Well.. I am in IISc banglore here. And there was a talk by Nobel Prize Winner Richard Ernst. The lecture was NOT about science, it was about what science should be about. The title of the talk was " Scientists, the caretakers of the future". This casts scientists in an amazing heroic light.. He was of the opinion that scientists should not just remain in the ivory towers. (The actual words he used was underground shafts but ivory towers is less demeaning.. :D.) He was of the opinion that science should not just be limited to advancement of science but also of society, and not just in the area of technology development or health etc. He was talking about social outlook, and social outlook in the sense of accepting responsibility for society, social welfare and thinking beyond self goals and self interests !!! He talked a lot about how the consumerist economy of the developed countries dictates the world market, companies stimulate desires for things that we don't really need, he gave examples of such products. It was an extremely interesting point of view to take about the world. It reminded me very strongly about Indian Philosophy.. :D Karma Yoga, Realisation that ones own ego and its existence is the least important. This was the first time I have a heard a western scientist talk of such things, he said that we as scientists have a responsibility to educate the young in the way of open ended thinking, thinking of science not just for science's sake but also its impact on the everyday life that we could bring about. I am of the opinion that he was NOT talking about developing more comfortable ways of spending life, but he was talking about looking at science as a tool to enhance life of everybody. He actually showed a model of social behaviour that was centred around achieving self goals, and he was talking about model where we work and I quote "We work not expecting anything in return, we work out of a sense of responsibility towards the society'. He himself confessed that he was deeply and profoundly moved with tibetian buddhist philospohy, maybe that was root of all this talk.
This led me thinking, he even touched upon this facet... What problems should a scientist choose to address ? Should we think of career when defining our area of research ? Is 'cutting edge' so necessary all of us should strive for it ? I know that we all want to work in the best of your fields, but the best of our fields should not be defined by academic inaccessibility or location of research or economic returns of the research. That is point which made the most impression on me, economic value of a piece of science to society does NOT mean that that piece of science is helping society. it might just cater a cascade of new consumerism and does not teach responsibility to the people of their actions.Look at the US, they enjoyed a very long period of economic stability and affluence for about 40 years. ( 40s - 80s this is my belief not necessarily a verified fact) and look at what nonsense they have come up with in their lives. So many things to make life 'easier and more comfortable' but what shit have they done to the environment ? more than compared to the rest of the world in the 20 years following that. A scientist should choose a problem for the following reasons :
1. It is enjoyable to solve that problem
2. That problem should not build an ivory tower around itself
3. The point is for the future of humanity, anything that can ensure survival of humanity for the next 100 years or so is a good thing.If your problem is helping this go ahead, otherwise please stop and reconsider.
Teaching is one thing, really educating is another. This is maybe to ideal and unfortunately survival and economics take the upper hand always.But that does not mean it is not doable and if it is the only way to survive it has to be done. Scientists talk a lot about noble beliefs and so on, but the all important funding comes majorly from government or private groups that obviously have expectation of some returns from their investment. But this man was talking of educating the 'society' in accepting responsibility for consequences of their actions. He believes that we as scientist could do some difference because we are privy to infrastructure and information processing many are not ( i am not talking of computing and network or journal access here) but a company of minds that can think, project, and hence make a better impact on shaping the younger generations. I mean scientists can get together and help policy makers change their minds, and people will listen because we are scientists, we are supposed 'to know' right ?
Think about what problem to choose carefully. Scientists I believe are gifted individuals who have the capacity to solve problems. The point is to use this ability not for any 'gain' but for enhancement and ensuring the survival of humanity. Enhancement does NOT mean living in affluence, it just means having a society that is made up of individuals who are responsible, open minded.
A person does not have to be intelligent to imbibe all this, just open enough to look beyond their own boundary. As scientist we often do that. giving all out for a problem without caring for food or drink ( Mr. Einstein comes to mind here ) is an an example of that. Doing phd from princeton because it will get me a good post doc is idiotic, it is practical but does not achieve anything to anyone except that person. Doing phd in solving a problem makes more sense because solving it might lead to enjoyment of science and enhancement of life. Science is career oriented, it should be problem oriented. Big lab scientists are revered as gods, they are... but only based on their achievement in science. not because they head dept. of something in harvard. Professionalism is correct, but only when conducting meetings for funding agencies, never for research, never for applying to labs, never for making personal impressions on people hoping to get selected or recommended by them. This seems ideal but that does not make it wrong. please think about this...
7 months ago