15 March 2016: The strong demarcation between social sciences and natural sciences has had a long history. It is both consciously acknowledged as well as embedded into our cultural traditions. The limitations which surfaced in the face of education have tormented the free spirit of knowledge and learning. But in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “It is never too late to give up your prejudices”.
The speakers on nationalism at JNU’s Ad Block have been trying to similar knots and to cultivate an atmosphere which welcomes debate and questions. This is what the lecture on Sunday was all about: the question of questioning. Voracious speaker and acclaimed immunologist Dr. Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology spoke on the trending issues of diversity and unity. “Science has always had a tense relationship with nationalism”, begins his lecture. The lecture was an instigation to question the idea of demarcation that we see between science and social sciences. How are these fields different? This ambiguous question typically renders generalised and pragmatic responses which do not show favouritism to either side.
The lecture ‘विविधता और एकता का वैज्ञानिक पहलू’ (Diversity and Unity in Scientific Terms) was directed towards widening the debate to consider external reactions in comparison to reactions from within. Science, as Dr. Rath put it, is knowing and combating external reactions while social science acknowledges the reactions of the individual and their encompassing community. In this sense, are the two not interrelated?
The intricacy of human understanding directly relates to the diversity within our body. With comic flair, Rath observes that a viable percentage of cells in our bodies is not “ours” but is actually external bacteria. As this bacteria accumulates, it stimulates growth and even leads the body to develops immunity for its “sovereign territory”. Is this not what we are fighting for in different domains as well?
“We generate random diversity” for own survival, Rath mentions. The constant interplay of resistance and diversity is positive for our growth. The culture of questioning guised in affirmative and progressive thought strengthens our own stance. As bacteria gradually develops immunity and antibiotic resistance, so does culture and individual understanding grow over time. Asking thought-provoking questions is thus a beneficial exercise because “fitness increases as an absolute value”.
A germ-free environment is not desirable because it stunts our potential development. Similarly, probing questions, resistance, and alternative ideologies are a part of a healthy long-term growth process. Successful universities demonstrate the positive value of diversity even in biological systems. Rath made a call for assimilation within diversity and proved its value in further analogies.
“Diversity remains immense and induces the understanding of different dimensions of truth”, he concluded. We shall learn to fight “microbes” once we give them space to attack, and we shall acknowledge them to know their finer details.
The essence of Rath’s lecture focused on understanding the wonder of ambiguity first, and learning to adapt to or combat it next. First and foremost, Rath insisted, it must be acknowledged for your own sake.
Ankita is a student at CPS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.