It has been a while since I used the slogan “Art and Science for Service and Beatitude.” I was very fond of this slogan in my younger days.
I love the word “beatitude” which may have Christian connotations but in this slogan it is used to mean supreme blessedness. The word “beatitude” also means sacredness. In my mind I always associate the word “beatitude” with divine beauty.
How many scientists are motivated by this kind of sentiment? Art and Science NOT for fame and NOT for ego gratification but for service and beatitude. It is very hard to find such a noble scientist. In my professional scientist days I was preaching the slogan to others but I was not really feeling like that inside.
Most scientists are driven by ego. Scientists have a need for validation. This is so obvious that even the popular TV show “Big Bang Theory” touched upon it in one episode. This inner need for validation expresses itself as the desire for fame and recognition. Scientists also have a constant urge to accomplish something great. This is a very strong urge. Most scientists feel that they are here on earth on a mission. Prestige is another factor. Scientists want to be associated with prestigious institutions. Long story short, the urge to become a scientist is mostly all about ego.
In my previous post I have shown some statistics about physics PhDs. Every year more than 1500 physics PhDs are entering the academic market. There is intense competition for few openings in the university physics departments. This kind of brutal competition selects the most driven person rather than the most talented.
There are few true scientists, of course, who do science as a service to humanity. There are also few who see great beauty and elegance in Nature. These true scientists are driven to express their feelings through their science. Frank Wilczek’s recent book “A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design” expresses some of the emotional factors that drive true scientists: joy and wonder. Baba‘s slogan “Art and Science for Service and Beatitude” expresses this feeling of joy and wonder with the word “beatitude.”
Would anyone do science if there is no reward of recognition?
I am trying to help science by exploring the conceptual foundations of physics. I am also trying to find a way for spiritual philosophers to talk to the scientists. So far, no scientist ever contacted me about the ideas presented here. I did not expect any contact from scientists. I knew that the professional scientific community would ignore these ideas. That’s alright. I have “found religion” so to speak. I have discovered the joy and wonder of exploration. Sure, I get discouraged sometimes (more often than you think) but I will keep going.
There are many amateur physicists who are serious about producing scientific papers. “Amateur” means you don’t make money from your scientific work. “Amateur” does not mean the quality of your work is lower.
Some amateur scientists are looked down upon as “crackpots.” Professional scientists came up with criteria to determine who is a crackpot or not. See for example the John Baez crackpot index. This is harsh, right? Yes, it is harsh. But, professional scientist’s indignation is not just an ego thing. Professional scientists have sacrificed so much for their choice of profession. They have been working so hard for so many years. They get paid modest salaries. They fight hard to get their academic jobs. On top of all that trouble, most are experiencing marital problems because of the lack of money and because they spend so little time with their families. When these professional scientists see someone making big claims without the necessary work behind those claims, they get angry. They react by calling that person a crackpot.
Image credit (scanning electron micrograph of ‘oval’ shaped carbon particles
that can be used as an anode for lithium ion batteries)
Art and Science for Service and Beatitude. Are we forgetting technology?
In his wonderful book “The Veil of Isis,” Pierre Hadot argues that the physics experiments and technology can be considered as violence or tricks against Nature. He calls this the Promethean attitude. He contrasts the Promethean attitude against the Orphic attitude in which one penetrates the secrets of Nature not through violence but through melody, rhythm, and harmony. The Orphic attitude is unveiling the secrets of nature through discourse, poetry, and art. Hadot says “Wheras the Promethean attitude is inspired by audacity, boundless curiosity, the will to power, and the search for utility, the Orphic attitude, by contrast, is inspired by respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness.” Goethe was one of those who advocated the Orphic attitude. He contradicted Francis Bacon by saying that “Nature keeps silent under torture.”
Hadot advocates another attitude: study of nature as spiritual practice. Hadot mentions that this attitude involves a) the pleasure of knowing b) the study of Nature as an ethics of objectivity c) the study of Nature in the service of mankind.
Getting back to technology, I don’t think that technology is violence against Nature. Technology is part of science. If science is not violence then technology cannot be violence against Nature either. I do not separate technology from art and science. I certainly think that we can develop technology in the spirit of service to humanity. That’s mostly the case in practice. Some technology leaders are motivated by profit, but overall, the ideal of serving humanity is a strong motivation for technologists.
What about Mathematics and Mathematicians?
I strongly feel that mathematicians are born as mathematicians. Their motivations are highly complex and those motivations cannot be explained simply by ego. Mathematicians have always completely ignored the slogan “Art and Science for Service and Beatitude.”
The word “service” is a loaded word. People have written books about service to humanity (“seva” in Sanskrit). People have written books about service as spiritual practice. But, I have not seen any books about doing science as a service to humanity. The sentiment is there, most scientists have this motivation, but my point is that it is deeply buried under the egoic motivations. Compared to scientists, technologists have stronger motivations to serve humanity.
As a scientist, I am no exception. The concept of “seva” has been a difficult subject for me all my life. I know the importance of service, I have been helping people around me, but for some reason I still feel guilty because I know that I can do more. It is a nagging feeling.
The role of society
When I was growing up in Turkey, science was perceived as luxury and most people considered science as a selfish activity. I have been accused of being selfish for pursuing scientific goals by many people. Even today, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in Turkish society scientists – especially physicists, chemists and biologists – are not respected. This is in contrast to the general attitude towards university professors in the Middle Eastern societies. In the Turkish society, university professors in medical and engineering fields, and the religious scholars enjoy the admiration of society but for some reason physicists, chemists and biologists hold a low position. Such a society cannot provide the strong educational foundation necessary for the proper education of scientists. In such a society, when you mention the slogan “Art and Science for Service and Beatitude” they think you are a space alien. They understand what “service” means. They understand what “beatitude” means as well but science is simply not a priority for them.
American society is different. Even though Hollywood has a stereotype called “mad scientist” the professional scientists fare much better here. The American society does not provide a strong educational foundation either but there is at least a tolerance towards people who say “Art and Science for Service and Beatitude.” But, the sad fact is that the general support for science in the American society declined sharply after the Cold War was over. Maybe the strong competition from India and China will make the American society understand the importance of the strong educational foundation.
I did not say anything about art. The word “art,” by the way, includes all arts including music and literature. In the first image of this post the intersection of art and science is called “wonder.” Curiosity, wonder and the joy of exploration may lead to Beatitude.