Carlo Suarés : De Quelques Apprentis-Sorciers : Some Apprentice Sorcerers : IV: Lecomte du Noüy

Pierre Lecomte Du Noüy. Born in Paris in 1883. Law degree and graduate of the School of Oriental Languages. His meeting with the Englishman Ramsay, Laureate of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, directs him towards scientific research. He follows physics lessons at the Sorbonne. During the 1914-1918 war, he became friends with Alexis Carel who offers a researcher position at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. On his return to France, Dr. Roux entrusts to him the installation of a molecular biophysics laboratory to the Institut Pasteur. During the last war he returned to the United States where he died in 1947. His best known work is Man and his destiny.


Lecomte du Noüy
or the thought trapped by itself.

27. - Between knowing and believing [20]

Who is the scientist who will teach us the how and the why of life? cried Teilhard in fleeing the interior flow which - if he had plunged into it - would have revealed to him that life has neither how nor why but is a prodigious renewal of the whole being when both "knowing and believing" cease.

Pierre Lecomte du Noüy is not one of those very great sorcerer's apprentices for whom the world is transforming into myths. He is a scientist who knows the limitations of thought, but who does not know its limits. The posthumous book which, through writings spread over fifteen years, fairly well describes the effectiveness of a thought of the measurable in the world of the measurable and its failure in what concerns the essential, we are presented with the process of a spiritual asceticism. In fact, this thought that calls Christ (or some other belief) to her rescue, having only imprisoned herself, comes to the rescue of thoughts which console in error, for want of disappearing in reality. That's why she lends strongly to sorcerer's apprentices,

We followed the author in this book, taking notes during our reading. We think explain enough about it by reproducing here the passages that stopped us, as well as our notes. (In order not to weigh down the story, we will not give the page references, and to shorten it we will sometimes give meaning, rather than full quotes from these passages.)

L. du N.: Etymologically, biology is the study of life ... At the beginning it was purely discipline ... But, understanding that a science deserves this name only as much as it establishes relationships quantitative between phenomena, we finally introduce measurement in the domain of life, which thus takes its place among the subjects that our brain can aspire to understand ... The old biology descriptive had no future ... We must reach, beyond the visible disturbance, the fundamental chemical and physico-chemical phenomena ... The intimate mechanism of certain mysterious functions (such as those of the endocrine glands) eludes us because it is not

20 This is the title of a work, published in 1964, composed of texts by Pierre Lecomte du No|y, written between 1929 and 1945

cellulaire, mais moliculaire, chimique. Il est plus profond que ce que les microscopes nous permettent de saisir... La physique moliculaire et l'atomistique sont viritablement ` la base de la chimie moderne, et par consiquent, ultimement, ` la base des sciences de la vie... La chimie des protiines, avec l'aide de la physique, devra, dans un temps donni (on peut logiquement l'admettre) permettre ` la matihre vivante de riviler tous ses secrets.

... for the complete understanding of the fundamental problems of life ... to form this everything ..., two methods are essential: methods of analysis based on physics and chemistry, on the one hand, and purely biological methods.

... This explanation ... will take us to the edge of philosophy ... in a way that not foresee our philosophers of the XIX century ...

... The modern biologist will help to gradually spread darkness around man deep where his brain struggles in an age-old struggle including the social convulsions themselves are perhaps only an echo.

NOTES. - The naive ambition of this biologist is not surprising. It starts with settling in the etymological ambiguity of the word biology, because this science is not the study of "life", but of some of its manifestations. Fundamental difference! Life is everywhere. She escapes the measurement and even observation. Of all the mysteries, it is the only one that contains them all. "I am life", said the Rabbi. The Aleph is life, we say. In life you can say everything and the more you lower your threshold, the more escapes thought. Biology is only the study of certain vital phenomena in organisms and the study of their organization. The biologist who intends to go as far as possible in the application of joint analysis and study of certain functions, establishes his research on a fruitful basis, including no one would think of challenging utility. But L. du N., at the start, has many other ambitions: he wants discover an "ultimate" cause, he wants to reach "ultimately the basis of life sciences", he wants to step back "The confines of philosophy" and finally illuminate the multimillennial darkness where brains are struggling, which are the cause of all human problems, including social problems. In short, taking up the myth of John the evangelist, he wants, through biology, to introduce into the darkness of consciousness, the light "that the darkness has not received." He leaves to fulfill Teilhard's wish: to discover the secret from the outside of life, the inner exploration of consciousness (which, however, is a living phenomenon) being refused. We know that these thoughts, eventually colliding with the unthinkable, will leap into mythical dreams.

The most curious thing is that these scientists do not bother to examine their first instrument of investigation: thought. They know and say that it is the scale of observation that creates the phenomenon, but want to ignore that it is primarily "the nature" of observation that creates it. Now it is certain that thought deserves its name only as much as it knows itself in its functioning within his quantitative universe. We have repeatedly seen that when it claims to escape the known, the measurable, with quantitative values who creates phenomenon, but want to ignore that it is primarily "the nature" of observation that creates it. Now it is certain that thought deserves its name only as much as it knows itself in its functioning within his quantitative universe. We have repeatedly seen that when it claims to escape the known, the measurable, with quantitative values of comparisons, it only articulates words that have no meaning that can be conceived and understood, in the reality of their references, but which are revealing of a psychic situation which ignores itself and wants to ignore itself..

Let this thought stick to what it is, let there be meaning only from the measurable, only measure is introduced into all areas of life manifestations where measurement is possible, that is perfect. But the measurable will not tear the brains from their immeasurable darkness, will make it shine the immeasurable spark of intelligence, only by first measuring the limits assigned to it by its limitations. Its claim to one day go beyond the confines of philosophy is equivalent to seeking the number that will define the infinite, or the Omega point where the thinkable will think the unthinkable. The failure of this attempt is apparent at the outset: failure is an extension of thought in the inconceivable.

28. - The failure of methods.

The confession wasted no time in expressing itself in the form of statements in which the confusion of a thought victim of its contradictions.

L. du N.: It seems difficult to talk about the basic problems of life without give, first of all, if not a definition of life itself, a delicate task if ever there was one and perhaps illusory, which no one would dare to attack, at least a momentary definition of the organism alive, which interests us more ...

... A living organism is a finite and asymmetrical portion of space-time, where almost all the forces of our universe seemingly act according to a plan whose coordination periodic would be preset ... By "finite portion of space-time", I obviously mean the fact that every organism is limited in space and in time. The limits in space are what we call its form its time limits, what we call its birth and death ... In the space thus defined without possible confusion, all the forces of our universe act incessantly. Would we be authorized to say "all the forces"? ... Certainly, all the electrical forces and magnetic which are found in the inorganic universe, are present in the elements which we make up, but wouldn't it be prudent to admit that some forces may be missing? ... As for the "plan whose periodic coordination would be pre-established", I mean that everything is happening as if there was a plan, and a tendency to follow that plan. It feels like a universal effort towards perpetuity, and the reason for this tendency still eludes us entirely. This problem constitutes a fact as indisputable as the very existence of matter. We can no longer classify in unknowable philosophical problems, that gravitation which, too, does not is known only by its manifestations, from the admirable, although hypothetical Einstein theory. Everything happens as if the characters of the living organism are means implemented by nature to allow this tendency to manifest, or as if the characters of the organism were only a manifestation of this trend ... And here we come to the only term whose meaning is as precise as it is mysterious: "preestablished".

... the absolute determinism of the laws of physics and chemistry tends to be replaced by a wider statistical determinism, although almost as rigorous ...

... In all honesty, we are forced to start from two postulates to study the living organisms: the first, which it is useless to define, because we admit momentarily that it concerns the unknowable, the coordinated effort, the plan, and the second, the only one that matters, that establishes the similarity of laws governing raw and organized matter.

NOTES. - Strange conclusion which, to study what life has in particular, admits momentarily that what it has in particular is unknowable and only wants to consider what, in the organized matter, is similar to raw matter. But let's go back to this quote at the beginning. After being set off to discover all that is most ultimate, the biologist, failing to recognize that he has made a mistake At the outset, pretends to be less interested in "life" than in the living organism. It is his right. But here he is, wanting to "honestly" define the object of its study, the living organism, arbitrarily isolates it in space and time, while admitting that he cannot do it. Indeed, if this organism is constantly acted on by the forces of the Universe, these forces are in him: he is therefore far from being defined in space. Maybe all known forces are not in action, says the biologist. But maybe there is an infinity of others: psychic forces, thought forces (the transmission of thought is an incontestable fact) or, simply, what is commonly called, vital forces, or devitalizing forces, of which we see the effects every day. The living organism, therefore, limited to its visible and tangible form is not presumably only a tiny part of the total organism. As for his limits between his birth and his deathxsy, they are almost nothing, because each living organism, being generated by an indefinite sequence of living organisms, has within it the entire duration, i.e. an element of duration totally unthinkable.

As might be expected, this thought which, related to the sonnet of Orontes, is limited while it is always boundless, bounces in a finalist philosophy, falls back into a pseudo-philosopher of Einsteinian gravitation, sets out again in "everything happens as if ..."; convenient formula to say nothing, comes up against the mystery of the "pre-established", in order, in desperation - hope - of cause, to end up deciding to study the life in the inanimate.

29. - The false fight.

The game is played, while the thought continues to struggle between yes and no, in a pendulum movement. Sometimes she allows herself to state the fact that any biological problem, physiological medical, can bring back a series of chemical and physico-chemical phenomena elementary, to immediately wonder "is that all? ... Obviously not". Sometimes she thinks that: or well we do not have all the data of the problem ... or the chemical and physical laws which govern the states of material equilibria are insufficient at present to express completely biological phenomena. Now, not only in these, but in all phenomena of the world, collective and individual, everyone sees that the "principle of indeterminacy" triumphs. Each passing moment introduces into the world something new, unpredictable, and which one cannot determine that after the event. Thought today is there. In the area of small units - the electron and the proton - hitherto inaccessible, we meet the most capricious irregularities. As for the biological problem itself, it is impossible to reach it by means of the methods which one because there is neither a plan nor a coordination system. What we know best today is that the data escapes us.

The methods having gone bankrupt, this thought envisages a short instant to reverse its process: The compartmentalisation has played its role. We want to free ourselves from the arbitrary limits that we are imposed first, and we now aspire to intimate knowledge of the facts elementary which will allow us to grasp the unity and harmony of nature.

Let's move on to this unity and harmony of nature, an irrational notion, of unconscious origin, totally denied by the facts, because nature is no longer a field of carnage where each species does not survive that what is not devoured, a place of battles and struggles to the death, where each living being gives us much more than "the impression" of an effort towards perpetuity. The reason for this "trend", which we as we have just seen, escapes "totally" from a mind obsessed with quantitative values, it is only discovering ourselves so that the mystery of life-death, faced with the greed of perpetuity of the existing, opens to us in its sublime totality.

But no, the spirit that wants to be scientific in the measurable, is not, whatever he says, in search of mystery. Its only goal is to assert itself in the immeasurable. For this purpose, it closes the doors of the knowledge, which is only found through deep inner explorations, where the incessant conflicts of existence. And how better to close these doors than by denying these conflicts? The concept that nature is a harmony, arises from the determined desire not to discover reality.

We are therefore not surprised to read that if medicine is not considered by some to be a science is because it has not yet reached the stage of measurement ... The modern laboratory the most perfect should be devoted to physical chemistry alone, for the study of problems fundamentals of life and medicine ... It is useless to dwell on the developments of this logic. Medicine should aspire to the honorary status of exact science, ignore man entirely of his psychic world, unknown world, unpredictable in its effects, cause of a considerable number of diseases, intervening, acting in each physiological condition. Better getting in line with everything exact science, its main tool should not be observation, but hypothesis. The hypothesis, here is the powerful means available to science. Let's summarize the hypothesis, on the one hand, connects them logically, the facts previously established to the new fact; on the other hand, she dashes into the unknown, and admitting a priori that the laws which govern the continuity of this series of phenomena are the same on both sides of the new fact, it provides for facts or relationships qualitative or quantitative, the existence of which will have to be confirmed by experiments capable of highlight them: this will be the second experimental stage.

We have seen, from the beginning of this work, that the historic shift we are witnessing puts constantly in failure this "working tool" which was the assumption. The idea that we can "jump into the unknow nby means of the known is a contradiction long condemned by the facts.

Quantitative thinking, which had turned to failure, now recognizes that science is proposes to understand and explain the evolution of natural phenomena by studying the relationships which exist between them We cannot in any way discuss the very nature of events that will always elude us and do not interest us, if not speculatively ... The term "knowledge" has no meaning when applied to things that cannot be thought ... We will never know that our laws, those which govern the succession of our impressions, that is to say our universe. So let's stop grieving over their relativity and see what methods we use to establish them. The result will be more useful than continuing the mirage of absolute reality.

The notion "reality" is indeed a mirage, because it is not thinkable. The alternative is wrong. His solution is in the fact that "I" being a living phenomenon, it has no reason not to reveal itself directly to himself, that is, to have the revelations of life directly. So, of course, L. du N. finds that:

As soon as we reach this stage of chemical analysis, we completely lose contact with life ... Carried away by our need to know, we deliberately turn our backs on the problem integral that we propose to deepen ... At one point, we killed our main problem ... We cannot conceive of a science which would not be based on our modes of thought, and these lead us to touch the finger with an absolute limitation, inherent in us and to ourselves ... Never in the history of the world have we come so close of the mysteries that surround us, we have never understood the immensity of our ignorance so well.

30. - The fall

So here we are, finally, before the problem of consciousness. In this immense, global phenomenon, which is the universe, the most significant fact for man is human consciousness. It's obvious. Which is even more obvious is that this consciousness has only two outcomes: to die to itself (at its own thought) in an unthinkable resurrection-life discontinuity, or maintain its own continuity by renouncing the essential, and this is what L. de N. chooses by going to distract himself in what can satisfy his desire staff :

When a chemist observes a reaction, the most important phenomenon is not the reaction itself. even, it is the whole chemist + reaction ... But there is all the same on the side of the phenomenon intellectual expression of a very mysterious continuity ... The nature of this continuity, its reason to be is one of the most confusing problems that man has to contemplate ... Maybe its solution will always elude us and which we touched here, by the very nature of our the limits of the knowable?

Indeed, and it is here that the essential debate takes place. The question is presented as follows: The immense difficulty of our problem comes from what we have gotten to the point where we try to explain the tool by means of the tool itself, thought by means of thought. We collide to a material impossibility, which is not unrelated to that of the young dog which turns on itself- even faster and faster in the vain hope of biting his tail. Or, to use a less trivial comparison, an impossibility of the same kind as that which derives from the interaction of the observation and the phenomenon and which is at the base of the principle of indetermination of Heisenberg. The fact that we know how to break down a phenomenon into discrete elements does not remove continuity from a another observation scale. There is not a single phenomenon that is not the result of continuity in time.

This is perfectly said, and at the same time totally correct and totally wrong. We are here at threshold of escapes in feelings, morals, beliefs, and also on the threshold of knowledge of thought process itself, if thought, on the one hand, does not turn on itself like a young dog, but to turn against itself to snatch its own secret and if, on the other hand, this going back to its source becomes a metamorphosis.

May we be forgiven for always coming back, for two thousand years, to the essential death and resurrection. The impossibility of explaining thought by means of thought is only an impossibility for a conscience which is, consciously or unconsciously, in the effort towards perpetuity. This consciousness identifies, not to a thought, but to a process of thought continuity. This continuity over time is the aspiration, the reason for being and the consciousness of being, of this consciousness. Thought is therefore the organization of all that accumulates, day after day, at all levels of consciousness, in order to firmly establish its feeling of continuity. These accumulations constitute, obviously, in the brain, circuits of memories which are the known. What is called thought is the putting into action of circuits which correspond to all the compartments of existence, thanks to an accumulation of knowledge. They express themselves in methods, working hypotheses, inventions, etc. Each aspect of the relationships of existence has its circuits, intellectual, emotional, sensory, which have their connections, as well as their circuit breakers. This which implements this multiple apparatus is the state of dichotomy of consciousness, which does not perceive - at upside down - only one aspect of life, while it never but lives the death that settles in it at its origin. Living conditions, environment, education, in short all social conditioning on the one hand, on the other hand personal tendencies inherited or acquired - character, vocation, sensitivity, etc. - all of this combines to establish a closed circuit, which can amplify or atrophy. This circuit is called personality, way of thinking and being. He has all the appearances of being an individual. Like an engine, it always turns in the same direction. So we can see that if he doesn't stop, but still wants to know of what it is made, it can only turn on itself like the dog which seeks to seize its tail. He him must therefore stop. We are not paying for words here, because the question is too serious: to stop, for this thought process, it means for the person to whom it happens, to die to themselves

What can happen then? There may be a vacuum. The reader may remember that we we talked about the fear of this emptiness, from the beginning of this work. And it's in this void, in this void only, what can arise from this renewal of being, which is the very essence of the religious state. What is happening. on the other hand, to one who, like Lecomte du No|y, runs up against the limits of knowledge, but does not see - or does not want see - that there, the thought must die and involve in its death the totality of the character Lecomte du No|y and of his fallacious search for the ultimate, which he has moreover abandoned? This happens to him: the engine continues to turn, and being faced with the unthinkable, it turns empty.

This is how, at the end of this book, "Between knowing and believing", we fall into the platitudes of the beautiful feelings and commonplaces of false spirituality. The dichotomy frolic there in perfect happiness. Here is the emotion in front of a beautiful action, the fatherland, the flag, the respect of the given faith, the dignity of man and his honor, everything that prides and elevates man, all against (naturally) the villains appetites of the physical self, etc., etc. Here is the conjunction of the moral "tendency" and the "tendency" intellectual. (This word "trend" is decidedly in favor). Here are the summits: the intelligence which is divine, and (horror) "the God hypothesis". Here's the hope of bridging the science of activity of the human brain, and the highest aspirations of the human soul. The style, alas, reflects the forfeiture of thought. No, this is not how he will make us feel the omnipotence of the Creator.

The disengaged motor finds no resistance. Why would he stop? Here it is, in fireworks, in the absolute nonsense (it is a question of understanding that, since the living organisms are oriented in a direction determined, it's because they have a driver, like a mechanic on a track of iron). Our hypothesis therefore consists in introducing a guiding will whose ultimate goal was, from the moment when only shapeless nebulae populated space, the arrival of a consciousness immaterial capable of evolving towards a perfect spirituality and freeing itself from the dictatorship of material support, its condition for an instant.

The most important consequence of this theory immediately provides a criterion absolute good and evil.

The will of God is - we guess - the development of the mind: it is good. Fall back into animality is evil. All those who are ready to die for an idea are the only real workers in evolution. No. Really not. Everyday people die for misconceptions. Whatever the idea that one makes of God if it is enough to give birth to the desire for goodness, for purity, for sacrifice, if it gives the strength to practice virtue ... This is the prototype of the false idea. If it takes so many drugs to to give birth in oneself, not even kindness, but one's desire, better to be frank, isn't it? ... Personally if I conceived God, I could not believe in him ... And the prototype of the false alternative. It is not the image that we have of God that proves God: it is the effort that we make to be make a picture ...

Here words fail us. Let us leave these beginnings there and pass to serious things.