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A Century of Nobel Prizes: Science and Humanism
Paris (France) 8-10 April 1999

Draft Final Declaration

We, representatives of disciplines such as physics, astrophysics, chemistry, molecular biology, genetics, medicine, palaeontology, the study of complex systems, economics, philosophy and history, assembled in Paris at the initiative of UNESCO and the Interdisciplinary University of Paris, take note of the influence that science exerts on our society, not only by virtue of the technological projects that it generates but also through the vision that it inspires of people and of the World.

We wish to affirm firstly that science, by the universality of its methodology, provides a means of bringing all cultures together, ruling out any relativist assertion to the effect that science is merely a ‘social construct’ not founded upon any objective truth.

Secondly, that during the twentieth century, science has been, and still is, undergoing a through conceptual upheaval the scale of which has not as yet been perceived by all, even within the scientific community.

The revolutions resulting from quantum physics and astrophysics have refuted the ideas that held sway for several centuries whereby reality was uni-dimensional and could be described with the aid of familiar concepts. Dovetailing with chaos theory and the study of complexity and irreversibility, they have clearly demonstrated the inability of deterministic and reductionist approaches (however fruitful they may have been and may still be in certain particular fields) to provide an account of the nature of our world.

The great strides made in biology and neuroscience have brought ethical and also philosophical questions back to the very heart of science. They have made the human being and the researcher face up to their responsibility and have shown that scientific activity can not be entirely detached from reflection on the nature of the evolutionary process of life and the nature of consciousness.

Therefore, whereas physics is no longer Laplacian, astronomy no longer Newtonian and chemistry no longer Lavoisian and while biology no longer comes down to chance and necessity, we see a new image of science emerging, a science aware of its cultural importance but also of its limits, no longer claiming to explain everything or predict everything with its instruments, a science open to the intricate question of meaning, to other types of approach to reality and to dialogue with different traditions and religions, a science better equipped to acknowledge the complex phenomena on which our survival depends, a science more compatible with a qualitative and no longer a purely quantitative approach to progress and growth.

On the threshold of the third millennium, we attest to the reality of this evolution of the scientific guest and of a number of concepts on which it depends - an evolution which makes it possible, using scientific knowledge, to take greater account of the need to protect the environment, the search for meaning and the ethical concerns of our contemporaries, and the development of an economy more caring about human realities. We urge the scientific community to acknowledge the existence of this transformation for it represents the principal means of bringing science and society together.

Society must be the locus for rational action on values. It cannot move forward solely as a consequence of the automatic process of economic, technical and scientific development. Governments, scholars and citizens must have recourse to these values which human beings began to elaborate as soon as they emerged from the realm of animal biology. The sustainability of democracy depends on it.

 

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