The academia signifies the convergence of manifold creative and critical minds. But, sometimes, because disciplines naturally demand diversity of works and schedules, scholars have to be segmented in different academic corners. At the same time, in absence of a plea to come together for common discourses and expansion of knowledge, and because our disciplinary priorities (and sometimes biases) and personal inclinations are so intense, we let our collective potentials atrophy in divergence. Such can be the case in our own place.With physical expansion and inflow of a larger number of academics, KU has turned from the family-like structure of the initial days into a larger community where regular personal contacts and collective work are becoming literally difficult. Hence the significance of an interdisciplinary online platform like Forum for Interdisciplinary Thoughts, KU (KUFIT).
Monthly Archives: April 2011
– Deepak Subedi
Recently, I read an interesting and very inspiring book entitled: Surely Mr. Feynman You are Joking by Richard P. Feynman, one of this century’s most brilliant theoretical physicists and original thinkers. The book is based on his conversation with Ralph Leighton. Before commenting on the book, I would like to give a brief introduction of the author himself.
Feynman was born in New York, USA, in 1918 and studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he graduated with BS in 1939. He went to Princeton and received his Ph.D. in 1942. He also worked in the famous Los Alamos Atomic Bomb project during the second World War. He became Professor of theoretical Physics at Cornell University. He was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his monumental work in Quantum electrodynamics (QED). His equally important contributions are the three volumes of lectures on Physics, Feynman’s Lectures on Physics.
Although all the volumes of Feynman’s work are very popular and read by millions, this particular book, Surely Mr. Feynmann You Are Joking, is touching because it is an autobiography of a most colorful personality in Physics. There is an interesting story as to how Feynman conceived the peculiar title for his book. On his first day to Princeton, he had been invited by the Dean, Eisenhart for tea. Mrs. Eisenhart, while pouring tea for him asked “Would you like cream or lemon in your tea, Mr. Feynman?” Feynman replied “I’ll have both, thank you,” While he was still looking for a place to sit, he heard Mrs. Eisenhart laughing and saying: “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.” This is how he created the title of his famous book.
In Surely… Feynman has described some of the memorable events of his life, specially when he was starting his career as a physicist. His peculiar way of describing the events inspires everyone who loves science. He had an extraordinary ability to communicate his knowledge of science to his audience at all levels. The New York Times described him as arguably the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the post-war generation of theoretical physicists. He has employed his extraordinary skill and knowledge in physics in solving a wide range of problems which we encounter in our everyday life. When we read the book, it becomes evident that physics teaches us the way of doing science whichever may be the field. For example he applies his wits in cutting salads to cracking safe, playing drums to painting portraits and even in deciphering the Mayan-calendar.
Most importantly, Feynman put his love of physics to a highest position. He possessed an unquenchable thirst for adventure and unparalleled gift for telling extraordinary stories of his life, which are reflected throughout the book. This book has inspired thousands of physicists around the world. Anyone who is interested in science should read this book in order to cultivate an enthusiasm for learning new things and understanding the joy of doing science.
– Pushpa Raj Adhikary
The English dictionary describes science as systematic and formulated knowledge. Let us explain more elaborately the meaning of science. In the beginning of human history, humans were like wild animals. Slowly and bit by bit they started learning about their surroundings. Such learning was necessary for early human beings for their food and safety. The learning of one generation was passed on to another generation. Instead of parents transferring what information they had to their children, it was thought better to combine all information or knowledge of all parents and pass on to the next generation. The combined knowledge kept by a group of people or a tribe has come to be known as the culture. The factor necessary for the advancement of culture is communication, which includes speaking, writing, and various forms of arts. Communication helped to interact among different cultures and what is passed on by this communication is history. Thus history is the study of cultures.
Where does science fit into this picture? Science is only one of the important parts of our culture. The combined knowledge through generations to generations which helped human beings to survive, prosper, and be on the top of the development is what we mean by systematic and formulated knowledge.
Ancient human beings lived in the fear of darkness. They were susceptible to diseases, insects, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, cold, and heat. All these things were nature’s threats to living beings. Early human beings could not understand why and how such miseries did occur. Somehow they thought someone who is very superior to them is creating such miseries to them. They attributed one superior being for each of their miseries and thus created gods of hurricane, water, rain, cloud, flood, cold, heat and so on. They believed the causes of their sufferings were the results of the unhappiness of one or more of these gods, and constantly tried to please the gods to avoid the miseries and sufferings. Due to the lack of power to reason they cultivated a senseless or irrational fear of the unknown or the mysterious. Such fear is described as superstition or irrational religious system.
We have to examine how science and superstitions affect our daily life and our thinking. We have a long cultural tradition where religion plays an important role. Our puranas and other religious books have a large number of stories and incidents describing miracles performed by saints and gods. These stories conflict with our rational minds and our scientific understanding of our day to day life with nature. Do you believe that the eclipses are caused by the demons Rahu and Ketu? Do you believe that your destiny is decided by some heavenly body or bodies situated at million of miles away? Many of us have a habit of depending on the horoscope as a way to know the future. The position of a planet or a star at the time of your birth does not determine your destiny or future. What shapes your future is your attitude towards life and hard work but not the heavenly bodies made either of cold hard rocks or very hot gases. There are many stories about the unknown phenomena. Rather than believing in such stories and in irrational explanations one should try to understand these unknown phenomena on scientific basis.
Superstition is the irrational way of explaining usual or unusual events. Science does not believe in irrational way of explaining events. Science aims to know the cause and effect of each phenomenon based on scientific principles that can be verified with experiments and are proven on the basis of well-established scientific rules known as laws. Science has rational answers to many of the phenomena.
No scientist, however great he/she is, ever claims that he/she knows everything. A scientist always says, “I do not know” instead of making an irrational explanation of an event. But the fact that there exists no proven scientific answer to any of the nature’s secret does not mean that the answer is known to a religious pundit, or it is written in some saastra, or it is said by some saint or god. Scientists are continuously trying to understand why and how events take place until a rational answer is found. That we have not yet understood many secrets of nature does not mean that god has forbidden us to know those things or we are inferior to god, or we can never understand all the secrets of creation.
Conflict between science, superstition, and religion is not unique only to our culture but in the western society too. The church opposed the idea of Nicholas Copernicus who said that the earth is not the centre of the universe, a belief which was accepted by the Bible. Several other scientists had to suffer the wrath of the church for their scientific beliefs which contradicted with the Bible. But their ideas ultimately got accepted and helped to end the superstitious belief of the religion. In his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking, one of the great scientists of our time, says that philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.
I may dream in daylight but I could not leave the hope to draw the very lavish picture of establishment of biotechnology in Nepal. We can drag the success and make our dream come true if we get the brain gain. Well trained Nepali scientists from all over the world must yoke in the same platform for the noble cause.Private companies and government of Nepal collectively put their collective efforts to pave the way for the upliftment of Biotechnology. Industrialists from Nepal should take sincere interests to fund the innovative ideas of scientists for production of biotech products.