G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Friday, February 28, 2014

Science Demands Heroic Minds, But Not Heroic Morals

Today February 28 2014 is National Science Day in India

J. Robert Oppenheimer:

"When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you've had your technical success. That's the way it was with the atomic bomb."

Dr. Vijay Bhatkar, 'Outlook', July 2002:

"Vedic astrology is one of the six limbs of the Vedic knowledge-system. Jyotish-shastra—that combines astronomy and astrology—is a coherent, consistent and comprehensive body of knowledge with theory, practice and underlying mathematical models, and is certainly a science."


Czesław Miłosz:


" If I had to tell what the world is for me 
I would take a hamster or a hedgehog or a mole
and place him in a theatre seat one evening
and, bringing my ear close to his humid snout,
would listen to what he says about the spotlights,
sounds of the music, and movements of the dance"
 
John Horgan, Scientific American, June 2013:

"There are lots of other irrational beliefs out there that science should try to cure people of. Some examples: Belief that string theory and multiverses are legitimate scientific propositions and not just science fiction with equations. Belief that snazzy new mathematical models running on ever more powerful computers will help the social sciences become as rigorous as nuclear physics. Belief that evolutionary psychology represents psychology’s final, triumphant paradigm instead of just another fad. Belief that behavioral genetics will soon transcend its embarrassing record of bogus claims—the gay gene, God gene, warrior gene, high-IQ gene, and so on–and become a credible field. Belief that drugs like SSRIs represent a huge advance over psychoanalysis and other “talking cures” for mental illness. Belief that humanity is headed toward a Singularity, when we all turn into software and live happily ever after in cyberspace."



Jeanette Winterson:


"As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing. "Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird."

John Gray:

"An old fairy tale has it that science began with the rejection of superstition. In fact it was the rejection of rationalism that gave birth to scientific inquiry. Ancient and medieval thinkers believed the world could be understood by applying first principles. Modern science begins when observation and experiment come first, and the results are accepted even when what they show seems to be impossible. In what might seem a paradox, scientific empiricism – reliance on actual experience rather than supposedly rational principles – has very often gone with an interest in magic.
Science and the occult have interacted at many points. They came together in two revolts against death, each claiming that science could give humanity what religion and magic had promised – immortal life."




'Science, Mystery and Magic II (superman)', 2011 (Oil on Canvas)

Artist: Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra

Courtesy: THUKRAL & TAGRA

 For most middle-class Maharashtrians and their media,  scientists- likes of Jayant Narlikar (जयंत नारळीकर), A P J Abdul Kalam,  Stephen Hawking,  Albert Einstein, Vijay Bhatkar (विजय भाटकर), Raghunath Mashelkar (रघुनाथ माशेलकर), Anil Kakodkar (अनिल काकोडकर) -  are like gods.

They can do almost no wrong. 
  
A few of them are best-selling authors in Maharashtra. They also are often sought after for 'sound bite' on most issues that attract media. All Indians among them have been given 'Padma' awards.

I have hardly read- if any- a critical assessment of their scientific work or general writings in a Marathi newspaper or TV.

They are as much celebrated for their morals as their intellect.


Adam Gopnik writes of Galileo:

"...In 1592, Galileo made his way to Padua, right outside Venice, to teach at the university. He promised to help the Venetian Navy, at the Arsenale, regain its primacy, by using physics to improve the placement of oars on the convict-rowed galleys. Once there, he earned money designing and selling new gadgets. He made a kind of military compass and fought bitterly in support of his claim to have invented it. Oddly, he also made money by casting horoscopes for his students and wealthy patrons. (Did he believe in astrology? Maybe so. He cast them for himself and his daughters, without being paid.)..."

(The New Yorker, February 11 2013)

Mr. Gopnik further writes:

"...Contemporary historians of science have a tendency to deprecate the originality of the so called scientific revolution, and to stress, instead, its continuities with medieval astrology and alchemy. And they have a point. It wasn’t that one day people were doing astrology in Europe and then there was this revolution and everyone started doing astronomy. Newton practiced alchemy; Galileo drew up all those horoscopes. But if you can’t tell the difference in tone and temperament between Galileo’s sound and that of what went before, then you can’t tell the difference between chalk and cheese. The difference is apparent if you compare what astrologers actually did and what the new astronomers were doing..."

I agree. You must appreciate "the difference in tone and temperament between Galileo’s sound and that of what went before,"

But Mr. Gopnik's conclusion of the essay is very disturbing:

"...It may be no accident that so many of the great scientists really have followed Galileo, in ducking and avoiding the consequences of what they discovered. In the roster of genius, evasion of worldly responsibility seems practically a fixed theme. Newton escaped the world through nuttiness, Darwin through elaborate evasive courtesies and by farming out the politics to Huxley. Heisenberg’s uncertainty was political—he did nuclear-fission research for Hitler—as well as quantum-mechanical. Science demands heroic minds, but not heroic morals..."

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