This book is composed of fourteen chapters addressing general issues of contemporary intellectual interest, grouped in six parts. Seventeen appendixes provide complementary information. The work deals basically with the need to redefine the traditional concept of humanism, derived from the European Renaissance, firstly to conform to the advance of knowledge, especially in the fields of biology and computer science; secondly, to put it in step with a current globalization which continually integrates human cultures and national economies into a grand coalition comprising the world as a whole. The emphasis is on humanity being demonstrably one and the same, regardless of ethnias or national traditions. The work does not constitute a philosophical anthropology in the traditional sense. It does not pretend to embrace all what is human, an impossible enterprise in itself which, nevertheless, has tempted more than one past philosopher. It should be understood only as a set of brush strokes trying to emphasize where and how the concept of humanism has changed since the Renaissance, as a result of tremendous advances in science and technology, political and intellectual revolutions, and economic transformations of deep impact.
Due to the various disciplines referred to in this work, I had to resort to distinguished consultants in order to compensate for my lack of certain specialized knowledge. In some particular cases, I even had to “go back to school” to acquire certain unfamiliar basic concepts. This broadening of perspective, however, does not affect the fundamental point of view of the work, namely that of a realist philosopher committed to rational analysis and the imperatives of experiential support. Although the book is intended as a scholarly work directed to the educated reader, it could be used profitably as complementary material in undergraduate general-studies courses. The educator could find here appropriate material for commentary and discussion regarding history, anthropology, philosophy, law, linguistics, semiotics, psychology, biology, neurology, economics, ecology, sociology, and the theory of technology, within an explicitly interdisciplinary approach.
The chapters were mostly conceived independently; hence, they are self-sufficient and intend to inform the reader about the subjects they tackle with a rounded approach. Some content reiterations were unavoidable; I have preferred to keep them for two reasons. First, to allow for random reading; secondly and more importantly, to facilitate the assimilation of complex topics. They will be encountered throughout the work, although approached from different perspectives. The different parts are independent from each other, although intrinsically related. I have connected them by a plethora of cross-references, inspired by hypertext technology, to help the reader inter-navigate them. The reader can safely abandon himself to these cross-references when pursuing a particular subject, or start reading from whichever chapter or part without the risk of falling short of information. Both “The Chemistry of Life” and “The Human Phenotype” could be challenging for people whose high-school education was not rich enough in scientific content. However, they can be read selectively, or omitted entirely, and still profit from the rest of the book. Another alternative is to skip difficult sections initially, revisiting them later through cross-references. The complementary appendixes are referred to from different parts of the work; I would recommend browsing them when they are referred to ensure a more profitable reading. The parts and chapters are organized as a transitional passage from predominantly biological to predominantly cultural contents. Towards the middle, you will find essays on the brain (predominantly biologic although already somewhat cultural) and language (still biologic although predominantly cultural). The unifying element of these two slopes of humanness is the natural-selection algorithm introduced in the first chapter and repeatedly referred to throughout the work. I have omitted a section on general conclusions, partly because many passages scattered throughout the work are conclusive to a certain extent; but, more importantly, because the reader is the one called upon to reach his own conclusions.
I deeply thank my daughter Ines Gutierrez for her expert philological support during the production of the work. I also wish to acknowledge my wife Marlene Castro for her patience and dedication in reading the entire book, some parts several times. She did so from her ample knowledge as social anthropologist and from her expertise as editorial and literary critic. I thank Jose Luis Torres, a liberal-education expert, for encouraging me to research this area in the first place. I also want to thank linguist Manuel Arce, for the opportunities to discuss with him ideas about language. My deep appreciation to the group of neurosurgeons at the Calderon Guardia Hospital, for allowing me to witness open-cranium surgical procedures, and pedagogically commenting on them on the spot for my benefit. My deep appreciation to Marvin Minsky, Nicholas Negroponte, and Mitch Resnick for facilitating my access to the MIT Science Library during the Fall semester of 2000, for the substantiation of most of the book's scientific material. Also my thanks to pathologist Jorge Piza, for kindly dissecting a brain to show me the exact location of several sub-cortical nuclei. Gabriel Macaya kindly made multiple suggestions, specialized criticism, and extensive commentaries on diverse biochemical and molecular-biologic topics. I deeply appreciate Pedro Leon for allowing me to participate in his graduate genetics seminar, giving me the opportunity to compensate for my limited knowledge on several key issues. I thank economist Eduardo Lizano for providing ample information on complex monetary aspects of the current globalization and the economic history of Costa Rica. Although all these knowledgeable and generous people contributed considerably to the improvement of the work, its remaining faults and limitations are, of course, exclusively my own. In addition, there is no implication that the interpretation of human reality proposed here is necessarily shared in totum by any of my excellent consultants and proofreaders.
May the reader read this –at times complex– work with the same patience the author had, and the same intellectual delight the author experienced, during its writing.