Andrè Cournand

Science, Scientists and Society

Category: Lectures

Date: 30 June 1981

Duration: 25 min

Quality: HD MD SD

Subtitles: EN

Andrè Cournand (1981) - Science, Scientists and Society

André Cournand was born in Paris almost precisely two months before Alfred Nobel had his famous will signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club there

Meine Damen und Herren, this is about the only German words that I will pronounce here for this audience. My speech is mostly addressed to the young people in this audience because I do not doubt that the senior members of this audience are very familiar with most of the idea that I have in the course of the last fifteen years brought together since I retired from investigation of respiration and cardiovascular function. I had, since that time, the opportunity to become acquainted with the French philosophy of Gaston Berger and to learn about the prospective attitude and method. I have also had occasion to reflect on my own experience as a scientist to apply to those reflections the penetrating insight of my friend Robert King Merton on the conduct and method of science. In all of this I have sought to identify certain integral linkages between the ideas of Berger and Merton and to consider their bearing on the overriding problem of our time. That is the creation of a rational world order for a world gone awry. The goal of the prospective method to present it briefly is to create alternative images of a future that will serve the process of decision making in the present. Creation of these images is the result of an analysis in depth of situation, identification of facts or events pregnant with future possibility and anticipation and projection of their possible and desirable development. In this sense it is somewhat akin to the creative process of natural science, the process by which different hypotheses are devised and then submitted to experiment. The crucial difference of course between scientific and prospective method is that a testing of hypothesis arrive through the prospective method with regard to the future lies only in the ulterior judgement of history. Now scientific knowledge, whether fundamental or applied, evolves within the framework of a model that a physicist historian Thomas Kuhn in the structure of scientific revolution has called the “scientific paradigm”. This model holds scientists within the limits of a theoretical conceptual methodological and practical order. At work within the accepted order scientists exemplify three different types, the investigator discoverer, the verifier consolidator and the revolutionary who denounces the witnesses of the prevailing paradigm and ultimately goes beyond its limit to create a new model. Until the beginning of the 20th century classical mechanics ascribed mainly to the genius of Isaac Newton and elaborate by a number of physicists defined the paradigm of natural science. The model physical content relied upon the postulates that on ether field the universe at that time was absolute. This paradigm made possible tremendous development of scientific knowledge as investigator discoverers aided by the verifier consolidators pursued their research. At the beginning of the 20th century however the discovery of fundamental theoretical incoherency and of paradoxical experimental results jeopardised the model defined by classical mechanics. The first experiment of quantum behaviour of life namely the discontinuous emission of energy found my Max Planck in 1900 to account for the black body radiation effect revealed some mysterious known sector of the physical world that could not be analysed in the context of classical mechanics. The momentous change in scientific thought occurred in that period through the genius of Albert Einstein. His revolutionary all-embracing ideas about the nature of the physical world completely changed the prevailing paradigm. Einstein’s ideas was involving two stages, first the concept of absolute time was rejected and replaced by that of relative time. And the second consists of postulating the discontinuity of interaction between light and such constituents of matter as atoms. Simultaneously experiments regarded as paradoxical under the old concept of the continuous nature of light, became interpretable. And the basis for the development of quantum mechanics came into existence. In these ways Einstein established a new paradigm with a new representation of space time and the new description of the interaction of light with matter. Working with this framework De Broglie, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac among others construct mathematical consistent models of physical system. Together, with experimental discoveries such as radioactivity these models led to our present interpretation of nature at a microscopic as well as the cosmological level. In order to explain the mechanism of this true mutation in scientific thought Henri Poincaré has proposed that the revolutionary scientist experiences what is tantamount to a vision. Although the vision frequently occurs in scientists in their early, to scientists in their early twenties, it has always been preceded by prolonged period of preparation and incubation. Einstein for example recorded the profound influence of Ernst Mach’s book “Philosophy of Science” which he read when he was a school boy. The vision is similar to a religious revelation in more than one respect. It is sometimes favoured by moral moratorium. The term used by Erik Erikson in his biography of Martin Luther to describe the temporary abandonment of traditional practices and believe in the course of a religious conversion. As with the creative process in the artists the beauty of the new creation is proof for the scientists that this new concept of reality is valid. The revolutionary is not necessarily the one who verifies it on his own discovery. Recognition by other scientists of the validity of a new paradigm comes but slowly. It is achieved through the result of observation of all experiment performed by the investigator discoverer and the verifier consolidator and pursued within a framework of the new paradigm that substituted self for what went before. When faced by new fact and idea the investigator discoverers must ask themselves questions prompted by their curiosity. This curiosity is particular, it is sustained by a heuristic function, which leads the discoverer in their quest for a truth that no ....scientist (inaudible 8.52) now can be only relative. Both the revolutionary vision and the investigator discoverer’s spirit of inquiry contribute to the constant renewal of scientific work. The mental process through which the savant pursues his or her creative mission has been the subject of a profound analysis by Michael Polanyi in his book “Personal Knowledge”. According to Polanyi, scientific investigators are not neutral witnesses to their own discovery. In fact for the savant there is no knowledge other than personal knowledge. His intelligence and passionate participation create an intimate contact beyond comprehension itself with what he or she perceives and conceives as reality. But even Polanyi insightful analysis and recognition of the special character of scientific curiosity are not sufficient to account for scientific renewal. The scientist’s mental processes are supplemented with consciousness of a role, consciousness based on a set of moral values in a phrase – a code of ethics. The principles specified by this code assert the number that should underline and direct the scientist objectives in research and in his or her conduct towards others within the institution of science itself. I have discussed this code of ethics on a number of occasions and have analysed the modification imposed by time, numerous external pressure and a growing interaction between science and society. I will limit myself here to a few comments on one or two of those principles of the code. Namely the disinterestedness in the sense of belonging of scientific community to a scientific community command to the scientist the notion that his own work is but one facet of a vast enterprise that is regulated according to the ethics of science formulated in 1942 by Robert Merton. In that he is bound to his colleagues by shire tradition and by their common effort to promote scientific knowledge. The idea, no the second element of the code is a new one. It is the recognition of social responsibility acknowledged by a growing number of scientists which marks an important step in their spiritual development and constitutes a strong response to the detractors of science. The idea of involving science with social action has recently taken an active institutionalised form in France, initiated by the organisation of the universal movement for scientific responsibility, short MURS. The original and specific aim of this movement is to bring together under various forms of assembly scientists who develop new knowledge, political leaders who hold the power of decision making and representatives of the public which provides moral and financial support to science. Thereby our created platform and opportunity to discuss solid topics, concerning new scientific and technical discovery, their potential social benefits and their risk and other problems of common interest. Also in the course of those the politicians and the public would become acquainted with the way the scientists are thinking. The scientific code formulate something different from Merton statement, raises two new questions. First, can the code serve as a basis for the development of a human ethic appropriate for the management in the future of ... problems (inaudible 13.23) of our time. I shall deal with this subject in a little while. Industrialised nation have plunged head-long into applying the technique of science thus accelerating a written of social and cultural revolution and determining or intensifying changes that effect people’s consciousness and hopes. More recently the underdeveloped countries have embarked on a course that although not identical with that of the developed nations raise the hope of their leaders that they will succeed in upgrading the human potential through a course to modern technology. But these countries do not always respond to the most urgent necessity such as the establishment and consolidation of an economic system that meets the needs of a particular country or the satisfaction of even the most basic nutritional requirement of its people. In both industrialised and underdeveloped countries change comes about in a manner that is unequal and unbalanced. This was characterised by Pierre Massé as “blind emergence”. Instead of a harmonious system that would provide efficiently for the needs of all, an unbalanced world economy emerges subject to the wildest fluctuation. The inequality between the have and the have-not increases simultaneously with uncontrolled technological growth. Left to itself this blind emergence presents a direct contrast to what should be humanised emergence. This would introduce order into chaos, protect the individual and at the same time organise the collectivity, a great utopian to satisfy. Finding the means to control a process of emergence in a matter favourable to the survival of humanity is an urgent necessity. To this end the industrialised nation need to develop a new and effective ethic that should constitute a model of development for nation, regions and ethnic groups in order to favour the maximum humanisation, the most appropriate application of technology according to basic needs and positive project for the future with as a fundamental objective a decent way of life for every human being. In recent years several suggestions have been made regarding an ethic where science will play a crucial role. Two of these suggestions are fundamentally opposed: The ethic of knowledge proposed by Jacque Monod and the ethic of development proposed by Pierre Massé. Monod’s characterisation of an ethic is founded on the sole principle of the objectivity of knowledge. In his own term, the only goal sovereign good for man is not his happiness, his temporal power or comfort, nor the socratic know thyself. It is objective knowledge itself. This is a rigid and constraining ethic which respects man as a supporter of knowledge, nevertheless defines a value superior to man itself. Admirable though, it may be in proclaiming that science is by definition an ethic doctrine. The authoritarian character of this ethic constitutes a return to what is kind of science, accessible only to qualified scientists. Consider in this manner scientific technocracy, technocracy would create a new aristocracy whose ideal would be far from liberal and would in gender abuses without necessarily contributing to an improvement in the welfare of human society. Pierre Massé rejects such a science proposing instead an alternative solution, the ethic of development to serve mankind. He stresses compromise, harmony and conciliation, quality derives from the phases that biological survival of the individual as well as the species depends upon accommodation between rigidity and plasticity between the imperious nature of genes and the ability to adapt to environmental pressure. He believed that the sheer adventure of the species should be extended to human society. In refuting the impeccable mechanism of emergence as ruthless and un-merciless for the individual this ethic will enrich society by adding a dimension of justice and love. This appeal to the sentiment of love reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s comment during an interview in 1957. Even though this great English logician, mathematician, philosopher remained in that phase to the end of his days, he affirmed his adherence to a code of conduct in the following terms. I quote the interview: fearing the smiles of the original of cynics who consider themselves wise men. The word I wish to use to define it and I beg you to excuse me is love, Christian love in some compassion.” The role of Massé’s ethical development should inspire us to discover a solution to the urgent problem of our time, to promote abundance more equitably, to become conscious of our responsibility vis-à-vis other nation and individuals and to distribute the fruits of knowledge in an equitable fashion. I come now to the second question raised by the code of behaviour by which scientists govern themselves. To whom should science address itself? At the beginning of modern science the major concern of its two principle creators Francis Bacon and René Descartes have been the fate of the world with the necessity to develop a universal audience receptive to the achievement of science and the formulation of an ethic. Bacon wrote in “Valerius Terminus”, published 1603 /04, in the following term: that he places that knowledge at the service of the state and society. It will, if not all forms of knowledge must become evil and serpentine.” Descartes’s answer to the question to whom should science address itself spoke of the law that obliges us to reach out for all that is in us, that is the general good of mankind. That’s the end of my quotation of Descartes. The point of view of these two founders of modern science reinforces the thesis I have proposed: The need for applying a scientific code to the establishment of an ethic for our time. To this code proposed by Massé are they not complimentary. Does not the possibility of the unification suggest in turn the possibility of creating a universal order based on the cooperation of both scientific investigators and of a public that includes all mankind? Does not this code preach the universality of science? Do not the norms of intellectual honesty, tolerance, objectivity, disinterestedness and submission to a communal order favour the condition necessary for obtaining this universality and for establishing a harmonious balance in human relations? This goal I’m afraid may seem utopian but as a French poet, Valéry, has written – “Man’s true worth lies in his ability to surpass his own highest achievements. If my own view of shaping your future is any guide, this goal should be reached by emphasis on the prospective type of education which encourages us to adapt to circumstances of an ever changing world, to acquire an open mind in the intelligent capacity to analyse all subjects in depth and in their potential interrelation, to be ready to act in order to efficiently obtain what is desirable, to invent ways of communication and dialogue that promote understanding among people and nations and to develop above all a genuine deep-seated feeling for human being.” This speech now has come to its end, and it does represent what an old investigator long past his time has to offer to the younger generation. That is the hope that of course eliminating the possibility of atomic war, which we should try to satisfy in the future. Thank you.


André Cournand was born in Paris almost precisely two months before Alfred Nobel had his famous will signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club there. As is well known today, the will formulates a general “umbrella” statement for the five prizes, namely “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. With Cournand, there is no problem to see that the second part of this sentence is fulfilled, since the method of catheterization of the heart certainly has saved many lives. Cournand lectured at Lindau six times and even though he participated in 1984, the present lecture is his last. It is quite interesting to see that he did not stick with the fascinating success story of heart catheterization, a story which certainly could have inspired the young researchers and students at each one of the meetings. Instead his choice of topics was much broader and in 1981, the year of his last lecture at Lindau, at age 85, he read a short text on science, scientists and society. It seems that after his retirement, Cournand had become interested in the work of the French futurist and philosopher Gaston Berger (1896-1960), and he combines this interest with his own long experience and general interest in the conduct and method of science. Although he states that his lecture is mainly for the young people, Cournand has written a text that probably went over the head of many of the young researchers and students in the audience. He refers to both Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi and tells the story of the scientific paradigm shift from Newtonian mechanics to the quantum theory of Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Although the text is read in English, sometimes he returns to his mother language and several times uses the French word “savant”. Whether this is a slip of mind or a careful reminder that he believes that a scientist should be more than a researcher, is an unanswered question! Anders Bárány