Dimensions of Biology EN

Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis




Paper presented at the European Philosophy Conference
on “Man in the Age of Technology”

Athens Greece, June 24-28, 1985


“Biopolitics” proposes international co-operation for the better understanding of “bios”. A global educational campaign through communication satellites may be used to implement such a project.

Biotechnology is presently inducing the expansion of human potential. Values need to be re-examined in order to allow for the challenge of new dimensions.

Our improved understanding of life processes arises the need of revision of basic societal frameworks.

This paper will discuss possible reassessment of current views relating to politics, communications and the arts. The impact of biotechnology on society is providing the framework of new philosophical horizons for man of the 21st century.


Beneath the shadow of the sacred rock of Acropolis, participants of this conference are gathered to celebrate Athens as the cultural capital of Europe in 1985. The shared admiration for Doric and Ionian styles and the love for symmetry create the common bond. Man feels fortunate to belong to the 20th Century, since his appreciation for symmetry takes new dimensions due to technological progress. Technology expands the horizons of understanding and widens the spectrum of thought to include not only the cosmos but also to reveal the infinite beauty of the microcosmos and the macrocosmos. Present estimates suggest that our galaxy contains 100 billion stars and there exist billions of other galaxies. This has challenged the uniqueness of our planet. An increasing number of biologists are preoccupied with inquiries such as: has life come from outer space or will life be sent to other planets?

The continuous development of his potential, and the tremendous flow of new information, provide a need to reassess man’s predicament in space. The pathway of technology unravels nature’s secrets and improves the perception of the universe.

“Galaxy or galaxies
are small dimensions
not infinity
Neutrons are small
very small
not infinity
And what am I
A neutron to the galaxy
Or a galaxy to the neutron”

(Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, Oscillations 1983)

As more of nature’s laws are discovered, Einstein’s view of Creation seems so full of wisdom: “Everything in nature is governed by laws, and all I can think is that the legislator is wiser than the laws.”

At the brink of the 21st Century, technological achievements seem almost unreal, as though rapid progress images mythology. The biologist deciphers the code of life, the chemist produces artificial elements, the physicist challenges the galaxies with E=mc2, the mathematician travels beyond the realms of abstraction, by the Uncertainty Principle, and the philosopher realises the impact of technology.

“Transcending thoughts passing boundaries
of limiting space potentials
Crossing bridges of transparent solids
Energy waves of eternal messages
leading to communication
Faster than flashes of the soul
Brighter than the laser beam
Piercing everything
Spreading everywhere”

(Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, Oscillations, 1983)

Mythology has returned. Technology, today’s Prometheus, with sensitivity and prophecy provides light and fire, crusades for revelation of the seeds of truth, and makes possible the advent of a new era. In the drama of history, present technology closes the curtains on the scenes of the ancient world and introduces a panoramic view of the march of knowledge. However, with accelerated progress and high degree of specialisation, with escalation technology, scientists expedite discoveries but also entropy increases through rapid exploitation of resources. The pollution of the planet gears the future to the proximity of disorder. In order to harness this trend, biology can provide a model for the improvement of the quality of life. A study of “bios” leads towards a better grasp of the meaning of life. Dimension of biology seem to reach a new perspective that may be christened here as “biopolitics”.

Human history can be traced back to a few thousand years only. During this period, several political models have been developed. Tyranny and democracy are among the older ones; and now new terms like socialism, communism, capitalism, are added as alternative models of human society. The history of life, however, extends into several hundred million years. Life has been tested in unlimited varieties and the most viable species have survived through the powerful selection of evolution. It is for this reason that “bios” can become the model for attaining the desired dimensions and expanding strategies for future society.

Social systems undergo continuous changes through the process of dynamic equilibrium. It is impossible to estimate correctly all the factors contributing to the success of the entity. The borders of society, organisational systems, code values, distribution of labour, specialisation, and overall conditions of harmonic functioning may be considered in the future within the framework of comparing “bios” with society.

A multidimensional model will be required for developing the potential vectors of “biopolitics”. Presently an effort is made to describe some implications of this model. Future dimensions of biology are mentioned in relation to genetic engineering, the arts, defence, communication, energy production, legislation. The philosophical and social impact remains to mature parallel to technological progress.

It may be impossible to forecast the impact of genetic engineering on the future of sciences. Alternative futures are offered to man. Following proper decisions by creating better livestock, cereals and grains, genetic engineering will play a key role in the balance of powers and economic growth. Health sciences too will be greatly affected. Is genetic engineering opening Pandora’s box by leading to unforeseen difficulties or with the guidance of educated “biolegislators”, it will prove to be a major discovery in the 21st century?

The mapping of human genes, and the identification of genetic diseases, will completely revolutionise medicine. Presently over 200 genetic disorders are identified, and insight is provided in more than 1000 diseases. Tests like amniocentesis or chorine villus biopsy are becoming common practice for prenatal diagnosis. Already new scientific discoveries cast the light of dawn upon these directions. Cloning experiments, human insulin production by bacteria, and recent work on oncogenes, provide a pathway towards the unlocking of hereditary secrets. Hope exists for curing diseases by DNA “probes” and gene therapy. Prolonging of life could be achieved by understanding the switching “on” and “off” of genes. Today’s science fiction may become tomorrow’s reality: ATP tablets produced by industrialised mitochondria, or the incorporation of chloroplasts into animal cells are just two of such future possibilities.

Since opposition may arise, enlightened “bio-legislators” will be required to set the ethical boundaries within which morally justified scientific research can be carried out. With increased understanding of brain wave patterns, and more comprehensive analysis of the genetic aspects of behaviour, “bio-lawyers” will be required to evaluate legal and ethical issues. Only those possessing better knowledge and deeper comprehension of biology will be able to acknowledge the delicate implications involved.

In the Olympics, athletes reach high levels of performance. It seems as though the full potential of the human body has been reached. However, with more information derived from brain research, great improvements have been obtained. Biofeedback can also be used for attention control and focusing power. Computers provide model performance by simultaneous analysis of brain waves and muscular co-ordination. Improved understanding in sport science can be used not only by Olympic athletes, but also by the general public. Recent research in athletic science has lead to overall health improvements.

For future, biology can serve as a model for computer memory storage and processing of information. By searching for the true function of brain cells, it may become possible to discover the mechanism by which memory cells store data in the form of abstract thoughts. Once this has been achieved, the same system of chemical storage of thought may be introduced into computers, widening the scope of analysis. Another resource of thought could be provided by creating a “Bank of Ideas” where scientists, academicians, and philosophers may bequeath their achievements before the arrival of their final day.

Like most other creators, artists seek a source of inspiration. Biology, with its many stunning features and hidden mysteries can surely serve that purpose. Throughout the centuries, art has reflected the study of nature. In this respect, “bio-art” is not an innovation. Already painters have peered down the microscope to discover a completely new world of existence. The recent opening of the microcosmos provides unlimited sources of inspiration for artistic expressions in the future. Artists with better understanding in biomolecular structures may provide new dimensions of artistic expression.

In fields such as architecture, the beehive, termite nests, cell membrane, or other organelles could be structural models for the future. Bio-materials have been tested and have survived the selection of several hundred million years. For civil engineers biomaterials such as collagen, and cellulose could be useful in construction. Aeronautical engineers may design planes with mobile wings or hollow bone structure, and marine engineers boats and antirust skin protection.

Photography and music are constantly drawing inspiration from nature, but up to the present, artistic expression have been based mainly in visual and acoustical effects. The sense of smell has not been used as extensively. How would it be if one would admire the painting of a battle field and simultaneously hear battle cries, or smell gunpowder?

The sense of smell could be further investigated in relation to defence. Radars or radios transmit information based on sight and sound. However, insects, by using their sense of smell, identify their mates or their enemies from miles away. This “individualised” recognition system based on the sense of smell remains still unexploited.

Cells also have this capability. In man at least one million different anti bodies exist so as to distinguish the specific enemy and utilise individualised defence. This does not eliminate the parallel existence of generalised response provided by lysosomes ore white blood cells.

One of the most perfect examples of community survival is provided by the cell, as evidenced by the compartmentalisation and co-operation among the organelles. Under the cryptographic code control of the nucleus, many organelles and complex metabilites function in order to maintain a stable environment. Ribosomes, provide interpretation of the code and synthesis of proteins; mitochondria, the monetary system, by burning of sugar as fuel energy production; Chloroplasts, the solar battery system, converting sunlight into food and energy; endoplasmic reticulum, the transportation system; and cell membrane, the selective guard control of the gates, allowing traffic inside or outside the cell.

Biotechnology is presently inducing the expansion of human potential. Values need to be re-examined in order to allow for the challenge of new dimensions.

The increased role of bioethics has contributed to better reflection on problems raised by modern technology. To cite only a few, such as reproductive technologies, abortion, definition of death, organ transplant, birth control. It is not enough to raise questions on such ethical issues. “Biopolitics” proposes international co-operation for the better understanding of “bios”. Since education is the pathway lading to understanding, communication satellites may be used to implement such a project. A global educational campaign could increase public awareness on the crisis of the ecosystem or population explosion. Man can become more aware of the ramifications of modern biology in domains such as health, agriculture, economy. The transition from abstract to practicality will thus become more evident. Man as part of the total “bios” system may develop more respect for the values of the natural world. With improved understanding of life processes, “biopolitics” arises the need of revision of basic societal frameworks.

In conclusion, one realises that man possesses the option for alternative futures. The rapid rate of technological improvement provides the ascending ladder of knowledge, and the linking bridge between the present and the future. In the following decades, “biopolitics” may play an important role as an exemplar of peace and messenger of harmony:

“With wings of the soul
I touch the golden waves of infinity
Around, heavenly beauty like light
Sparkles rays with colours of flowers
Whispers the soil, awakens the earth
Not like a mother, just like a daughter
Of the cycle of wear
and the infinite of the eternal
The melody of the universe
Is surrounded by the rhythm of harmony”

(Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, 1984)

Agni Vlavianos-Arvantis, PhD in Biology has studied at Harvard College, Columbia University (BA), New York University (MS), University of California Berkeley, University of Paris and University of Athens (PhD). She is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Education Association, the Greek Philosophical Society, the Greek Literary Society and Fellow of the International Biographical Association and International Academy of Poets. She is listed in World Who’s Who of Women and the International Biographical Dictionary. She has taught Biology and Genetics at the University of Maryland and the Academy of the American Community Schools. She is a recipient of the United Hospitals Volunteer Award, the Leadership Award by the International Directory of Distinguished Leadership, the plaque for distinguished service to “the Teaching Profession” International Biographical Roll of Honour, USA As vice-president of the International Science Foundation she participated in the organisation of 21 international conferences and the publication of the volumes of proceedings. She is the editor of a book on Molecular Biology published by Gordon and Breach. She has published works on the molecular function of the brain and the effects of hormones on serotonin binding. Her literary books both in English and in Greek have received international appraise and have been translated in Iranian and French.