Good science is universal, true and verifiable for every culture, belief or psychological state. In science, subjectivity seems to be stripped away from scientists' work. The personal lives of those carrying out scientific research seem irrelevant because they are set aside in the process and appear to leave no trace in their results.
On the other hand, there is little doubt that most great scientists perceive their work as a deeply creative and personal pursuit, springing from their specific personal, historical, and cultural religious backgrounds. Science is undeniably part of a human adventure involving affective energy, aesthetics and personal belief. "The emotional state which enables such [scientific] achievements is similar to that of the religious person or the person in love; the daily pursuit does not originate form a design or program but from a direct need." (Albert Einstein) Read More
Science has a major impact on education, and vice versa. By education we mean not only the transfer of notions, instructions and tools to the young, but the development of his/her full personality, which includes rationality, affection, creativity and freedom. What is the contribution that scientific disciplines can offer to the education of the human person as a whole? What are the limits and dangers of scientistic/reductionistic and utilitarian approaches to education? Conversely, there is a specific component of education in view of the formation of young creative and successful scientists. Few people would object to the idea that genius scientists were born with innate or natural talents. However, education does play a vital role. "Education" includes not only schools and universities, but also one's personal environment, encounters with single persons, and involvement with particular groups. What are the key requirements and outstanding examples of successful scientific education Finally, science-through schools and the media-plays a decisive role in the formation of people's mental attitudes. The way in which scientific discoveries are presented (particularly when touching frontier topics in cosmology, the origin and evolution of life, and the nature of human beings) has a profound effect on the perception of science itself, the relationship between man and nature, and the relationship between physical and metaphysical realities. What is the impact of present cutting-edge science on our vision of the world? The cultural and technological implications of scientific discoveries are huge, but normally they lay beyond the control of the scientist making the discovery. What is the role of science protagonists in the way scientific discoveries are presented to the public?
Science has a major impact on education, and vice versa. By education we mean not only the transfer of notions, instructions and tools to the young, but the development of his/her full personality, which includes rationality, affection, creativity and freedom. What is the contribution that scientific disciplines can offer to the education of the human person as a whole? What are the limits and dangers of scientistic/reductionistic and utilitarian approaches to education?
Conversely, there is a specific component of education in view of the formation of young creative and successful scientists. Few people would object to the idea that genius scientists were born with innate or natural talents. However, education does play a vital role. "Education" includes not only schools and universities, but also one's personal environment, encounters with single persons, and involvement with particular groups. What are the key requirements and outstanding examples of successful scientific education
Finally, science-through schools and the media-plays a decisive role in the formation of people's mental attitudes. The way in which scientific discoveries are presented (particularly when touching frontier topics in cosmology, the origin and evolution of life, and the nature of human beings) has a profound effect on the perception of science itself, the relationship between man and nature, and the relationship between physical and metaphysical realities. What is the impact of present cutting-edge science on our vision of the world? The cultural and technological implications of scientific discoveries are huge, but normally they lay beyond the control of the scientist making the discovery. What is the role of science protagonists in the way scientific discoveries are presented to the public?
The above topic will be addressed in three sessions, each involving three outstanding thinkers from both science and humanities.
The proceedings have been published on Euresis Journal.
1st session - The nature of biological evolution
The talk addresses the following issues: 1) Over the last several centuries how has creativity in art been similar to creativity in science, and how have they been different? 2) For twentieth-century scientists in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, a. What were the organizational environments in which they worked? b. What psychological traits were associated with their creativity? The data for this part of the paper is drawn from a multi-year, labor-intensive study of approximately 500 scientists, 750 research organizations, and 2000 laboratories.
Physics has undergone many changes in the 200 years since it emerged as a separate discipline from under the wider umbrella of natural science. Solitary workers, occasionally with the help of a younger aide, a disciple or perhaps a student or two were the ones who pursued it. Niels Bohr, having pioneered the application of quantum theory to the structure of the atom, had a new idea of how to proceed, one that did away with hierarchical structures.
In 1921 he established a physics research institute in his native Copenhagen. Visitors, mostly in their 20s and early 30s came from around the world, staying at the institute anywhere from a few days to a few years- seven or eight young physicists were in residence at any one time. Their financial support was from grants obtained in their native countries, special fellowships or funds that Bohr managed to acquire. In this free and friendly atmosphere they worked together, ate together and played together. Under Bohr’s benevolent guidance, no distinction of rank or position was made. Nobel Prize winners and fresh Ph.D’s sat side by side; the interest of one’s ideas was the only criterion in discussions. This mode of interaction, so novel at the time, came to be increasingly copied as the years passed, allowing researchers to quickly be heard, meet one another and join forces. What one lacked, the other might contribute, but they met as equals.
The Bohr Institute’s growing fame made it the Mecca for atomic theory and for the developing discipline of quantum mechanics, a reputation cemented in 1927 by the yearlong debate between the older Bohr and the younger Heisenberg that led to the still accepted Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. In the early 1930’s as the focus of interest moved from atomic theory to nuclear physics, the Bohr Institute continued in the vanguard. In addition, to further foster exchanges, yearly meetings were introduced in 1929 in order to bring physicists, mainly new and old Copenhagen Institute residents, together for an informal agenda-free weeklong discussion on topics of interest. This was an additional successful innovation.
Finally, as the forces of repression came to power in Germany and elsewhere, the Copenhagen Institute remained a beacon of freedom, a shelter for refugees and very often a temporary stop for physicists seeking employment in the free world.
When asked about the reasons for the development of so many excellent mathematicians in Hungary emerging at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and after, George Pólya answered, “[a] general reason is that mathematics is the cheapest science.” This was, indeed, important in a relatively underdeveloped country. As to specific reasons, Pólya listed the Középiskolai Mathematikai Lapok [High School Papers in Mathematics], the Eötvös Competition, and the personality of the mathematician Lipót Fejér.
The key personality in late 19th century Hungarian science and mathematics was Baron Loránd Eötvös (1848-1919). Eötvös was not only a major physicist in his own right, but also one of the truly great organizers of Hungarian science. With his German (Heidelberg, Königsberg) educational background and inspiration, Eötvös created a small, private Mathematics Circle in Budapest, in the fall of 1885, to build an informal network among university professors and high school teachers and their best students. As of 1891, this circle continued as the Mathematikai és Physikai Társulat [Mathematics and Physics Society] with some 300 members. The Társulat launched Mathematikai és Physikai Lapok [Papers in Mathematics and Physics]. In his inaugural address, Eötvös expressed a special emphasis on the training of mathematics and physics teachers and on the achievement of the secondary school students in Hungary.
In addition to his distinguished service as President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1889-1905), Loránd Eötvös became Minister of Education in 1894. This event was looked upon as the beginning of a great scientific opportunity in Hungary. The time was ripe to launch a new, practical and successful period in the realm of sciences. With the so-called millennium celebrations underway in 1896 to commemorate the 1000 years of the state of Hungary, these were times to impress the world with Hungary’s achievements.
As students were expected to compete in regular national interschool competitions in mathematics and science, the Mathematikai és Physikai Társulat honored Eötvös by launching an annual mathematics and physics competition “in order to discover those who are exceptional in these fields.” Results were reported directly to the Ministry of Education, along with their teachers’ names, and also were published in the Mathematikai és Physikai Lapok.
To support preparations for future competitions, 1894 also saw the inauguration of Középiskolai Mathematikai Lapok [High School Papers in Mathematics], edited by Dániel Arany, an outstanding high school mathematics teacher from the city of Győr. László Rátz (1863-1930), the future teacher of mathematics of John von Neumann and Eugene Wigner, continued Arany’s editorial work, between 1896 and 1914. The problems to be solved crossed a variety of fields such as algebra, calculus, combinatorics, geometry, number theory, and trigonometry, and the problems always required creative thinking. Pride, rather than money was the reward of the best students.
The Középiskolai Matematikai és Fizikai Lapok [Highschool Papers in Mathematics and Physics], the Eötvös Loránd fizikai verseny [Eötvös Loránd Competition in Physics] and the Arany Dániel országos matematika verseny [Arany Dániel National Competition in Mathematics] have survived until today and maintain the living tradition of a world-class mathematics education based on early training, competitive spirit, and the recognition of talent.
Galileo and Kepler stood at the threshold of modern science. They never met though they knew of each other’s work and occasionally corresponded. In many ways they were a world apart, Galileo in Catholic Italy, Kepler in Lutheran Germany. Both cultures honored astronomy and took Scripture seriously, and each astronomer/physicist wrestled with the inevitable tensions because their faith communities were wedded to an ancient Aristotelian cosmology.. Yet both remained sons of their respective churches, and both approached the potential conflict between science and religion in similar ways.
Nearly 400 years ago, in 1609, two profoundly memorable events occurred; for the first time the newly invented telescope was turned to the heavens, and Kepler published his New Astronomy.
These events are truly memorable not because Galileo found the craters on the moon and invented the satellites of Jupiter or that Kepler postulated the elliptical shape of planetary orbits. Rather, Galileo was working with the Big Cosmological Picture and he placed his discoveries in an anti-Aristotelian context. And Kepler, the first astro-physicist, situated his findings within the context of physical causes, without which he might never have taken the ellipse seriously. (The full discourse will explicate the use of the words “invented” and “postulated” where “discovered” might have been expected).
Kepler was criticized for bringing physics into astronomy, which was supposed to work simply from geometry. And Galileo was warned not to teach the Copernican system because he could not find an apodictic (physically irrefutable) proof for the motion of the earth. Each one, with his respective “out of the box” creative thinking on the Big Questions of the day, essentially changed the framework in which scientific understanding is now achieved. This paper will examine the roles of persuasion versus proof in reaching a scientific consensus and will reflect on the ways that Galileo’s and Kepler’s creative approach to cosmology helped to establish how much of today’s scientific credentialing occurs.
2nd session - The emergence of humans
One certainty about the nature of science and engineering education and research is that it needs to change dramatically if the challenges facing society are to be resolved. This paper will look at some of these changes in the light of global infrastructural projects including the elusive impact of e-science. There is no need to teach content any more since it is freely available on the internet. Yet how will the student know it is true. Who is to give a guarantee of provenance? Cyber criminals are already attacking massive databases to corrupt them. How do we teach students to sift the evidence and when to question it. Then, how should the student use the information personally and in the context of team working.
Likewise there is no need to be present at an experiment to run it and observe it in real time.
Indeed the speed of such experiments that are being planned now are such that human intervention is no longer possible. With new X-ray sources predicted to produce results every few femto-seconds governed by simulation models operating on peta-flop high performance computers that are grid enabled across the world, the role of the individual researcher is in question. Are they cogs in a giant machine? Where will the new ideas come from and how can they be fostered within this global context? Indeed is man a machine in this context? This is not just a philosophical/religious question there are also physical implications for individuals. We can certainly replace many human parts already. The ethical questions that will arise as we connect electronic and photonic devices to living cells and the potential promise of “synthetic biology” demand a dynamic world view that can be satisfied within a live Judeo-Christian framework. Examples to illustrate the issues raised will be taken from the future plans from the European Research Area and other national and international roadmaps.
John Keats wrote in 1819 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty --- that is all Ye know on earth, and all Ye need to know”. The Pope Benedictus XVI wrote in 2008 “La verità ci rende buoni, e la bontà è vera”. These wise words point to the basic triangle of creativity: Truth-Beauty-Goodness. Truth is the Utopia of Science --- What is the meaning of what I see? ---, Beauty is the Utopia of Art --- What is the meaning of what I feel? ---, and Goodness is the Utopia of Ethics --- What is the meaning of what I do? ---. The way I see them, all together, indissolubly entangled, constitute the frame within which emerges and evolves human creativity. We may distinguish three essential steps in any act of discovery or invention. The first step consists in the fascination, the wonder, caused by the sudden perception of something unexpected, inside or outside our minds, involving some sort of beauty, of elegance, of basic truth. The second step is when creativity might come in, through the analysis of what we perceived from a novel, uncompromised perspective. It is the moment when we spontaneously look for consistency between the unexpected, presumptive reality, and our mind, our interior, our psyche. The third step is when knowledge enters in scene. Either objective knowledge, in which case it offers itself as a scientific new aspect of truth. Or subjective knowledge, in which case it contributes to the universal feelings, the texture, the plectics, of human culture. These steps, essential to the human condition, naturally incline us towards sharing this new, real or imaginary, “toy” with the others --- our friends, our colleagues, our family, our teachers, our disciples ---, which is the primary source of generosity, of friendship, of goodness. The way I perceive this complex and happy process, it is the dynamical emphasis of its various angles, its various facets, that would constitute the pedagogical “method” for stimulating, transforming, creative education, to be practiced in schools (σχολή, schole, “spare time, leisure”) and academic institutions where future original, talented, rigorous, innovative --- inspired and inspiring --- scientists might naturally grow. The impact, on the evolution of individuals and of human societies, of such attitudes and initiatives can hardly be super estimated.
Dedicated to my children Alexandra Cleopatra, Adrian and Emmanuel
The paper first outlines the five dimensions on which creativity works. These are at the level of the society or civilization (England, Europe, Japan, China), the institution (the University of Cambridge), the network (Cambridge scientists of the second half of the twentieth century), and the individual (specific scientists such as Lord Martin Rees or Sydney Brenner, young children in two civilizations, my own experience). These are integrated by a fifth dimension which we call ‘luck’, ‘chance’, ‘fortune’. The paper gives examples from my own work of how I have investigated each of these levels simultaneously (as in the instances noted above).
In particular I will describe the setting up of a database of film interviews of distinguished scientists talking in depth about their life and times, now consisting of twentyfour interviews. This includes seven Nobel prizes (Sir Aaron Klug, Sydney Brenner, Fred Sanger (2), Sir John Walker, Sir Antony Hewish, Andrew Huxley), and some notable mathematicians, biologists and others. Short extracts from a few of these films will be shown in the talk; the whole interviews are available to be seen or downloaded on www.alanmacfarlane.com. These interviews are about one quarter of the intellectuals who have been filmed talking about their life and works in arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences.
In the third part I will look at examples of the dialectics of creativity. Firstly I shall look at the tendencies which lead to the increase of reliable knowledge (human creativity, the triangle of discovery-innovation-mass production, and the ‘meccano’ effect). Then I shall look at the tendencies which block the growth of reliable knowledge: at the national (political and religious), institutional (growing rigidity and hierarchy), network (zero sum games and secrecy) and individual (risk, oases, blockages) levels. Finally I shall look at the multi-level tendency to diminishing returns on knowledge through increasing complexity.
Although it is very often thought otherwise, creativity, imagination, and vision are an essential part of the scientific pursuit. Classical examples of this are taken from the history of science, ranging from Kepler, to Galileo, Maxwell, and Einstein, with special reference to the breakthrough represented by quantum mechanics. Real progress in science has always been the result of a change of paradigm - hitherto unimaginable - brought about by innovative minds. Phenomena that still need to be fully explained, such as the study of light, the origin of the universe, chaos theory, and unification of forces will profit in the future from a creative paradigm shift that we cannot yet foresee. Whether true creativity results in looking at common things in new ways, or in making complexity simple –finding the solution – it is always the product of a restless human mind that is never satisfied with the acquired knowledge.
3rd session - Being humans: between finiteness and infinity
For a variety of inter-related cultural, organizational, and political reasons, progress in climate science and the actual solution of scientific problems in this field have moved at a much slower rate than would normally be possible. Not all these factors are unique to climate science, but the heavy influence of politics has served to amplify the role of the other factors. By cultural factors, I primarily refer to the change in the scientific paradigm from a dialectic between theory and observation to an emphasis on simulation and observational programs. The latter serves to almost eliminate the dialectical focus of the former. Whereas the former had the potential for convergence, the latter is much less effective. The institutional factor has many components. One is the inordinate growth of administration in universities and the consequent increase in importance of grant overhead. This leads to an emphasis on large programs that never end. Another is the hierarchical nature of formal scientific organizations whereby a small executive council can speak on behalf of thousands of scientists as well as govern the distribution of ‘carrots and sticks’ whereby reputations are made and broken. The above factors are all amplified by the need for government funding. When an issue becomes a vital part of a political agenda, as is the case with climate, then the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research. This lecture will deal with specific examples of the operation and interaction of these factors.
Past the season of enthusiasm for Miller’s discovery of the abiotic synthesis of simple organic compounds, the growing awareness that random chemistry couldn’t have assembled functional biomolecules has stimulated creative thinking in a wide community of chemists, biologists, physicists, geologists. This effort generated a few scenarios for the origin of systems capable of evolution through selection. Although these scenarios differ in the processes they assume and in the nature of the first evolvable entity – “information-first” vs. “metabolism-first” – they share the same basic aim: reducing the fantastic luck implied by the fortunate assembly of functional molecules by introducing mechanisms imbedding a stronger degree of necessity. In this context, I will make use of a recently proposed concept of DNA self-association as an example to argue that the explanatory efforts in the research on the origin of life inevitably yield scenarios based on subtle physical-chemical molecular properties, fine-tuned to evolve within their environment.
The lack of break-through discoveries and the rather satisfactory understanding of the simplest forms of life have weakened, in the last decades, the popular interest and expectation in the search for the origin of life. I will discuss issues related to the public perception of this topic as emerging from bits of popular culture, such as middle school textbooks, blogs, novels.
One of the major discoveries of modern linguistics is that languages, in particular their syntax, cannot vary unboundedly: every grammar must meet some universal principles which generate an enormous but not infinite number of combinations in a modular way. The system is so complex that this underlying uniformity has excaped the attention of scholars for centuries.Only formal grammars have been able to arrive at this discovery in the last fifty years of research. A crucial question that naturally arises from this state of affairs is whether the limit of variation among grammars is accidental or biologically driven. Recent methodologies that allow us to explore the functioning of the brain in vivo have allowed us to approach this question in a new way. By testing the acquisition of artificial languages which violate the universal principles of grammar it has been possible to provide strong evidence in favour of a biological perspective to the mystery of the absence of entire classes of conceivable grammars.
Speculations about the existence and nature of extraterrestrial life have abounded for at least the past 500 years. However, it is only during the last 15 years that substantial progress has been made in beginning to address these questions with actual observations and measurements. Hundreds of planets orbiting other stars have been discovered using several ingenious methods.
The new planets have a rich assortment of properties and configurations that were completely unexpected, based on previous theories of planet formation, and by prejudices from the single solar system that we knew.
While none of these planets are likely to host life as we know it, the large abundance and variety of planets and planetary systems found argues that the discovery of a solar-like system with a terrestrial analog (in terms of mass and temperature) is just around the corner. Specialized telescopes are already being designed to search remotely for signs of biological activity in such planets. I will review the various methods currently used to discover and characterize extrasolar planets, and what we have learned so far. I will then discuss some of the philosophical and social issues that the discovery (or absence) of extraterrestrial life would raise. Will the Universe turn out to be teeming with life, giving us yet another Copernican "slap in the face"? Will it perhaps be so rich that we will be forced to acknowledge the existence of extraterrestrial evolved and intelligent life, at least at cosmologically distant times and places? Or will we find that life, as we know it, is an exceedingly rare occurrence that took place only here? These questions, of course, fire the imaginations of the public at large, and figure prominently in popular literature and film.
A distorted self-centered view (both biologically and culturally speaking) can often be found in these media, and it is a difficult task for the professional scientist to counter the concepts formed by this wave of (often very entertaining) images. However, even our own scientific frameworks and expectations for what we seek may turn out, yet again, to be too anthropocentric, raising the risk that we may miss manifestations of life that are vastly different from those we know on earth.
Tommaso Bellini, Department of medical biotechnology and translational medicine, University of Milano
Marco Bersanelli, Physics Department, University of Milano
Charles Harper, John Templeton Foundation Vice President
Giorgio Petroni, University of San Marino
Elio Sindoni, CEUR Foundation
Marco Aluigi, Meeting for Friendship Amongst Peoples
Tonino Ceccoli, Euresis Association
H. Choi, John Templeton Foundation
Donatella Pifferetti, Euresis Association
Nicola Sabatini, Euresis Association
Charles L. Harper, John Templeton Foundation Vice President
Marco Bersanelli, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics Department, University of Milano
John Wood, Principal of the Faculty of Engineering, Imperial College