The future of Science: Evolution

conference report by Luisa Spairani

Introduction
Evolution of matter
Evolution of life
Evolution of mind
Conclusions

The conferece organizers: : Umberto Veronesi Foundation, Fondazine Giorgio Cini, Fondazione Silvio Tronchetti Provera

Introduction

Venice 21-23 settembre 2006 -San Giorgio Island- Fondazione Cini.
The Second Venice Conference has brought together authorities of international renown from various disciplines to contribute their views and engage in debate with all participants. It has been a Conference in which researchers and experts interacted with politicians, economists, managers, teachers, journalists and all women and men of culture, who wish to explore and debate the impact of concepts of evolution on our lives and take part in delineating a new role for science in tomorrow’s world.

Evolution of matter

Theories of the birth of the Universe, the formation of the first galaxies, stars and black holes, and their evolution to the present will be presented and discussed in the light of the latest observations. Most of the Universe seems to consist of mysterious dark matter and even more mysterious dark energy. A major challenge of present cosmological research is to understand the origin and roles of these invisible players in cosmic evolution, and how they determine the structure of the visible Universe. As in living organisms, the evolution of the Universe is determined by a continuous feedback from cosmological to star-size structures. Gamma-ray bursts, detected throughout the Universe at rates of about one a day and lasting form a few milliseconds to several minutes, are incredibly violent signals of other mysterious events - perhaps the merger of neutron stars, the collapse of a massive star or neutron star-black hole binary. Metals, essential constituents of life on Earth, are ejected by exploding stars at the end of their lifetimes and provide raw material for the next generation of stars. New telescopes in space and on Earth are revealing ever more about the most distant and oldest parts of Universe and are scanning near stars for other solar systems.

Scientists recently realized that we know only a small fraction of the Universe, not more than 5%. Most of the Universe is hidden and largely unknown. About 25% consists of hidden mass, or dark matter. But even more obscure is dark energy. Expansion of the Universe is accelerating, and this must be due to the presence of this mysterious form of energy, which makes up 70% of the cosmos. The attendees journalists were surprised of the fact a lot of money has been spent for the research gaining only a 5% of knowledge.

 

CHAIR: Lodewijk Woltjer - Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Haute Provence Observatory, France
Lisa Randall - Professor of Physics, Harvard University - The evolution of the Universe
Paolo de Bernardis - Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, La Sapienza University, Rome - Formation of first cosmological structures
Günther Hasinger–Astrophysicist, Director Max-Planck-Physics for Extraterrestrial Physics, Germany - X-ray view of the formation of the first objects in the Universe
Margherita Hack – Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Trieste - From megastars to galaxies, from galaxies to stars
CHAIR: Franco Pacini - Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics University of Florence, Astronomical Observatory, Arcetri, Florence
Giovanni Bignami – Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics University of Pavia, Director Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Raynnements, Toulouse, France -Exploring our evolving Universe from Space
Lodewijk Woltjer - Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Haute Provence Observatory, France - Exploration of the Universe from Earth
Luigi Piro - Astrophysicist, Istituto Astrofisica Spaziale Fisica Cosmica, INAF, Rome - The brightest explosions in the Universe
Willy Benz – Professor of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Berne - Extra-solar planets and the search for life

Evolution of life

Terrestrial life originated through the long process of evolution. Many tantalising details of this process are unknown, but much is very well known indeed. The general principles, expressed in the neodarwinian synthesis, are the best scientific explanation currently available. Evolution remains a very active field of research. Long stretches of the genomes of numerous species are available, and the number of genomes that have been completely sequenced is growing rapidly, enabling detailed comparison of nucleotide sequences of species as distantly related as fungi and chimpanzees, and providing new insights into evolutionary relationships and the process of evolution itself. These insights have been discussed by researchers from various disciplines, with particular emphasis on what is known about the appearance of humans on Earth and the stages of human evolution. Strong position against the "Intelligent design" approach has been expressed. All scientists were at pain to enphasise that new individuals slightly or markedly different from previous ones, must always arise in every species by virtue of the interplay of two irreducible forces: random mutation and natural selection. These evolutionary forces have been working since the ancestors of all living things evolved on Earth almost four billion years ago. The Evolution of life is a theory, so i can be refused or corrected, the oher approaches( creazionism, intelligent design) are not theories because they cannot be corrected or refused via experiments or evidences.

 

CHAIR: Peter Atkins – Professor of Chemistry, Oxford University
Edoardo Boncinelli - Professor of Biology and Genetics, Vita-Salute University, Milan - Biological evolution to-day
Denis Duboule - Professor of Zoology and Animal Biology, Geneva University; Director NCCR 'Frontiers in Genetics', Geneva - Genomes and Evolution
Ian Tattersall – Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, New York - Patterns in human evolution and the human biological future
Tecumseh Fitch - School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, Scotland - The Brotherhood of Species and the Future of Biology
Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza – Professor of Human Genetics, Stanford University - Biological and cultural evolution, an interplay

Evolution of mind

During the Upper Palaeolithic revolution (about 50,000 to 10,000 years ago) humans developed a new set of skills and activities: cave art, body ornamentation, human burials and other rituals - unmistakable signs of a symbolic intelligence fundamentally like our own. There is evidence, however, that many of the elements of modern human behaviour can be traced even further back in time. The birth and evolution of the modern mind is a mainly archaeological discipline receiving contributions from other sciences including comparative genetics, neurobiology and ethology. It is generally thought that spoken language is a key to understanding this explosive evolution of human culture. The session will cover human intelligence in comparison with that of species closely related to us, the biological bases of human language, the minimum common structure of any language, the origin of magical thought in humans, and the birth and development of moral and religious sensitivity. These topics naturally encompass many classic questions about human nature, free will, sociality, the development of technology, and our future evolution. One thing is certain, the biological evolution of humans is not over, although it is difficult to see where it is heading. If some new uman trait evolves it will not be for several thousands of years. In the meantime humans will probably begin artificially modifying their genome. It will be the first time that a species has reached a stage in its cultural evolution where it can change the course of its biological evolution.

 

CHAIR: Giulio Giorello - Professor of Philosophy of Science, University of Milan
Steven Pinker - Johnstone Family Professor, Department of
Psychology, Harvard University - The Cognitive Niche
Marc Hauser - Professor of Psychology, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Biological Anthropology, Harvard University - Evolution of a Universal Moral Grammar
Michael Gazzaniga - Director Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara - Are Human Brains Unique?
Antonio Damasio - David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience; Director, Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California - Perspective from neuroscience
Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt - Professor, Humanethologische Filmarchiv, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft und Humanwissenschaftliches Zentrum der Ludwig-Maximilian Universität München, Germany - Final remarks
Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo - Chancellor Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican City
Tomaso Poggio - Eugene McDermott Professor, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, M.I.T.
Finally: coevolution of neuroscience and AI?
Maurizio Martelli - Professor of Informatics, Dean Faculty of
Sciences MFN, University of Genova - A Computer Science Perspective
Philip Pettit - William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics and Human Values, Dept of Philosophy, Princeton University - The Evolution of Norms
Daniel C. Dennett - University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Director Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University - The Domestication of the Wild Memes of Religion

Conclusions

Evolution is a central concept in many spheres of human endeavour, ranging from astrophysics and genetics to philosophy and psychology. Reflection about evolution is reflection about ourselves, our future and our place in the universe.

[019.LS.TDF.2006 - 30.10.2006]