Ernst Peter Fischer
Born 1947 in Wuppertal (Germany), married, two daughters; undergraduate student in mathematics and physics at the University of Cologne, diploma in 1972; graduate student in biology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (USA), PhD in 1977 under the supervision of Max Delbrück; post-doc at the universities of Freiburg and Constance in biochemistry and biophysics, switch to the history of science upon a request by Delbrück who was contemplating to write his autobiography when he became termi-nally ill; habilitation in the history of science in 1987; professor of the history of science at the university of Constance since 1994; also visiting professor at the university of Basel (Switzerland) lecturing on the history of genetics.
Author of several books (most of them translated into several languages) (small selec-tion): Thinking about Science (1988); The Beauty and the Beast (1997), Hallo Dolly (1998), Impact of Modern Genetics on Life Insurance (1999); An den Grenzen des Den-kens – a biography of Wolfgang Pauli (2000), Images & Imagination (2001), Die andere Bildung (2001), Das genetische Abenteuer – essays on genetics (2001), Das Genom – an introduction to modern genome research (2002); Am Anfang war die Doppelhelix - a biography of James D. Watson (2003), Die Bildung des Menschen (2005), Einstein für die Westentasche (2005)
Awards: Heinrich-Bechold-Medaille (1980), Preis der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft Freiburg (1981); Lorenz-Oken-Medaille (2002), Treviranus-Medaille (2003), Eduard-Rhein-Kulturpreis (2003), Preis der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft für Publizistik (2004), Satorius-Preis der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen (2004)
“Lay people usually think that they talk about something that is generally known and readily understood when they talk about ´reality´. To me it seems that the most important und enormously difficult task consists in thinking about how to arrive at a new idea of reality. This is also what I mean when I stress that science and religion must have something in common.”
It was Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1948) who wrote these words in a 1948 letter and he added: „What I have in mind when I talk about the new idea of reality I would try to call the idea of the reality of a symbol (die Idee der Wirklichkeit des Symbols).“
The workshop wants to understand the reality of symbols in sci-ence looking at its history (starting with alchemy and its symbols) and wondering if (the public) understanding of present science means understanding its symbols. Paulis interest in symbols starts with the discovery of the dual nature of light and matter. The ques-tion is if something is a wave as well as a particle can it be any-thing else than a symbol? Since the observer decides which of the two qualities he is going to face it becomes obvious that reality consists of physical as well as psychic aspects. Understanding real-ity thus needs symbols – especially in science.
The best way to understand the modern concepts of science – gene, atom – consists in understanding them as symbols, and the phi-losopher Ernst Cassirer was right in defining man as animal sym-bolicum. Maybe there is an evolutionary argument for this insight.
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