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Institut de la Vie World Center on Human Destiny

Introductory remarks by Professor Maurice Marois

New challenges for humankind

Mankind knows that its expansion will find its limits. Mankind knows that it is mortal and from a death that it can give itself.

It is acquiring the power to act upon life to alter its form and to change man.

Scientific breakthroughs offer the fabulous perspectives of the unheard-off. Science does give man boundless power. Carried to its utmost logic it compels us to pose the problem of ends. It also compels us to reject, lest we perish, the philosophies of suspicion or despair.

The Institut de la Vie World Center on Human Destiny

A famous sentence is written under Gauguin’s painting : “Who are we, where do we come from, where are we going to ?” What is the meaning of our life ? What is the vocation of man ? How can we cope with all the new challenges which every day confront mankind ? Some of these questions, that everybody asks, have no answer. It is not a reason for not asking them.

In a letter to the Heads of State or government, I outlined the program for a Institut de la Vie World Center on 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 requirements and aspirations of man in all his dimensions. It would analyze the situation of life on earth with the exactness of science, would ponder over the mastery of change, the management of complexity and the unpredictable and over a strategy of life. It would start giving a careful thought to the human condition, the reasons for living and the meaning of life.”

This text, as such, may seem to you too short. I find it still too long. Here is a historic memory. François 1er, King of France in the sixteenth century, came back from the wars in Italy. Fascinated by the Renaissance, he asked a famous humanist of his time, Guillaume Budé : “How to cope with the Sorbonne where an awful scholastic prevailed, extinguishing the creative spirit ? Advised by Erasmus, Guillaume Budé answered in one word : “Knowledge”. Such was the origin of the College de France. One word was enough.

Ambitious, necessary, possible

The project is ambitious, necessary, possible.

Ambitious: supreme audacity is supreme realism.

Necessary: life gives us the example of integration at different levels of organization. There is no organ of integration for the entire human species. Sooner or later this organ will come into existence. Let us go faster than history to give it a better shape.

Possible: one of the reasons is the credibility of the Institut de la Vie : the institution which we have been building for thirty years can sustain the greatest designs. It has convened numerous international conferences on varied subjects : theoretical physics, biology, computer science, economics, energy, pollution, global modeling, human settlements, protection against environmental mutagens and carcinogens, prevention of congenital physical and mental defects, aging, parasitic diseases, tropical biology, preservation of biological diversity, biomedical research strategy on AIDS. More than three thousands scientists from sixty countries – among them fifty Nobel Prize-winners – have participated in these meeting. The choice of themes and of ways of dealing with them was inspired by the same guiding thought : to reduce, through interdisciplinary methods, the fragmentation of knowledge, to abolish cultural, geographical and political barriers, to harmonize into a single vision science and civilization and respect, defense and fulfillement of life.

Professor Frederick Seitz, Past President of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. and President Emeritus of the Rockefeller University has written : “I believe the Institut de la Vie has had and will continue to have a completely unique role to play in the international scene because of its broad interest in factors which influence not only the quality of life in very general ways, but also affect the assurance that life will continue in a world which is ever more complex and integrated and also ever more full of hazards. I believe it is in the interest of every country which has a wholesome interest in the well-being of mankind to support the Institut de la Vie in its work and I will do whatever I can to be of help. Let us hope we can work in a way which mitigates rather than enhances the issues which divide our world at present.”

At the stage of development our institution has reached, the time seems to have come to crown it by a “World Center on Human Destiny” which will give it its true justification and will help to light its way. There, one could deal with questions that do not always have their place in the scientific conferences of the Institut de la Vie.

It is useful to distinguish the word destiny form the word fate. We suffer fate like a kind of inexorable blind fatality. Destiny is a more reassuring term because it make us feel that our own history is not vain. If its ultimate meaning could be revealed – which will never completely be – our itinerary will be safer.

A mechanism for the Center

a) The precedent of the College de France

I am proud of having been Assistant Director at the College de France. I admire this institution for its independence, its flexibility, its vast field of vision, its selectivity.

Independence because it is a self perpetuating institution.

Flexibility : for instance, the are no great botanists in France today and therefore there is no chair of botany. If new disciplines appear, chairs of artificial radioactivity or molecular biology are created.

A vast field of vision, from Sanskrit to philosophy, from literature to art history and to the most advanced sciences.

Selectivity : I mean the choice of the best people.

The limits of this beautiful institution seem to be the limitation to one country (France), the rarity of interfaces between various disciplines, and perhaps a kind of slowness of renewal.

b) Some suggestions

We propose for the “World Center on Human Destiny” to keep independence, flexibility, the vast field of vision, the choice of the best people.

Against limitation, we propose to call upon all collaborations whatever the nationality can be; against the absence of interfaces, inter and transdisciplinarity ; against the slowness of the turnover, the ceaseless renewal of collaborations.

The problems would not be treated in authoritative courses but in international congresses, symposia or seminars. On controversial subjects, confrontations would be organized between conflicting points of views in an atmosphere of serene freedom. Everything will be published objectively and distributed or broadcasted by all modern means, without indoctrinating. The institution will refuse to be normative. It will modestly attempt to be a laboratory of wisdom in search of itself.

How can we ensure permanency in movement?

By attempting to achieve the great scheme of the “World Center on Human Destiny”, we are faithful to what the Institut de la Vie would like to be : 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 t o 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, time and space, clinging to the side of an ephemeral planet in the dust-hase 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 Arthaud’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 that 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.

“Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going to?” We come from the night of time, and each of us can hear the great bell of millenaries in his cells. We are as old as the universe as old as life. Who are we? A flash of conscience in which dwell inextinguishable love and hope. Where are we going to? I don’t have the answer. It is within the realm of resignation, hope or incantation. But an effort of reflection could give us a better long range vision.

Abraham Lincoln has written: “Man is a family”. That is true. We can add today: the Earth is a village. Life is our common good.

Shall I mention two formulae from the French writer Paul Valery: “Mankind will be confronted to situations which it has never known.” It must not appear with bare hands as a traveler without luggage. The second formula is “The wind is rising. We must try to live.”

We want to live and live like human beings. These terms being understood in their fullest sense. That is why we are here today.


A cathedral of the spirit the Institut de la Vie World Center on Human Destiny might nurture our reflections in our search for meaning. It might also help to shod light on mankind strategic decisions and give a voice to the will to live and to hope.

Maurice Marois, 1996.


World Center of Human Destiny : Report from Professor Leon Kass

of the University of Chicago on behalf of American Group for the founding of


We seek to establish a Institut de la Vie World Center on Human Destiny.

We do so because:

The Center, an international fellowship of scholars from all relevant disciplines and outlooks, will conduct serious, sustained, and forward-looking research and discussion, in search of wisdom regarding the most fundamental questions concerning the human prospect. In this quest for wisdom, we express the belief that we can – indeed, must – find much underlying commonality beneath the often conflicting beliefs and attitudes that now divide humankind.

We aim to :

Though we view our mission to be primarily work for thought, and though we eschew ideology and partisan political positions, we do believe that new and better ways of understanding may lead to new and better ways of acting.





The Center will be:

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