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Edgar Morin: Security is an illusion

At a reading on the coronavirus pandemic and social isolation in an interview with the French newspaper CNRS, the philosopher explainsEdgar Morinthat the scenario imposes deconstructions on us: the deconstruction of belief in absolute truths in science, the constancy of guarantees and certainties, and research without controversy.

The moment we live tends to make it clear to citizens and researchers that scientific theories are biodegradable and that "science is a human reality that, like democracy, is based on debates about ideas, although its methods of verification are stricter".

At 98, Morin believes that we are forced to face uncertainties, but that we can accept the certainty of the facts we follow every day: the awakening of solidarity and the opportunity to increase awareness of human truths, the quality of life make up: love, friendship, community and solidarity.Read the full interview:

The coronavirus pandemic has relentlessly put science at the center of society.Are we changed?

Edgar Morin: What I notice is that much of the public saw science as a repertoire of absolute truths and irrefutable statements, and everyone was relaxed to see that the president was surrounded by scientific advice, but what happened?

We quickly discovered that these scientists were defending very different and sometimes contradicting positions, be it on the measures to be taken, the possible new means of responding to an emergency, the effectiveness of this or that drug in the duration of the clinical studies to be carried out. . . All of these controversies sow doubts in the minds of citizens.

Do you mean that the public can lose faith in science?

Edgar Morin: Not when she understands that science thrives and advances through controversy. The debates on chloroquine, for example, raised the question of the alternative between urgency and caution.

The scientific world was already familiar with great controversy when AIDS emerged in the 1980s. But what the philosophers of science have shown us is, strictly speaking, that controversy is an integral part of research.

Unfortunately, few scientists have read Karl Popper, who stated that a theory is only scientific if it can be refuted; Gaston Bachelard, who poses the problem of the complexity of knowledge; or Thomas Kuhn, who showed that the history of science is a discontinuous process. Many scientists ignore the contribution of these great epistemologists and still work from a dogmatic perspective.

Will the current crisis possibly change this view of science?

Edgar Morin: I can't predict it, but I hope it turns out that science is much more complex than we like to think.

Science is a human reality that, like democracy, is based on debating ideas, although its methods of verification are more rigorous.Even so, the main accepted theories tend to be dogmatic, and great innovators have always struggled to get their discoveries recognized.

The episode we are going through today may therefore be the right time to alert citizens and researchers to the need to understand that scientific theories are not absolute, like the dogmas of religions, but are biodegradable.

The health disaster or unprecedented inclusion situation we are facing today: which do you think is the most impressive?

Edgar Morin: There is no need to establish a hierarchy between these two situations as their sequence was chronological and leads to what can be called a crisis of civilization because it forces us to change our behavior and our lives locally and globally.

All of this is a complex whole and if you want to see it from a philosophical point of view you have to try to make the connection between all these crises and first think about the uncertainty that is the main characteristic.

What is very interesting about the coronavirus crisis is that we are still not sure where this virus came from, what forms it is, what populations it attacks and how harmful it is, but we are also very uncertain about all of the consequences the epidemic in all areas, in social, economic, etc.

But how do you think these uncertainties form the link between all these crises?

Edgar Morin: We have to learn to accept them and live with them while our civilization has built in us the need for ever greater certainties about the future, often illusory, sometimes frivolous.

The arrival of the coronavirus is a reminder that uncertainty remains an inevitable element of the human condition, and any social security you can apply for can never guarantee that you will not be sick or unhappy in your home.

We try to surround ourselves with the utmost certainty, but to live means navigating in a sea of ‚Äč‚Äčuncertainty through islands and archipelagos of certainties in which to refuel.

Is it your own rule of life?

Edgar Morin: On the contrary, it's the result of my experience; I've seen so many unforeseen events in my life - from the Soviet resistance in the 1930s to the fall of the USSR, just to mention two unlikely historical facts before they occurred - that's part my way of being.

I do not live in constant fear, but I expect more or less catastrophic events to occur. I am not saying that I predicted the current epidemic, but I have been saying for several years that we are preparing for disasters by breaking down our biosphere must.Yes, it's part of my philosophy: "Expect the unexpected".

I also worry about the fate of the world after I understood, reading Heidegger in 1960, that we are living in the planetary age. In 2000, globalization was a process that could cause both harm and good.

I also note that the uncontrolled explosion of techno-economic development, fueled by an unlimited thirst for profit and widespread neoliberal policies, has become detrimental and has sparked crises of all kinds, and from that moment on I am intellectually ready to accept Unexpected and convulsions face.

How do you assess the management of the epidemic by the French authorities?

Edgar Morin : I regret that certain measures have been refused, such as wearing a mask, just to order. . . to hide the fact that there weren't any. They also said tests are useless just to disguise the fact that we didn't have tests either. It would be human to acknowledge that mistakes were made and to correct them. Responsibility is there in recognizing mistakes.

Nonetheless, I noticed that since his first crisis speech, President Macron has not only talked about companies but also about employees and workers. It's a first change. I hope he gets rid of the financial world: he even mentioned the possibility of the development model to change . . .

So are we moving towards economic change?

Edgar Morin: Our system, based on competitiveness and profitability, generally has serious implications for working conditions, and the proliferation of teleworking caused by the restriction can help change the way companies operate that are still too hierarchical or too authoritarian .

The current crisis could also accelerate the return to local production and the abandonment of all single-use industries, bringing new jobs to local artisans and businesses, and at this time when unions are very weak, all of these collective actions can have an impact on improving working conditions to have.

Are we experiencing a political change in which the relationships between the individual and the collective change?

Edgar Morin:The particular interest has dominated everything and now solidarity is awakening. Look at the hospital world: this sector was in a state of profound disagreement and discontent, but in the face of the influx of patients it showed exceptional solidarity.

Although trapped, the population understood this well and responded by clapping at night to all the people who stand up and work for them, this is undoubtedly a moment of progress, at least at the national level.

I am not saying that the ultimate conclusion of wisdom is to stay in one's room for a lifetime, but in relation to the way we consume, this restriction can be the time to get rid of this industrial culture whose vices are well known.

Unfortunately, we cannot speak of an awakening of human or planetary solidarity; however, we have already been people to face the same problems around the world from environmental degradation or economic cynicism.

While we all feel constrained from Nigeria to New Zealand today, we need to recognize that our goals are interlinked, whether we like it or not, and this would be a good time to refresh our humanism if we don't see humanity as a community of existence , we cannot pressure governments to innovate.

What can we learn from philosophy as we go through these long periods of limitation?

Edgar Morin: It is true that for many of us who live away from home for most of our lives, being suddenly locked in can be a terrible embarrassment, but I think it can also be an opportunity to ponder what is pointless in our lives or useless.

It is also an opportunity to become permanently aware of these human truths, which we all know, but which are suppressed in our subconscious: love, friendship, community, solidarity make up the quality of life.