Stochastic Easter

My interest, indeed admiration, for Denis Noble — the great living master of physiology, in the widest sense — began, happily enough, long before I knew anything about him. For I had been interested in the Proven├žal or Occitan troubadours, since the days when I could reach them only through Ezra Pound’s translations. In Vimeo or some such place I discovered that this Oxford authority in biological sciences was a performer of these romantic (in the old sense) hits. “Arron d’Aimer,” he sang, — dreaming of the laughter of children, and a country where lovers are forgiven — with his memorable voice and guitar. Dr Noble is about ninety years old, and let us hope to be so lively if we kick around till then.

Given my parallel interest in evolutionary questions, and more particularly my joy in trashing Neo-Darwinists, in favour of vetus-Darwinians, Mendelians, Lamarckians, and Aristotelians, it is odd I had not extended my fandom before. But now I find myself killing a part of the Easter Vigil listening to recordings of his lectures, and consulting Dance to the Tune of Life (Cambridge, 2016).

His account of “systems biology” is thrilling. Multi-level functionality is the rule throughout God-created nature, and multiple-channel communication between the most unlikely parts. The provisions of inheritance are not ruled exclusively by DNA code, and there is no privileged level of causality. There are no genetic, or any other sort of cybernetic-like “programs,” in the brain or elsewhere in the body. And note this profound, almost Kantian, truth: the self is not an object. Such is what one learns about the bravura new world of life-science that has been opening nonplussedly before us.

And the physics behind the biology is inseparably connected. What we once called “random,” and now call “stochastic,” is not the means by which we all came to be. It is instead a part of the divine method, conferring direction across all the constituents of reality, in ways that we just begin to understand. Life as a whole is not determinate, even on the sub-molecular scale. It is actually the opposite of determinate, and was designed to be opposite.

This is why Christ is rising: to show us that we need not go to Hell.