Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 9/17/13
Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., stands behind the podium overlooking a sea of audience members in Johnston Hall.

ABOVE: Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., addresses the crowd during Moravian College's Fall Convocation held in Johnston Hall Sept. 12.


Fall Convocation Speaker Charges Audience to Pursue Wisdom

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., Delves Into Recent Advances in Science, Technology

The new academic year and the IN FOCUS year of Health Care officially began Sept. 12 with Fall Convocation and a though-provoking keynote address by Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., a renowned bioethicist, sociologist, educator, writer and researcher.

A senior bioethicist at NASA, among other appointments, Wolpe examined the ethical implications of new science and technology on today’s – and tomorrow’s – society during his talk, titled “Re-Creation: The Biotechnological Restructuring of Life.” (Photos can be seen here.)

Introduced by Virginia Adams O’Connell, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, Wolpe opened by sharing the sentiments of Moravian College President Bryon Grigsby ’90, who noted during the beginning of convocation that “we live in a time of profound change.” It’s been a rapid change, too, Wolpe stated, one with serious implications.

“There’s no question that the dizzying pace of technological change seems to drag us along in its wake,” Wolpe says. “It seems, in a sense, that we are always trying to play catch up to the new technologies. We are as much servants of our technology as we are masters. As much controlled by them as controlling them.”

On the encouraging side, in the life sciences, our society is “on the brink of abilities that were almost unimaginable a short time ago,” he adds.

Wolpe proceeded to delve into a handful of recent advances the world has seen, including some that might have seemed ripped from a science fiction novel years ago. Today, scientists are extracting genes from Arctic deep sea fish and infusing tomatoes with the contents to help them survive cold weather. Additionally, researchers have swapped out the green fluorescent protein from jellyfish, placed it in mammals such as rabbits, dogs, cats and pigs, and made every cell in their body glow. Not too far off, Wolpe hypothesized, we might reconstruct a mammoth, extinct for more than 4,000 years, or grow human organs for transplantation use.

These results come with enormous responsibility.

“These kinds of developments have profound implications for the future of human beings as a species, and as President Grisby implied, they have raise extraordinary important ethical and social questions,” Wolpe concludes.

A student from the crowd speaks with a microphone. President Grigsby addresses the crowd at the podium during convocation.

ABOVE: Following the keynote address, members of the audience had an opportunity to ask Wolpe questions.

ABOVE: President Grigsby speaks during the opening moments of Fall Convocation.

Wolpe instructed those in the audience – students and faculty – to grapple with the questions of “what it means to be human and what our relationships should be with the nature world?”

“I think these are questions that every single person needs to have a voice in because they will impact all of us,” he adds.

While highlighting our need to assess the enormous power of technology, and how the developments of life sciences can change our society and alter us, Wolpe did not push his own thoughts on the audience. Rather, he instructed the gathered crowd that the response should ultimately come from us collectively.

He reasoned that the purpose of higher education is to “remind us that we can’t look at these things in isolation and leave it up to others to think about them.” One such issue is how does society create an ethical calculus to decide how the potential of future progress weighs against a current harm? “It is one of the great questions that we must ask ourselves as we move forward,” he says.

The answers don't lie in more information, Wolpe explained. “The mistake we’ve made is thinking a little more technology will solve the problems. That’s not what we need. What we need is the emotional, intelligential and experiential perspective to use knowledge correctly. In other words, what we need is wisdom.”

He instructed students to use their time in college not to just to gain more knowledge, but also pursue wisdom. Through this knowledge, “we will found out how to guide these powers of science and technology toward human flourishing,” he concludes.

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