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York University - 1987

Citation of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa
 for Maurice Marois
York University, Toronto, Canada
June 16, 1987

In spite of youthful accomplishments and initial interest in the humanities, Maurice Marois was attracted by admiration for his physician father into a career in medicine. Today, Mr. Chancellor, Maurice Marois is a distinguished man of science with most of the visible signs of success that a superlative career in science can bring: scores of publications in the general field of reproductive endocrinology and physiology; pioneer in the use of radioisotopes in biology ; winner of the Montyon, Janssen and Chateauvillard Prizes before he was thirty ; recipient of the Médaille d’or Albert Schweitzer; Professor of Histology in the University of Paris for nearly thirty years; President of the Society of Thanatology; Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. This long, distinguished and still active career in Science and Medicine as teacher and researcher would command the attention of the most fastidious selection committee for an Honorary Degree. Yet the accomplishments are incidental to his presence here today, a scion of the pedigree of Antoine Lavoisier, Jules Henri Poincaré, Claude Bernard, Louis Pasteur, Maurice Marois the scientist has embraced Maurice Marois the humanist, acknowledging the maxim of his great countryman François Rabelais, that “science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme”. Seized by the simple and perhaps obvious conviction that science, as one of the highest forms of human activity, ought to serve humanity, that science and its application are bound together as the fruit to the tree that bears it, he founded in 1960 the network of scientists and intellectuals known as l’Institut de la Vie. He has described himself, Mr. Chancellor, as a mere agent, but he is “un intrument de la vision de François 1er”, who founded the Collège de France in the sixteenth century. Quiet, modest, and unassuming, Maurice Marois is nevertheless a persuasive and passionate soul who has worked tirelessly to give visible and palpable effect to the principle which drives him. His eloquence and dedication, together with his own scientific credentials, have combined to engage the attention of the leading scientists of the world, including a galaxy of Nobel laureates. His well-organized, quiet and select conferences under the general title “From Theoretical Physics to Biology”, bring together in alternate years at Versailles some of the finest minds in the world in order to deal with solutions to global problems. He has reminded scientists that the same science which has produced the atom bomb, agent orange, and gas warfare, can also produce penicillin, the contraceptive pill and organ transplants. The same science which serves the dark side of humanity can also liberate the spirit, pointing mankind towards the stars and beyond. A visionary? Yes, certainly that. But also a highly pragmatic man of action. Recognizing that if the principles espoused by l’Institut de la Vie are to influence society, he has focused his persuasive energy on the political leaders of the world. Presidents and Prime Ministers have felt the influence of his reason and his passion. He has engaged in direct and persuasive correspondence with both President Reagan and Secretary Gorbatchev, and with their agreement, he has convened meetings of some of the leading scientists of the world in order to establish a scientific agenda for the summit meetings, an agenda which identifies those important problems of mankind which are susceptible to scientific solutions. The fact that these are familiar problems: global atmospheric change, the loss of genetic diversity, does not lessen the force of their identification for the most important political meetings of our time.

Mr. Chancellor, York is proud to have enjoyed a long association with l’Institut de la Vie, an association which has continued to grow and intensify so that York University is now the Canadian centre for l’Institut de la Vie, where among other inquiries, the International Committee on the Protection of the Environment against Mutagens and Carcinogens will provide a forum at the university for scientists and researchers to study poisons, diseases, and their impact on the environment.

Maurice Marois has devoted his career to a fulfillment of Einstein’s wish that the “creation of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind”. York University shares with l’Institut de la Vie a conviction that Science must reach beyond the laboratory to serve the humanity which has created it.

We are honored to present to you the founder of l’Institut de la Vie, Professor Maurice Marois, physician, teacher, scientist, warrior, visionary and humanitarian, so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.



Ceremony for the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the York University

16/06/1987 at Toronto, CANADA.

Speech of M. Maurice MAROIS, who received this degree.

The heroic adventure of life has been developing for more than three billion years. The earth might continue to be habitable for another six billion years. Man is the latest off spring. Each human being is unique and thus irreplaceable. With the appearance of the human species, brain organization, intelligence and spirit reveal their splendor. Life becomes aware of itself, liberty rises up. From liberty comes responsibility : towards ourselves, towards our descendants, towards the entire living world. Such a man is capable, of inventing moral precepts, of loving and of contemplating such a man achieves the fullness of his humanity only when he achieves his dignity and his rights and when he accomplishes his duties.

It is our good fortune to have been invited into the lonely isolation of the garden of earth in an immense inhospitable cosmos.

But today, our air, the water of our streams and lakes, ours oceans, our soils, our renewable and non-renewable resources, the natural equilibria of the world, the fauna and flora, our physical, biological, social and cultural environments are seriously jeopardized. The planet is suffering the consequences of acid rain, ozone depletion, widespread desertification, global warming, and loss of species.

The worldwide use of fossil fuels, is leading to a steady accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which causes warming of world temperatures leading to rise in sea level which may amount to sixty centimeters or about two feet in a century. That rise in the sea level would flood homes of millions of people.

The genes of the living world cannot be replaced or renewed. They are all of an immense value for future generations. They have developed and diversified over three billion years. They are eroding. The rate of extinctions has grown to the point that today, species of living beings are disappearing so fast that at least one fifth of all living species, plants, animals and smaller forms, will vanish under our assaults during the next thirty years. The quality of human life is also closely linked to cultural values and to the human wisdom which is often encoded in philosophies, in religions, in laws. Creations of the human spirit : art, architecture, painting, sculpture, prose, poetry and music are priceless. But man is careless and improvident. For example, the marble treasures of the Acropolis of Athens and the brilliant medieval and renaissance architectural and sculptural monuments are rapidly eroding under the pressure of industrial pollution.

Among different forms of life on this planet man represents a unique species. If I were asked what we should first safeguard, I would say not only the monuments of the Nubia Desert, the Parthenon and the Sistine Chapel but also these unseen nucleic acids in our germ cells, which ensure all through the ages the propagation of our species. These nucleic acids are also threatened…
I stop this enumeration here.

I am a biologist. The biologist has a daily appointment with life and is filled with passion for understanding life. He is never disappointed when under his gaze; new aspects are brought to light. Always at rare instants of the startling discovery, he is amazed by the splendors of the order and the majesty of the laws of the universe and of the living world. He is amaze, and then filled with respect. After such a vision, the will is strengthened to prevent man from running and destroying the life for which he is accountable. That is why I have founded the Institut de la Vie. The Institut de la Vie is a scientific and ethical institution. It represents the mind which inquires and the conscience which deliberates. We must save life and the resources on which life depends. We must proclaim the value of life, encourage the use of science for the service of life and enlist all mankind and all governments in their responsibilities towards life and especially towards human life.

A few months ago, scientists of many countries among them Professors Davey, Gaudry, MacKinnon gathered at the invitation of the Institut de la Vie. They recommended a world program in answer to letters from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, President Reagan, Secretary General Gorbachev, the King of Morocco, Presidents of Republics of Switzerland and Ivory Coast, the Prime Ministers of Finland, France, India and Norway. Four specific topics were selected:

This program has been sent to all the chiefs of state or government of the earth.

Necessity imposes the construction of a welcoming structure for the world which comes, to go beyond history, in order to outrun it so that the values experienced as permanent and universal may survive the collapse of the obsolete world that produced them. A species organ is required. It would analyze all the potentialities of the future by confronting them with the permanent aspirations and demands of individual man, both temporal and intemporal. It would help men to proceed at every moment, freely and knowingly, to make the decisive choices, that commit their present and their future.

The Institut de la Vie will establish a “World Center of Human Destiny”. As an integrating organ at the level of the whole human species, it would neglect nothing of the richness of the past, would search the potentialities of the future and confront them with the permanent and aspirations of man in all his dimensions. It would analyze the situation of life on earth with the exactness of science. It would ponder over the mastery of change, over the management of the complex and the unpredictable and over a strategy of life. It would start giving careful thought to the human condition, to the reasons for living and to the meaning of life.

Life is information, structure, organization, hierarchy: it expresses itself. It is dynamic balance, regulation, adaptation, obstinacy: it perseveres. It is project, motion, emergence : it conquers. That is the wisdom of nature. But owing to the tragedy of scarcity and limitation, life is pursuing its way along a path of death. Human wisdom tries to overcome this bloody rigor by proclaiming the demands of our moral conscience.

The Institut de la Vie is not only the institute of the living cell; it is the institute of the reasons which make life worth living. When the motivations for living are engulfed into noise, fury and tears, then despair overwhelms the soul of the world and disaster threatens not only “l’homme aux semelles de vent” selon la formule d’un poète français, the “wind-soled” individual but the whole species. That is why, since its first beginning, the Institut de la Vie has risen against the great tragic voices of our time which celebrate misfortune, sing despair, proclaim death and invite to nothingness.

Each man possesses a parcel of life expectation, a frail spark. All these sparks may be gathered into a huge fire.

The Institut de la Vie proposes the awareness of the value and beauty of life. Let us hope that we will soon be able to proclaim the tremendous good news that from this moment life is not threatened but on the contrary – since ma always surpasses himself – he may look forward to a fabulous blossoming. Our message is a plea for life. It is an appeal to the unity and solidarity of the human community.

The Institut de la Vie is not merely an organ for research and action which seeks to be realistic, dedicated to concrete and useful efficient work. It is a song, the song of man who sends up to the stars his questioning about the meaning of his life, who projects his hope towards a future richer in justice, in fraternity, and in love. It is the assertion of the human being in the greatness of his intelligence, his freedom and the autonomy of his will. It is the song of the world in the majesty of its laws, beyond the ancient chaos, in its harmony beyond the dissonances, in its duration despite History’s crises.

If the suit that science has tailored for man hangs loosely the Institut de la Vie invites man to grow up.

A dust lost in the ocean of matter, time and space, clinging to the side of an ephemeral planet in the dust-haze of the immense cosmos, but a living, thinking, acting, suffering, loving dust which hopes, such is man, life’s last-born, a spark of spirit, a parcel of knowledge, pain and joy, “a tortured victim who is burning and signaling from his stake”, according to Antonin Artaud’s phrase, “a spectra under his woolen cloak and his big stranger’s felt hat” according to Saint-John-Perse, coming we know not where from, going we know not whereto, tragic or burlesque, pathetic or ridiculous, but of a dimension incommensurable with immensity, endowed with a spirit more luminous than the brilliance of a thousand suns, with a heart richer than all the riches of the universe, with a love greater than life’s impetus.

Listen to the moan of life, who wants to live, hear the call of the millennia to come, be attentive to the germination of a new world: soon the buds will open out.

Our motherland is not only national and earthly. It is life.

On behalf of all men on earth who share a will to live, on our own behalf, on behalf of “human tenderness” we celebrate life and we propose it as the major stake both today and during millions of centuries to come.

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