Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Forgotten Heroes

Our generation was brought up with very few career choices to pick from, particularly in middle class homes. Engineering and Medical studies were the only so called respectable careers possible. That in itself is so ludicrous and tragic! But worse still was the fact that both being based on science, the love of science that many of us developed was not a love but a compulsion for us all. Not one of us can make out if, even after having spent a lifetime in service of science, science would really have been our first love, had we had the choice to love something else.

No wonder people who don't take up science as a career seem to shun it like a disease. The essential nature of science -- that of asking questions, and using enquiries based on logic and experiments to find their answers -- is completely hidden from most. Instead, what has got ingrained in most of us is that science is what distinguishes the smart ones from the others. Therefore, those who didn't pursue science as a career for whatever reason develop a hatred for it. Who will be stupid enough to accept one's stupidity simply because they didn't become scientists (or technologists). For most, Science appears as a thing which intelligent people make a career out of, and in their spare time, use it to scare and demean others. Most people wish to have nothing with science unless it creates technologies which bring value in terms of entertainment, healthcare, comfort, lifestyle and convenience. That science is by itself a beautiful thing is never considered. And why would it be, when the way it is introduced into our lives is so ugly and distorted?

To some extent, intelligentsia in general, and scientists in particular, are also to blame for this predicament. Most of them carry the illusion that it's their tremendous intelligence which makes them what they are. However, if you look closely, scientists use pretty much the same set of skills which others use to accomplish their tasks. Intelligence is just one of the many properties of a scientist. And I don't see why it should be assumed that pursuing science requires any more brains that anything else? Similarly, the joys of pursuing science are very similar to that of pursuing any other activity. The elitism associated with science is also its greatest undoing.

TV is a potent medium which brings in front of us a wide choice personalities and lives which we and our children could treat as our role models. With the state of affairs as described above, TV channels find it unnecessary and uneconomical to give much of their time to talking about intellectuals, particularly scientists. Probably Discovery and Nat Geo do give some coverage. But I am not sure how close things there are to the spirit of science, with the element of sensationalism they induce. The effect of this on who our children will idolise, and in turn will want to be like, is disastrous I think. In general, mass media, being in the hands of people who are away from science, give a very skewed picture about the population crowding the world, and important things happening around. The people whose images are flashed are mostly movie-stars, sports-stars and politicians. Models. To some extent businessmen and artists. And these days, reality show starlets. But hardly ever intellectuals like scientists, engineers, doctors and authors get any coverage. Similarly, people are always perfectly up-to-date about the movies being released, the wars and protests (sans any indept understanding of the real issue behind them), what's the latest cream in the market which will help keep your skin glowing, how the dance item the starlet presented brought tears to the judge's eyes. Who cares about what interesting ideas researchers are dabbling with, what new secrets about the way the universe works they are trying to unravel, what beautiful thoughts an author is playing with to write his new novel, and what he is trying to say through his stories?

I feel our kids would have got a much more balanced picture of what all could be done with all the time available in a lifetime had there been less fear of science in the current generation; had people looked at it as another way of having fun and expressing oneself like various art forms and sports. In general, I wish we had known how to dissociated the notion of being intelligent with science and intellect. I wish we had identified science for what it is: being curious, asking questions and seeking their answers.


Mounita said...

Very well written and really true. In our times there were very few options for careers. Call it our insecurity or risk averse attitude, career was always more important than passion. We would feel most comfortable if we somehow get to engineering and grab a job in campus interview .. A whole lot of talents have been wasted in this cycle of thought. Nowadays we feel an air of change and its a change for good.

Ayan said...

When we were pushed to study science, we never stopped to consider the fundamentals or the origins of science. In fact both science and mathematics have originated from Philosophy.
The fact that science only presents a version of the truth and is not expected to be the whole truth. Aristotle, a great philosopher himself, postulated that "science" refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained.
This is fundamental difference science and mathematics is the requirement to establish absolute truth. The key words here are "rational" and "logical" and not "truth". Whereas with Mathematics no theory can earn the title of being a "proof" until it can be proved beyond doubt and debate, till then it is called a "conjecture".
Now here is twist to the story truth, mathematics also introduced the concept of probability to deal with the grey area between absolute truth and possible futuristic prediction. I guess it this grey area were we can introduce "God". Pascal, a great mathematician and philosopher, in his famous statement, also called the Pascal Wager or Gambit stated that, "since the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved through reason, and there is much to be gained from wagering that God exists and little to be gained from wagering that God doesn’t exist, a rational person should simply wager that God exists and live accordingly."
Using the analogy above every person who claims to be scientific must believe in the existence of God, which can never be rationally explained. On that bombshell, I rest my case for the need to understand philosophy along with Science and Mathematics to be a more rounded person with the true understanding and meaning of science rather than its technical interpretation like robots.