Selected Writings on Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism

Selected Writings on Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism

Selected Writings on Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism

Selected Writings on Self-Organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism


Best known for his pioneering work in theories of self-organization and complexity, the biophysicist and philosopher Henri Atlan has during the past thirty years been a major voice in contemporary European philosophical and bioethical debates. In a massive oeuvre that ranges from biology and neural network theory to Spinoza's thought and the history of philosophy, and from artificial intelligence and information theory to Jewish mysticism and contemporary medical ethics, Atlan has come tooffer an exceptionally powerful philosophical argumentation that is as hostile to scientism as it is attentive to biology's conceptual and experimental rigor, as careful with concepts of rationality as it is committed to rethinking the human place in a radically determined yet forever changing world. This is the first volume to bring together the major strands of Atlan's work for an English-language audience. It is an indispensable compendium for those seeking to clarify the joint stakes and shared import of philosophy and science for questions of life and the living - today and tomorrow.


Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers

It seems that the idea of the simple is already to be found contained in that
of the complex and in the idea of analysis, and in such a way that we come
to this idea quite apart from any examples of simple objects, or of
propositions which mention them, and we realize the existence of the simple
object—a priori—as a logical necessity. So it looks as if the existence of the
simple objects were related to that of the complex ones as the sense of ~p
is to the sense of p: the simple object is prejudged in the complex.

— LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN, Notebooks 1914–1916

The present volume aims to introduce a wide readership to the thought of Henri Atlan, who is best known as a biophysicist and whose impressive philosophical, ethical, and political contributions have yet to receive the full attention of Anglo-American audiences. Atlan has published at length and in detail on matters as seemingly distinct as complexity and the theory of selforganization, artificial intelligence, parables from the Hebrew Bible, the faults of the “genetic program” theory in genetics, cloning and the possibility

1. Atlan’s thought has been discussed and debated in scientific circles, and it has also
been evoked by a number of critics and humanists (notably in matters of literature and
science and network culture), including Mark C. Taylor (2001), William R. Paulson (1988),
Michel Serres (2007), N. Katherine Hayles (1991), and others. Historian of cognitive sci
ence Jean-Pierre Dupuy has contributed an excellent overview (“Henri Atlan, 1931–”)
to the Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought, (Kritzman 2007: 393–96).
Nevertheless, largely due to the absence in translation of his books (except for Enlighten
ment to Enlightenment
), discussion among humanists of Atlan’s writing has usually been
restricted to vague praises of their implications and scope.

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