The work of Faustino Cordón must be situated in the mainstream of the most innovative contemporary thought that strives to bring together the partial knowledge gained by man in the various spheres: the inorganic or experimental sphere studied by the physical sciences; the organic sphere, reduced in practice to the inorganic sphere by a dominant biology that fails to rigorously distinguish animal and cellular processes, ignores protein life and reduces cellular evolution to physico-chemical processes; and, lastly, the human sphere. Based on the objective and independent study of his own biological field, constantly endeavouring as a genuine scientist to observe all relevant facts from the greatest height reached by previous theoretical knowledge, Cordón strove to turn biology into an autonomous experimental science (one that is able to understand, for example, the nature of living beings in the only way possible: through their process of origin) and at the same time into an evolutionist, general science.
Cordón considered that this scientific project, focusing on biological evolution from the emergence of the first living beings from the inorganic sphere to the emergence of humans from the animal sphere, is key to building the necessary bridges between the two basic fields of modern science: the inorganic sciences, today dominated by positivist superspecialization and theoretical fragmentation; and the human sciences, whose outstanding empirical and theoretical wealth is limited by our poor understanding of the evolution of living beings, and above all of the origin of the culminating living being, the human.
The most important experimental advances in science occur when, on the basis of practical activity and previously earned empirical thought, the typical individuals of a certain integrative level of matter and energy are identified, isolated and distinguished theoretically and practically. In fact, in the early 19th century experimental science precisely defined the two higher levels of inorganic evolution: the molecule and the atom.
“What is truly noteworthy about the experimental sciences is the fact that each one perceives regularities (which can be described and classified, thus enriching human activity, just as the regularities of nature help the action and experience of living beings), and these regularities begin to be explained in accordance with laws and theories of increasing scope, because the units of each level are composed of sets of units of the lower level (molecules are composed of atoms, for example) and because this composition depends on reversible interactions with units of the same level in the environment (molecules with molecules, atoms with atoms). Science is thus gradually accepting that in order to understand the units of one level (radiant energy, subatomic particles, atoms, molecules..., cells and animals), one must analyse their interior and their interactions with all the units of the level. Moreover, one must theoretically correlate both types of data, namely, the internal dynamism of the units of a level and the overall dynamism of the level that transforms some units into others” (Note 1).
In the last century, after Virchow’s discovery of the cell as a living being in general in 1859, biologists have specialized in gathering empirical knowledge, using complicated techniques and setting up observational instruments that have given us a deep understanding of the cell structure, the general organization of the cell and the various organelles that have become functionally specialized. However, these specialists have focused mainly on the molecular level. Even biochemists, who study intracellular chemism and how it occurs under the control of enzymes (the first coenzyme was discovered by Buchner in 1900), continue to seek the key to life at the molecular level, without using it as a basis for considering the problem of the origin, nature and evolution of the different levels of the living being (and its constituent individuals).
Ruldolf Virchow 1821-1902
Alongside the experimental sciences (the physical and chemical sciences and a current school of biology that reduces biological processes arising from the co-evolution of inorganic matter to physical and chemical processes), the human sciences are distinguished, in turn, by their empirical richness and philosophical fecundity.
Logically, as an animal and a human, humans have a much richer experience of animals and of humans than of physical and chemical processes. As an animal, the human individual is identified with a supracellular organism that is able to persist in space and time in permanent biological tension and in a medium consisting of animals (including humans) and plants. But it is a unique animal with a specific medium defined by language (by thought, i.e. by internalized words) and by work: the social collaboration that gave rise to language.
Thanks to language and social organization, humans managed to break the closed circle of biological equilibrium, learning to invent their own food (an outstanding autotrophism that stretches from the prehistoric livestock farming and Neolithic agriculture to the industrial agriculture of our time). Thanks to language and social organization, humans have had their own history.
Symptomatically, in addition to its enormous empirical richness, the evolution of human sciences has been distinguished by its inclusive and historical theoretical results. From the moment of their birth (and even in the womb), all human individuals have an experience that is mainly social, and therefore unified and inclusive. The education of children (and the continuing education of adults) involves shaping the conscience of every human in terms of others. All progress and fulfillment of man is essentially social. Moreover, because humans have been released from the animal struggle for life (thanks precisely to work and language), human life has been distinguished by a readily discernible historicity, especially at certain times or periods of evolution. Hence, humans have not been limited to accumulating data and enriching their vast empirical knowledge of human relations. They have created a theoretical basis for the main relations between humans (economic, social, political, ideological, etc.) by building the various sciences. In addition, thanks to these sciences, they have spontaneously tended to understand the human individual in terms of others and of their history, in terms of society and of social evolution.
With this genuine experience of the unity, coherence and historic nature of reality (in fact, of their reality), the great philosophers (Aristotle, Avicenna, Averroes, Leibniz, Hegel, etc.) have endeavoured to understand not just the relations of the human individual with other humans and that of humans with the world, but also the entire Universe, as essentially unitary, dynamic and historical (the latter more recently).
Georg Wilhelm Friederich Hegel 1770-1831
Lacking an objective perception of the historicity of the universe at its most basic levels (those of inorganic matter, whose primordial stability is a condition of the general evolution of the biosphere and the conservation of all living things), and ignoring almost all of the lower biological levels (the protein and the cell), the great philosophers have never gone beyond a general inkling of the overall evolution of reality, its internal consistency and the most universal laws of its motion. Relying mainly on the experience of the unity, dynamism and history of the human being, they have taken from it the basis of truth that each one perceived, but have been unable to go beyond a general world view that is essentially abstract, formal and teratological (i.e. the result of a formal and abstract extrapolation to the whole universe of everything that is particular to humans).
However, the great philosophers have sufficiently emphasized the unity, dynamism and historical nature of reality, while the experimental sciences, locked in the particular and largely subject to the blind demands of production, have generally turned their back on it. Hence the current need for evolutionist science, which is able to rigorously integrate the knowledge gained by the experimental sciences. Evolutionist biology is also the current key to science because of the intermediate nature of its object. Indeed,
“The field of study of biology, namely the process from the emergence of the first living beings from inorganic matter to the emergence of man as the culminating result of the general evolution of all living beings, obviously occupies a clear, intermediate position between two processes that are the object of its main fields of knowledge: on the one hand, human evolution, which is studied (particularly in the main philosophic systems) in an increasingly inclusive and evolutionist way, but the efforts to understand human essentially (by their origin) come up against the barrier of the poor understanding of living beings; and, on the other hand, the inorganic processes studied by experimental science (...), which focuses almost exclusively on particularities without striving to achieve a truly inclusive and evolutionist conception” (Note 2).
To exploit this key position rigorously,
”Biology must strive to advance the understanding of living beings through the other two fields of knowledge, of which one (that of inorganic matter) must teach it the starting point of biological evolution and the other must teach it the end result of these developments. However, it is also clear that biology can only progress through the objective, independent study of its new field, which offers it a wealth of peculiar phenomena and poses problems of its own kind. Thus, by unravelling the effective process of evolution of living beings from their origin to the emergence of humans, biology could help fill with objective knowledge the discontinuity between our knowledge of humans and our knowledge of inorganic matter and take science to an interpretation of the whole reality that is scientifically coherent” (Note 3).
“Considering the evolution of the human in depth requires knowing previously its nature in terms of its origin, which takes us to the study of biological evolution and in particular to the nature of the animal through its origin and, finally, the general evolution of animals” (Note 4).
Moreover, complementarily, the study of the most elemental life
“Must help us understand the process of inorganic evolution from a perspective that looks towards us: towards the biological evolution culminating in man” (Note 5).
“El desplazamiento del dualismo con el avance del conocimiento científico”, (Spanish) a note to Chapter 4 of Evolutions Treatise of biology. Part Two. The Origin, Nature and Evolution of Cell and Their Associations, and included as an appendix to the second edition of the book La función de la ciencia en la sociedad (Barcelona, Anthropos, 1982 pp. 165-177) pp. 170-171 (Spanish).
”Reflexiones desde el pensamiento evolucionista sobre el estado de la ciencia actual”, published in El País, 3 and 4 April 1981 (Spanish); This article is also included in the latest edition of La función de la ciencia en la sociedad (pp. 153-164), see pp. 154-155.
Op. cit., p.163.
Op. cit., p.156.