only in Europe, as Leiss assumed. Lynn White has shown ho Christian theology saw man as standing apart from Nature and exercising authority over all creation as of right, hence perhaps the growing pollution of the environment by man's waste-products, hardly recognized as a danger until our own time. But in Chinese thought, too, man could "rob" the powers of Nature and make them work for him; and the title of Sung Ying-hsing's book 'Thien Kung Khai Wu' (The Exploitation of the Works of Nature, +1637) exemplifies a similar thing. The +10th century Hua Shu (Book of Natural Transformations) is full of the powers of the Taoist adepts.
Leiss well says that mankind is gravely ill at ease about the future, and the utopias of imaginative writers have mostly become dystopias. I feel this strongly myself, for science fiction would be my principal leisure reading if only I had the nerve for it; unfortunately most of it frightens me out of my wits, seems only too likely to happen, and provides me with anxiety symbols which I do not want. Moreover, as Leiss puts it, the attempted, and successful, conquest of Nature almost inevitably seems to result in frightful new means of the exercise of domination in human affairs.
"The same scientific and technological order which promises to liberate mankind from its universal enemies (hunger, disease, and exhausting labour) also enables ruling elites to increase their ability to control individual behaviour". From the first electrical telegraph to subliminal advertising and propaganda, from the first understanding of central nervous activity to the identification of localized specific pleasure and aversion centres in the mammalian and human brain, this has always proved true. Look only at the possibilities of mind control by psychotropic drugs and brain surgery, as discussed in the books of Steven Rose (The Conscious Brain) and Maya Pines (The Brain Changers). "The subjects of earlier tyrannies", says Leiss, "recognized their slavery in overt controls which restricted their physical movements, and by the terror which the minions of authority inspired in them, whereas the citizens of the future, manipulated at the very sources of their being, may love their servitude and call it freedom." One must, he goes on, ask why there is apparently this connection between the "conquest of Nature" and the "conquest of man"? Is it inevitable that the scientific and technological instruments utilized in the domination of Nature should produce a qualitative transformation in the mechanisms of social despotism?
Well, it all comes back to ethics and politics; that's where we have to "put our foot down", and march, or refuse to march. The paradox of the conquest of Nature always turning into the domination of men must be connected at least with the fact that in all historical periods scientific knowledge has been gain by man living in class-stratified societies, and political mastery naturally utilizes available knowledge. This situation will not always pertain. As for ethics, Leiss says that as long as Christianity remained a vital social force in Western civilization the conquest of Nature was held to some extent in an ethical frame. But the present secular context requires a different interpretation, namely one in which mastery over Nature is understood as a stage in human consciousness so advanced that intelligence can regulate its relationship to Nature, minimizing the self-destructive aspects of human desires, and maximizing the freedom of the human individual within a classless and equalitarian society. Herbert Marcuse has even realized that different cultural traditions in the non-Western world may aid the nations at present under-developed in avoiding the repressive and destructive uses of advanced technologies.
In his brilliant essay "Abolition of Man", C.S. Lewis still maintained that the Christian ethic could be the guiding beacon for humanity. As a Christian inhabitant of what's left of Christendom I might like to do the same, but where such ancient traditions of supernaturalism are concerned it is always difficult to disentangle the eternal Gospel from the fears, prohibitions, and prejudices stemming from ages far more ignorant and powerless than our own. Besides, reacting against numinous and liturgical religion Westerners only too frequently throw away ethics as well. It is just here that Chinese culture may have, it seems to me, an invaluable gift to make to the world. In the coming ages it seems likely that the traditional religions will all be the beliefs and practices of minorities, so ought we not look for a conception of morality, an ethical model, which was never supported by supernatural sanctions? Nearly all the greatest philosophers in China have agreed in seeing human nature as fundamentally good, and regarding justice and righteousness as arising directly out of it, if men and women can have a proper training in youth, and a society which will bring out the best elements already fully potential within them. The "humanists" and rationalists of the Western world are saying something similar, of course, but they are always under the great disadvantage of being in revolt against the traditions of their own culture, which has other truths and insights to give to the world. In this respect the Chinese are not; therefore their message is more natural and undistorted, and carries greater weight.
I have no wish, of course, to join in the arguments going on nowadays about the role of Master Khung in Chinese social history, but it is quite clear that although he was totally embedded in the feudal society of his time, not questioning it as many of the Taoists did, his followers through the ages accepted ethics as internally generated, intrinsic and immanent, not imposed by any divine fiat like the tables of the law delivered to Moses on the mountain. And this was true of nearly all the great figures in Chinese philosophy through the ages. One could even go so far as to say that never have the Chinese been more faithful to this doctrine, expressed as it is in terms of selfless service to others, to the people, that they are today. This then is the thought that I should like to propose on the present occasion - if the world is searching for an ethic firmly based on the nature of man, an ethic which could justify resistance to every dehumanizing invention of social control, an ethic in the light of which mankind could judge dispassionately what the best course to take will be, in face of the multitudinous options raised by the ever-growing powers given to us by the natural sciences - then let it listen to the sages of Confucianism and Taoism. Of course these men of old will have no exact advice to give us on the choices we shall face in the use of techniques which they would never for a moment have been able to imagine. But what matters is their spirit, their underlying faith in the basic goodness of human nature, free from all transcendental elements and capable of leading to the ever more perfect organization of human society. China has in her time learnt much from the rest of the world; now perhaps it is time for the nations and the continents to learn again from her.
On such a happy occasion as this, significant for the meeting of human cultures, it seems to me indispensable that some words should be spoken in Chinese:
In my address I have been saying two things. First, that the advances of the natural sciences are more and more bringing humanity face to face with terrible ethical problems. Second, that in the solution of these advantage should be taken of the great ethical traditions of Chinese culture. I mean the belief that human nature is fundamentally good; and that good action comes from the "inner light", not dictated by laws handed down from some transcendent being. May I end with a quotation from that great scholar Ku Yen-wu, writing to a friend at the beginning of the Ch'ing dynasty about the nature of knowledge:
"How important is the sense of right and wrong within human beings! One need not be ashamed of poor clothes or rough food, but one should be ashamed of men and women who have not been endowed with a sense of shame. This is why it is said that all things are complete within ourselves. We have only to change our attitude and be sincere about it. Alas! Scholars who do not first consider the shamefulness of wrong-doing are rootless men of no ability".
Thus wrote Ku Yen-wu in the late 17th century.