Lord Snow was born in Leicester in 1905 and educated at a secondary school. He started his career as a professional scientist, though writing was always his ultimate aim. He won a research scholarship to Cambridge, worked on molecular physics, and became a Fellow of his college in 1930. He continued in academic life in Cambridge until the beginning of the war, when because of his human and scientific knowledge he was engaged in selecting scientific personnel. Since the war, he has worked in the industry, has been a Civil Service commissioner for which he received a knighthood in 1957, and was parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Technology from 1964 to 1966
Lord Snow’s academic honors have been Rede Lectureship at Cambridge, and the
Godkin Lectureship at Havard, in which he first put forward his celebrated
theory of The
Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. The Regent’s professorship
at the University for California at Berkeley, the Rectorship of St. Andrew’s
University and many honorary degrees from universities in Europe, America and
the Soviet Union. Lord Snow is also an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill
college, Cambridge, a Foreign Honourary Member of the American Academy of Arts
and Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was knighted
in 1957, and became a life peer in 1964. In 1950 he married the novelist and
critic Pamela Hansford Jhonson and they have one son.
Snow’s publications are: Death under Sail; New Lives For Old: The Search;
The two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution; Science and Government;
Appendix to Science and Government; The Two Cultures and a Second Look,
Variety of men Public Affairs; In their Wisdom; Trollope; and the Strangers
and Friends Sequence: Strangers and Brothers; The light and the Dark Times
Hope; The Masters; The New Men; Homecomings; The conscience of the Rich; The
affair; Corridors of Power; the Sleep of Reason; and Last Things
plays include: View over the park, The affair, The New Men: The Masters;
Time of hope: and the case in question
It is a great privilege to be among you tonight, and it is not only a privilege, it is a great pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, which Dr. Joshi has just referred to and I shall go back to England having learnt much more than I can hope to give. I am also really honored to be asked to give the Vikram Sarabhai Memorial Lecture. I never had the privilege of meeting Vikram Sarabahi, but I know so much about him form close friends that I often think that I did. He was clearly a most remarkable man, and remarkable in a way which is extremely uncommon. He had great scientific Insight in the strictest sense. He was an industrialist of vision, and person of drive. He was an extraordinarily good organiser, but more than that much more than that he loved his own country and he loved mankind. And that is a quality, which, is not all that common with man of gifts, and is invaluable when it happens. I wish to give this lecture in his memory and I wish to combine it with the memory of his friend and mine Patrick Blackett
Patrick Blackett was a lover of India. He was, as some of you will know, a very fine experimental scientist Nobel Prize winner and a great figure in the pure scientific world. He was also passionately devoted to the kind of things which Sarabhai did, that is increasing technological competence wherever possible, making life better, in the simplest and most practical sense, for the fellow-men. Blackett was a life-long friend of mine and I definitely thought he was humane. Unlike Sarabhai, he had not worked particularly in easy contact with his fellow human creatures. He was, rather strangely, trained as a naval officer and all his life he carried the stamp that authoritative firm, not given to many words, and so on. The fact that he was trained as a naval officer was enormously valuable to my country in the last war. As a young man he had been trained and had become influential in the armed forces and he could speak to them as an equal as very few scientists could. Characteristic of this would be that we should spend our lives as profitably as they did. We should not be feeling that we have completely wasted our time.
Having accepted this invitation, as Dr. Joshi said. I found there were no commotion’s greeting my arrival. I had to choose a subject and that was not so easy. I did not want to repeat myself on the dangers of nuclear bomb proliferation. First, I never have believed in a major nuclear war between the Super Powers, and second, I still believe that it is extremely dangerous for these things to get into irresponsible hands. I said that in New York on the last day of 1960 and got into enormous trouble. That is why I told Dr. Joshi whenever I open my mouth I get into enormous trouble. Secondly, I did not want to repeat what I said in a lecture called the “State of Siege” I gave that in Missourie, right in the middle of America, the same place that Churchill gave his iron curtain speech and incidentally in the same series. There I was saying that the disparity between the rich countries of the earth and the poor must not go on for long. It cannot go on for long without immense danger and in my judgement will not go on for long. How and when that will happen no one can at present exactly foresee. Some of you will live to see the gap getting narrower, I shall not, but anyway, think of me when you find it happens. I did not want also to revert to old themes and therefore I decided to do something which was very close to the common interests of my two heroes-Sarabhai and Blackett-and do my best with that. I was moved to some extent by something that I read. It was inspired by Sarabhai and I am almost sure written by him, the pronouncement of the Indian government. It runs as follows: “ The key to national prosperity, apart from the spirit of the people, lies in the modern age, in the effective combination of three factors; technology, raw materials and capital, of which the first is perhaps the most important since the creation and adoption of new scientific techniques can in fact make up for the deficiency in natural resources and reduce the demands on capital” That is really my text tonight. Technology is often regarded as the study of science and its application. This is one thing I disagree with. Some times technology precedes science and does not follow. There are quite a number of examples in this where we gradually getting more aware of the complicated relation between technology and science. However, I will have a word about that in a minute. The second quotation from this document refers to what I shall talk about tomorrow. Science is not an irradically altered mans material environment. But what is of still deeper significance, it has provided new tools of thought and it has extended managemental horizon. It has greatly influenced the basic values of life and given the civilization a new vitality and a new dynamism. I thought would divide what I have to say into two, dealing with the first topic tonight, and the second topic tomorrow. The second will be graver and more personal and therefore I thought it would be better if we had the questions after that. The reason why the second will be grave and more personal is that I detest having to use a prepared script. This is one of the occasions where technology does its half. In the 19th century before reproduction was easy, people had to learn to speak on their feet. They did not read like monotonous monsters. They spoke. Speaking has been entirely different from writing. What I have done I am afraid is a very bad compromise between the two, and I do dislike it very much. I apologize genuinely but in this country as in all countries now unless you prepare a speech everyone thinks you are careless and it will not reproduced in any newspaper anywhere. So, therefore, I followed instructions, the first part is under print. The second secret talk I will do it on my own way tomorrow.
The topic on which I wish to speak which is the first quotation from the Indian government pronouncement which said, was as I say almost certainly inspired if not written by Sarabhai. This topic does provide a remarkable opportunity for platitudes. Expressions of good intention proliferate. I tried to prepare myself a bit to for this particular talk and I read many many documents by well meaning men and I felt as I went on, that I was being hit on the head by a very soft pillow. I am taking a risk. Some of this you too will find hitting you on the head with a very soft pillow. This is to some extent intrinsic in the subject. The detail is very important, the generalisations are very obvious. Anyone round this room can make them tomorrow, that is a very bad mixture for an interesting topic of discussion. Nevertheless, it is desperately important that we bear with the difficult topic. One of the curious things which I felt as I made these minor researches was that your country, India, and my country, Britain, despite all our differences in circumstances and history and what not, are more than confronted with some curiously similar problems. Living in a complicated gritty, world we have got sand in our eyes. We may not always like this world, but we live in it. Some of the problems are easy to identify, that is, the problems of how we are to make a practical goal of our country’s living. Some are not, some of the attempts to solve them are in the hands of politicians, but usually less than we think, and certainly less than politicians think. Often we are impelled by forces, which at the moment in which we stand, we can’t comprehend at all
Technology has changed the world far more than conscious political decisions. Sometimes it seems to run way with us, as though we were in a bus with a mad driver at the wheel, or even no driver whatever. Still it remains the most powerful weapon we possess to make the world a little better. We have to learn to control it. To stop using it for bad purposes. To use it for good. That is the first platitude tonight, and I shall do my best as I go along.
I have used the word ‘technology’. That is a deliberate choice. I could have said applied science, but increasingly. I have come to think that is misleading. Science is the attempt to understand the natural world. Technology is the attempt to alter and control the natural world. The relation between them is extremely complex, and the more one reflects on it, the more complex it seems. There are many parts of science, which stem from technology where technology is the form. Sometimes it is the other way round, but it is just not correct to say that we have to have science before we can have technology
In some domains the two activities fuse and the frontier between them disappear. In others the separation is complete. By the by, most of the industries in Ahmedabad are in fact rather typical example where technology and science are intimately fused and come to separate. The extraordinary recent discoveries in particle physics, space science are about as far from control of the natural world as linguistic philosophy or studies of descriptions. Science as science doesn’t present any practical problem. It is international as no other human activity can be. Nearly everyone would agree that it is wrongdoing one of the beautiful things that human being can do. I hope to say something about tomorrow night
In the popular mind there is, of course, a profound confusion in between science and technology. In the West, one meets a quite strong wave one meets a quite strong wave of feeling, which is called for shorthand purposes “anti-science”. This is particularly active in America. It is most active among people living exceptionally comfortable lives in the material sense-lives so materially comfortable among massive sections of people and great stretches of that big country and in fact the Western Europe, that I often wonder whether the world will ever see anything on the same scale again. I do not think very much will be lost by reducing that extreme level of material prosperity. I very much doubt whether it is going to be generally diffused all over the world. (That is not the way the gap between the rich and poor happened.) Such people devoted to anti-science forget that they have come to depend upon technology. And more important, they forget that without technology the world cannot feed itself, and look up to all the things, which a decent world society must propose to perform. Anti-science is a protest against the possibilities of nuclear war-the dangers of pollution of the atmosphere-the hazards of nuclear waste-the devastation of the countryside-the inhumanity of motorways, all kinds of things which all of us, of course, take seriously and regret. But the idea that you can get rid of them and at the same time get rid of real positive benevolent technology is of course a child’s dream
I shall come back to one or two other reactions of anti-science a little later. It is not really anti-science. It is anti-technology
One runs across the same confusion in all kinds of context. One of the most distinguished English engineering technologists was complaining the other day. He said “the Americans sent a piece of mechanical equipment’s to Mars and then gave it instructions across millions of miles by remote control. That was called a scientific triumph. If anything had gone wrong, it would have been called an engineering failure. He was distinctly irritated. On the other hand I think he is in a better temper now because on January first, he was put in the House of Lords. Actually, the whole of space performance, American and Soviet, has been an enormous technological effort, nothing else. It is the biggest technological effort and humankind has made so far. It is perhaps a commentary on God loved mankind’s efforts that the solar system turns out to be so remarkably dull.
Nevertheless, it is technology, which has made humankind what it now is. Or if you like it the mental consciousness which has made technology possible. Has there been progress in human history? Oh yes, of course there has. I happened to listen to a short historical disposition. If you are not prepared to be vindicated, then you are more or less a captive audience. It is fashionable in the West to disapprove of any mention of progress. Even the use of the word is inadmissible. To be in the mode, particularly among certain kinds of intellectuals, you are more highly regarded if you consider all human history as an infinite redress
Such people of course know little of what human history has really been. They can know nothing. They can know nothing at all of human history in realistic terms. We don’t know enough about it, but we know a certain amount and we know it quite positively now. We know that the most distant ancestors of ours whom we can trace, lived round the shores of Lake Rudolph in Northern Kenya, round about three million to four million years before. Well, that particular spot is rather caught up in mystery and is so horrible now that had to be slightly more encouraging. These creatures are classified as Homo sapiens, which is our own species. It is doubtful whether we should be able to meet the test of common species by inter-breeding with them and I suspect the temptation would not have been very great. But they are our ancestors. Some of their genes atleast we carry. We shall never know whether they developed anything in the way of speech or language-which is probably the most fundamental of all human discoveries and it was through language that man became man. But they had certainly developed primitive tools, or at least used bits of stone as tools. They were flesh eaters and foraged for any kind of food. Occasionally they managed to trap large animals, even the odd rhinoceros. Presumably they used their stone implements to cut them up. That was a first step along the technological road.
I don’t think we are being conceited in thinking that from Lake Rudolph to ourselves frail, stupid, beastly, cruel and all the rest, as we are, there has been a change which we can reasonably call progress
The revolutionary changes in human life have all been technological. Apart from the start, the rest happened very recently, by the time scale I have just been using. Agriculture was somehow happened upon nine to ten thousand years ago-Certain suggestions, probably women know, like picking up various wild crop of grasses and finding that they could grow them and use their grains. Our species had been formed considerably before that-people genetically like ourselves had been roaming about for a good man millennia. Agriculture meant the beginning of what we term civilization. Then human life didn’t change much for the over-whelming majority of the human race until only a few generations ago. Most people were getting a living form the soil. Probably 95 per cent of the population of the entire planet. Then there was a quantum jump in technology, and men learned to develop machines and make industrial products on a mass scale. It seems an accident that this technological revolution started in the West. This is one of my pet subjects. There does not seem to be any particular reason, on one I know of, that can produce a coherent explanation. However, you know it did and, over time, it gave the West immense riches and overwhelming power and it has altered some of the shape of the human existence.
I won’t weary you much more with historical exposition but for me at least this kind of reminder helps to get our present affairs into better perspective. In many ways most reflective people in the world know they are living in a period of acute change. This has been at least partially caused by another quantum jump in technology-or alternatively the social forces underneath have helped bring about that jump.
Anyway your society, Indian, and ours, English, are living rather apprehensively on the fringe of that change certainly not at the center. We have got into that position by different routes but a good many of our puzzles and worries are the same.
We are obliged to carry out our basic social task-that is, we have to provide a bearable life for our population. This can’t help being true for both our societies. Platitude No.2. To do that, we both need to be more technologically effective. In pure science, we both have much high talent. In some sophisticated technologies, we both do very well. But over the whole broad sweep of today’s technological industry, we are both rather backward-even if we forget America, by the standard of, say Sweden or either of the Germanys or of Japan. As I said, we arrived at this unfortunate position by different routes. My country got in the world with the industrial revolution. That made us very rich in the nineteenth century, but it has turned out a misfortune in disguise. It is one reason for our decline. We got in too early. You got in too late
We both have to get our technology tight for the most elemental reason. We have to feed our people. You have an enormous population much too large, growing too fast. Curiously enough our population though it isn’t growing is also too large for one small island. We have to import nearly half our food. Our agriculture is actually a good deal more efficient than our productive industry. It is much more efficient in Europe. But it cannot feed and never can feed, our over crowded country. That is why we have to sell manufactured goods abroad in order to survive. Hence our chronic economic problems, which have grown steadily more grave for a generation, and more grave imperceptibly for much longer than that, well, if you went to London or any English town, you will see people spending money like water, lots of goods in the shops, everyone looking prosperous and people thinking whether they could get a colour TV set. How economic disasters happen in a highly advanced industrialised society no one quite knows. We are waiting for the results of this curiosity
You have had great successes with your agriculture It is astonishing that you have managed recently to produce a surplus of food. I take it that the Green Revolution has helped. It was an occasion of science preceding technology rather than the other way round. But that must be precarious situation. As with us, you need a high technology to earn your living in this harsh world. This requires not only a technological effort, it needs political skills, which in my own land we have found quite extraordinarily difficult to find. It needs, certainly with us in England, something like a psychological transformation or change of heart. I will finish on that note
Well, I am saying that technology properly used is the only weapon, which either of our societies has at hand. I know, as well as any one, that technology can do harm as well as good. It brings great benefits, but it has an unpleasant knack of suddenly stabbing you in the back. Take an example even of the most benevolent of all technologies, medicine. Medicine is a technology, which travels most quickly around the world. It does not need machines, it goes everywhere very very fast. Average expectation of life all over the world has gone up dramatically, in rich countries, in poor countries. Eventually mortality has declined equally dramatically. Now, no man with a decent feeling, no man with a human heart, can possibly think those are but great good things. No one could possibly wish them otherwise and yet we know that the result of this most benevolent technology will of course add to this problem of population, which is pressing upon us. That is one of the real ironies, which are hardest of all to take. But those problems must not make us faint-hearted. These are problems which give a challenge to our intelligence and our will and challenges are made to be picked up.
The same is the case with less desperate challenges, which our countries have to face because our technology isn’t all it should be. We face different questions and each of us with different inflections gets plenty of advice. I have read a certain amount of the advice you are being given. Most of it, I confess, seems to be singularly flat-footed, when one has penetrated the solemn commonplaces of official prose. In attempting to learn what the present collective wisdom is preaching, I have had much help from my friend Maurice Goldsmith, the Director of the Science Policy Foundation in London. That Organisation is devoted to spreading well being, in particular when this can be done technology, all across our world.
As I suggested earlier on, some of the collective wisdom is platitudinous or at least so generalized that it doesn’t excite one much. Here is a perfectly sensible statement about needs-practical needs of Commonwealth Countries. What has to be done is to select from the total list of needs of the most common and the most important.
In order to make the selection, we have to decide which is important, To a large extent this is subjective, or at the least a country-dependent definition. To make progress, it is necessary to select a definition, which is sufficiently broad to satisfy the requirements of most countries. For example we might say-as indeed we do-that the most important of S & T (Science and Technology) aids which need strengthening are those which contribute to a country’s self-reliance. Such a broad definition becomes realistic when its meaning is understood as the capacity of a country to make optimum decisions for herself, bearing in mind the political, social, economic, geographical and cultural environment she finds herself in. To summarise, the important areas of S & T are those, which strengthen the capacity of a country to make her own S & T decisions to develop her own S & T policies. My first impulse on reading such a statement is to say, as people used to say in my native provincial town in the middle of England, teach your grandmother to such suck eggs. I told you that the platitudes keep rolling out, yet, in fact, there are elements of realism in some of this. I think we should all agree that as long as we live in a world of nation states, countries have to be in many respects autonomous. They need to make their own decisions. Technologies decisions are important, sometimes vital. Countries have to aim at coping with their own technology by their own efforts. It is only so that they can make their own decision. And then we come to aid, of course I do not. The way it is given is much more difficult. I don’t believe that aid as it is often referred to in these solemn documents I have read, is much of a panacea. Money is essential. But the world needs to know how to transfer money sensibly. We still do not understand money. We are still lost in a kind of world of fairy arithmetic. Many people have to go one making wealth, but how it is going to be diffused, no one really understands. We have had lots of loans for a variety of reasons and in the long run it has not solved any single long-term problem. I do believe very strongly that rational interchange, transfers of technology, exchange of experience can help make our transfers of technology, exchange of experience can help make our world less gritty and tormented than it now is and they can help in solving some of our problems. Incidentally anything that reminds us of our common humanity sweetens life and makes us more useful. But none of this is going to affect the present dilemmas in which our two countries exist, that is remotely as much as, say the upward slope of the price of oil or fluctuations in terms of trade. And no one here tonight or any of our countrymen who possess the appearance of power, can affect that by as much point one or one per cent.
By the side of those massive uncertainties, people like ourselves can’t have any perceptible impact. And yet, we can do little things, we have do little things as well as we can. One of my wisest Russian friends, the late AlexanderTvardovsky, once said to me: “Charles we can do only little things but that is no reason for not doing those little things as strongly as we can. “ I am pretty sure that two men as devoted to human good as Vikram Sarabhai and Patrick Blackett would have agreed. Patrick Blackett, as I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, was not only great scientist but also a passionate lover of India. He spent much of his energy in the last twenty years of his life suggesting what contributions he could make to India’s technological future – and, of course to our own at home. In fact the last serious conversation I had which was just before I was due to make my first appearance was just about that subject
I agreed with him on everything expect on one small point which I shall mention tomorrow. On one thing we usually agreed. He was by far the better judge of science and technology, but he was sometimes over-cautious which I am not and somehow we are very useful to each other. At one time-fifteen years ago or more-we were in entire agreement and we were entirely wrong. He was inclined, and I followed him, to put far too much hope in bright technological ideas or rather ideas about technological organisation. He regretted this misjudgment as he came nearer to death, and so did I. Yet it is very important to remember how long one can live. I should like to hear one politician in the world say that firmly it would be very good for both to the human comedy and for their own selves. Nevertheless, most of Patrick’s hard realistic commonsense remains as true today as when he first uttered it. I was reminded recently of one of his crisp aphorisms. One was, never reinvent technology and he meant by that if technology has been developed elsewhere else, don’t, be too proud to buy or otherwise get hold it.
This advice is now, I think, generally accepted. There is a good deal of experience accumulating. First of all one should decide technology one wants to get hold of. And in this case more than anything else, you have to be very careful with most of our technologists educated or had part of their education in the West. Most of them get interested /attracted by computer technology of various kinds so on. It is often by no means certain that is the technology you want most. I mean technology has its fashions, which of course depend upon the circumstances of the country, which develops it. The reason why America developed wonderful agricultural machinery is that they do not want many people on the land. It is just as simple as that. If you go to an American farm, you wont see a single human being and see gigantic stretches of wheat land and innumerable machine’s. A lot of our fashionable technology has just been in the process for countries and have a large number of spare human power at present. And how do you get it when you decide what technology you want. You can do it, I think, in two ways. One is, buy this technology form some organisation-American or other –and cooperate actively with the said organisation and bring it across. Have your own technologist work on the machines, know what they are and so on. This is sometimes expensive in terms of time and money and leads to failures. It presupposes that your own technologists are fully experienced in what you are buying
The second method is what is called the package deal or the turnkey method. You just buy the whole operative system, you meet the foreign technologist, bring him over let him turn the key and get the thing done. This is quick and efficient, but in my view a wrong method. This means your people really know the inside mysteries of the thing. We had a good deal of experience both ways, both a buyers and sellers, and I think we will agree that the first methods in the better one
But again you know all about that. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, I hear one of my old aunts saying. And you know all about the analysis of labour intensive and capital-intensive projects. And here, I do not know about you, I do not know whether your surplus manpower is infinitely elastic; I doubt it. I do tend to find myself getting irritated by pontificators who utter as though it is entirely simple to use surplus labour. They really ought to be put to week on the administrative task. We shall soon have two million unemployed in England. Which is uncomfortably large for a fully industrialised country. But if you walked about the streets of London you would never think so. You would see advertisements of every kind, all quite easy jobs, and not unpleasant or arduous jobs like mining but things like London Transport, Post Office, Railways and so on. Postal service, which used to be very good gets steadily worse because people do not choose to do the job, I find it rather puzzling. I think I wouldn’t mind being a postman if I were in bad circumstances
We have learned that without centralised or authoritarian control, there are many jobs, which people simply will not do. The reasons are mysterious, but surplus labour doesn’t mean what simple-minded pontificators think and I believe at a certain minimum level of material prosperity this would apply anywhere
Yet some of our problems about people can be tackled. Here again, I believe that yours and ours are at root much the same, If we can make any perceptible impact in our difficulties anywhere, it is in this domain that we have most chance of getting results.
The chance comes to us through education. That sounds, I am afraid, like my third resounding platitude but here I don’t mean anything like wooly minded exhortation. I mean the use of will and clear headedness to make sure that within tens years, within twenty at the most, we can have the trained intelligence to do what we can and must be done. The trained intelligences will most of them be young. All the better. We need them to give a new impulse to applying technology to our social need. On the whole, that is the young man’s game and by young man here, I mean young woman’s too. We have learnt that girls are just as volatile as boys at these technological things and in some cases often know better. They make admirable aeronautical engineers which is a very delicate kind of design needing very clear though and attention to detail. We had great difficulty is making this a reality but I am sure anyone who is anywhere near this sort of world will agree. There is no sex difference. If you se some sex difference, it is slightly on the female side. Young people using our normal sexual word will not be able to do everything. Neither trained intelligence nor technology can achieve that. But they can do much. It is our best chance. Perhaps our only chance.
Here, and probably only here, our two countries have great resources. There is an immense amount of talent in your country. I believe that there are efforts being made to discover the talent here, if so, that is good news. It is important not to worry if process of discovery is not perfect. The essential thing is to make use of everyone who is there ready to hand; even if they are picked up by luck of the draw. If we wait for perfect justice, we shall do nothing. In England that is becoming one of our crippling and almost suicidal faults. The truth is we need talent. Anyway God isn’t just in the way. He distributes talent. Fortunately it is not very difficult to recognise talent when one sees it.
For many purposes recognising talent is even more important than educating it. I stress that because if you have got the talent, somehow something will happen. But educating it is the second part of the process. I said what I believe to be the requisite kind of education in a lecture I gave at Cambridge nearly twenty years ago. The lecture was called “ The Two cultures” and got me into even more trouble than usual. But in principle, give and take a few qualifications, I don’t depart from what I said then.
I believe that to understand and play a part in the world they are going to live in, our children have to be taught something serious about science and technology. That is one culture. And they also have to be taught something serious about what traditional wisdom has taught men about themselves, as in literature and history. That is the other culture
Much of this education must be in hard subjects I am thinking of the education of boys and girls before they enter university. If they don’t tackle hard subjects when learning comes easiest, which is very early, they never will. If you don’t come to terms with mathematics or physics before you are eighteen, you have to be wonderfully gifted to pick them up later. I have increasingly come to think that the same is true of difficult languages. If you haven’t had to grapple with at least one language easily later on. That is special insular problems of course for us in England
The high school education we need ought to be hard. It ought to lead into both cultures, teach us some things in depth, but not be so specialised that the student is unadaptable. I should say much the same about university education. There, of course, it will be based on mastering one discipline. But I have seen some systems round the world in which the narrowness of the specialism is very much overdone particularly in technological studies.
I would like a minute to illustrate what I have said about adaptability. At the beginning of the Hitler war my country possessed one-exactly one-major technological innovation. It. was later called “Radar”. It consisted of the short wave identification of aircraft, that is, bouncing short electrical waves of aircraft from picking up the air. It is still difficult to see how we should have survived in the early years of the war without this innovation. For that time we were desperately short of people competent enough in electronics both to carry the innovation further and equally important, to make effective use of equipment we already had.
So in 1940 we decided almost overnight-I was responsible for this myself-to take masses of young men and women to universities on a scale the country hadn’t known before. They were to be supported by the State, put through shortened degree courses. (The degree courses were shortened from the usual three years to just over two) It is remarkable how much difference that make in emergencies. So I sometimes suspect that our courses are all much too long. They could do any scientific subject they liked but they were given at the same time an adequate training in electronics. It was deliberate policy and it was decided right at the beginning, not to make the whole education too specialised. They could do their chemistry or biology or anything else after all they were going to earn their living in such fields after the war. During the war they were to get to work on the electronic gadgets. The whole effort was more effective than anyone could have imagined. Intelligent young people are more adaptable than education educationalists think. Wartime radar became our greatest technological triumph. After war there were valuable after effects, some in pure science, such as radio astronomy. But most of these young people went into all kinds of scientific occupations, and don’t seem to have been any the worse for having to learn a certain amount of electronics
That was the most successful piece of impromptu administration that I have been associated with. I think it has lessons for us today. If you are really against it you can meet problem head on
Our present problems are not so obvious, and the crises are not so sharp. But that kind of resolve recourse to education, and above all the spirit which makes education worthwhile, would help carry us through the muddles and bleakness of today. I have just referred to the spirit, which makes education worthwhile. This is what we have to summon up. I wish I knew how. I don’t know whether you have consensus of feeling that your society must be made to work. I don’t mean a consensus of feeling everywhere, that will never happen, but among intelligent persons, not only among technological persons
I am sure that we haven’t at present such a consensus in England. Here I envy countries, which, at least for practical purposes, possess it. It doesn’t seem to matter much round what kind of system the consensus is formed. It doesn’t seem to matter much round what kind of system the consensus the formed. Swedes can act as though they believe in their version of the mixed economy. Japanese in their version of modified capitalism. Others in various versions of state socialism. The important thing seems to be to have a consensus. But if you don’t have a consensus at all, and whole sections of functionally important persons don’t really believe, though they try to in the purpose of what they are doing you are making the tasks of society pretty well impossible.
I should be happier in your society and my own if we weren’t especially vulnerable to this kind of internal friction. Our best minds happen to be international currency. It is very easy for a high class English Professional to move across the Atlantic to America. From my experience, it seems to be very easy for your high-class professionals too
This worries me. So finally I believe our chance lies in educating, in the deepest sense, a new generation of our talent. The intellectual side of that exercise is well within our powers. We can make a programme any day of the week. A few of us could go away and make quite sensible programmes tonight. But the psychological side is going to take great imagination. Somehow our education has to lead this new generation to a consensus. They will have to believe that within the human limits they are living in tolerable system worth working for, and they have got to become perfect human societies. But they will want to feel they are working for decent purposes. They will want to feel that their talents are not unfulfilled. If we can make that happen, and we must, then there is a promise of hope
PART IN OUR SOCIETY
Tonight, as you see, I am going to speak, as I like to speak, freely, without constraint. Since there is no written word in front of me or will ever be, it doesn’t matter very much what I say. My text tonight is the second part of that very remarkable statement issued by the Government of India in the late 50’s it was inspired or written byVikaram Sarabhai. It was something to listen to. I haven’t got the papers with me. The gist of it is quite apart form the practical defects of science, it must inevitably charge the way men think of themselves and some of their values. It must give a new impetus as new excitement, in the best sense, to civilization. No other government has ever said anything like it. It is the first statement almost of the morden world and I thought it was suitable that I should try to say something, which has that as its inspiration and background. The first half of my talk will be a little like last night, moderately practical. It is about what I think your country should do in pure science. The second half of my speech will concern us all. It is part of the present heritage and development of the world which, ought to illuminate all our lives and becomes part of a real culture.
First of all then, some rather precise figures. American historians of science and demographers have been studying the Indian scientific population with their usual thoroughness. A thoroughness they have derived largely from tutonic scholarship, which has been added to by computers. They have come to these conclusions; the first is that the absolute number of people working in the scientific profession in India is the third largest in the world. After the United States and the Soviet Union. That is a little deceptive, Not very deceptive, but a little deceptive. They went right ahead to make that a more defined definition. Mind you, these people are not stupid or dispersed they are some of the hardest minds in the world. In their judgement the proper test is not people in the scientific profession in loose sense, but what they call ‘scientific authors’, who are judged not by the number of publications but by some sort of repute. That has become their test. And they have established that the number of such author’s per capita, per head of the population, is exactly the same as per capita, use of energy. That is, quantitatively speaking. America, which uses one third of all energy per head in the world, has one third of all the scientific authors. Qualitatively they have much more than that. At the moment America’s problem is one of doing at least two thirds of all the high-class pure science in the world. By the same yardstick, and in fact the curves of data they say that India is doing about one twentieth of the American pure research, that is there are about one twentieth as many Indian scientific authors as there are Americans just as Indians use about one twentieth of energy per head compared with American figures. This must be reduced within a generation. The world cannot endure such a gross disparity. However, that is not my theme tonight. In reality, one ought to think of India, at this aid need level, as a relatively small country though highly skilled. In fact the pecking order of scientific countries judged by this care is as follows; the United States, Soviet Union, the U.K. (U.K. has long enough held this place and passed through a very old scientific tradition. Although it has done well in nothing else, its record in pure science is very good and it’s number of scientific authors is very high) They are followed by Germany and France (or France, Germany-I have to get the exact order there) and then come Austrialia, Canada and India. The present scientific historian believe that for many purposes India ought to be regarded as a highly developed country, a highly sophisticated country of the size of Canada, coexisting with a very large non-developed country of much greater size. It is an interesting figure. I think it is useful some purposes. But it does not affect what I mean to say tonight. Let us assume those medium-sized countries with such a scientific population and no great resources come to emphasise what Indian scientists should do. Again there is considerable resemblance to our own position in Britain. We have a larger population of scientific authors by this. American standard. On the other hand, that is very limited one compared to either the United States or the Soviet Union. Our wealth and resources are so tiny compared to theirs that at the end of the war we had to try and keep our heads and decide what we could reasonably do. The real new nuclear physics is quite outside our means. We could not afford a nuclear accelerator. Only the United States and the Soviet Union could possibly afford a nuclear accelerator. Even Europe as whole can barely afford a nuclear accelerator and in fact though one is going to be built in combination, there is such a long debate as to there it should be built and I think no one is very enthusiastic. So we tried to find things, which we could do competently, hopefully with some effect within modest means, middle class means as you call it. We used some resources on radio astronomy a good subject to develop as a result of our radio skills in the war, fairly expensive though. Another one was molecular biology, which cost us almost nothing; a few hundred pounds a year. We had great success in it. Old-fashioned physics like lubrication would be left behind as the fashion of science changes. Often quite good subjects are left untouched a generation or more. Then clever men with practical bend often pick them up. It is owing to this work on lubrication that you get these into good resonance. The razor blade sharpener does not depend on the metal it is made of. It depends upon the lubricant, which is rubbed along both sides of the blade. When these were first made it was found that a razor blade on a reasonable, not too light bearer, would last about one to two months and shaving will never be so pleasant again. It was hopelessly uneconomic to make lots of razor blades you will have one or two of these well-lubricated blades and some less well lubricated blades, exactly like electric light bulbs. They could be made to last almost in perpetuation. But even in a socialist economy that will not happen. You won’t have people making things with such enormous ruts. And there are other things too. Some practical. One, which is going on now, is plasma physics. Within a generation as a result of the possible technique of nuclear fusion some of these things will have direct practical applications not all, but some. Since we can afford comparatively little even with pure research the tendency has been to insist on some sort of satisfactory practical outcome. Organic chemistry, which has been developed very strongly in England since the last war, almost the medium for practical outcomes in medicine.
Now we come to you. I said last night there was one fairly important matter in which I totally disagreed with my dear friend. Balckett I disagreed after some thought and after some heart searching. He felt very strongly and in his usual clear, hard way he said that Indian science ought to be concentrated entirely on things which were first achieved-not expensive, nothing like linear accelerators and had an immediate social application This was his doctrine and he stuck to it adamantly. I could see the point and yet I felt in my heart that was overdoing overstating a good case. I was much more in sympathy with Vikram Sarabhai in his attempts to indulge in some of the real hits of high what Americans call big, Science, expensive, and possibly not of great applicable value. Nevertheless, I could see a kind of spiritual impulse behind this, which I could not immediately reject. I believe, here I disagreed with Patrick, though on the face of it his was the better argument, that India was right to go in for nuclear physics for atomic energy and so on, and right probably to go in for satellites. (The calculation is very difficult to balance impractical terms. This is what I should come to little later. The value in deflators in mind in what it does to almost general, what it does to in fact both the scientific culture and the culture of big sciences of power,) I believe that was very well done and yet remember that there is very strong argument on the other side. When people are hungry, is one justified in indulging in any luxury? This is a very old argument which moral men aesthetic minded men, even sensitively minded men, have been pre-occupied with. How can one really indulge in one’s delights, one’s art one’s science, while there is a hungry child?
I too felt this as a moral problem in my own concern. It happens if the kind of things I like doing, cannot have any practical significance whatever. I like writing novels, novels may interest people. They may even tell them a things few things which they have not known before. But the idea of freeing one child, say any child, from an intolerable youth on the terms of practical betterment is of course totally romantic. I compromise by writing my novels because to that degree I am being driven both by honorable desire and natural human selfishness. On the other side, I tried occasionally to intervene in public affairs or make public statements hoping that might be of some use. I do not think I have ever of any use whatsoever accepting that I was curiously effective. That is the kind of situation, which my kind of temperament finds fairly easy outlet. So in the war I was in. Since then I don’t believe anything. I have done since then, has fed child, saved anyone from death or whatever. So on that I tried to do my best. However, to be honest, these are to some extent, pseudo problems. One can invent moral problems to oneself. But the problems must not deter us form what we can do. In particular I am sure they won’t deter us from the beautiful things, even though they have no conceivable practical value whatever. And that is really what I want to say tonight. There is a certain part of the scientific culture essential to the general culture which exists just as poverty exists and cannot ever (ever is a very long word as I said last night, but here I am using it with absolute deliberation) play any practical part in either this country’s fate or the world’s
And now I am going to indulge myself by telling you a story. It is a story which some of my friends already know, but I will tell it for the benefit of those who don’t, Last night’s lecture was inscribed to the memory of Vikram Sarabhai and Patrick Blackett. Tonight’s is inscribed to the memory of Srinivasa Ramanujam and G.H.Hardy-another Indian, another Englishman. At the beginning of the story Hardy was 36. He was already a famous mathematician of violent esoteric kind. He was devoted to the theory of numbers.
I should say Hardy was the kind of Englishman most of you don’t frequently meet-shy, very handsome in a refined aesthetic way, extremely witty and talkative among company he understood, among people he moved with, but very diffident among large booming English characters. He did not like booming people, he did not like important people, he certainly did not like politicians. Owing to his great authority he became Fellow of Trinity in Cambridge, at a very young age.
In January 1913, on a dismal English January morning, (not like this, not like your weather here in January). A letter arrived on Hardy’s breakfast table. There was a very large weather beaten envelop drenched by the Sun, drenched by water, covered with stamps was a large address in unfamiliar hand. It came from. India and inside was a very short note signed Srinivasa Ramanujam “Dear Professor Hardy (yet he was not a professor in the Cambridge sense of the term), would you read through these papers. Hardy looked at the documents. They looked very solemn. The paper had gone distinctly yellow in hot weather. That did not matter much. There were theorems such as no mathematician had ever seen before. Among locals Hardy was one of the first English mathematicians to insist on liberal proof. Here were just theorems, which looked as though they had come from some unknown strange wild mind. Well, he glanced at them and put them aside. So he put these papers aside, went on with his morning’s work his lunch and then went to play a game which he always did every afternoon. But there was something nagging at the back of his mind. “ The theorems are really a bit too strange. What can the explanation be?” And he was a man of extreme honesty. He didn’t want to leave a problem unsolved. So he went back to his room, had tea and looked at them again. He was topazed and he never used to tell anybody he had a great aversion for all mechanical things, but in Trinity in Cambridge at that time were infinite number of servants and so he sent around a message to great friend and collaborator, Little who was a mathematician. Little was a fine mathematician already in the world society as Hardy. And he said: “ Look, I have got something which worrying me. Can we meet after dinner, Little was not so obstinate and have several of them. But these two beautiful minds (very different-Hardy is extremely elegant, Little was very powerful) sat down and studied Ramanujam’s theorems. And they worked at it two or three hours and finally came to the conclusion. Which was typical Hardy style clear and epigrammatic. “Either these have been produced by the thought of genius or by an unknown Indian mathematician of genius or by an unknown Indian mathematician of genius, clearly the second one “well, when Hardy found remarkable gifts, nothing would stop him. Ramanujam was immediately written to saying his work so astonished that he should go to England at once Trinity College. Cambridge would pay for him to be brought England, would give him room in Trinity and would provide him with a stipend when he was there-not a very large one. At that time academics in England din’t get a large stipend-but quite enough to live even for a man less rural than Ramanujam, Ramanujam turned out to be a clerk in Madras but a high class Brahmin with a very strong mined mother who was a devout follower of the whole chaste system and therefore it was very difficult for Ramanujam to cross the sea. This was rather unexpected obstacle puzzled Ramanujam’s by now Passionate English supporters. However, things worked out very well through the intervention of a Goddess because Ramanujam’s mother pious reverent and devout as she was also loving towards her son. So she prayed to a Goddess whose name I am afraid I have forgotten. But the Goddess turned out to be exceptionally benevolent because Ramanujam’s mother agreed this crossing the sea soon after the prayer. In the prayer the Goddess exhibited her son in a large hall, In Europe, Surrounded by admiring Europeans. Well, Mrs. Ramanujam very sensibly concluded that this was a sign of approval and so Ramanujam must cross the sea, which he duly did. And there he began the collaboration with Hardy, one of the most remarkable in the whole history of collaborations. Ramanujam never felt the need of reading any old fashioned texts. He did nothing of what mathematician’s called modern analysis, nothing whatever. Hardy thought it was an astonishing experience to have to instruct a mathematician of genius in things, which he would have learnt at school at 15 or 16. However this was one and it was rewarding experience for Hardy. Hardy, in this collaboration, did the nest work of his life. The two of them produced things, which are, so far as mathematics is concerned, Immortal. Hardy used to say, I heard mathematicians wonder at this, I swear to you this sentiment in terms of natural genius, not in terms of achievement, because even if he had been educated in European sense it was rather too late for a mathematician of this kind to come on scene, They wen t on indeed very well. They made him a Fellow of Trinity, which is a real academic honor at the minimum possible time and at a time when Hardy was unpopular with the College since he was an opponent of the first world war. Yet his adversaries with whom he was scarcely on speaking terms, took his word that this unknown Indian must be made a Fellow at once That I think is a real example of high principle. Ramanujam was made a Fellow of Royal Society at the earliest possible age, about 29 (he was 23 when he arrived in England) but the story end there. He contracted some disease, it might have been TB, it is a modern theory, it may have been probably copper poisoning, but anyway he did contract some disease was whisked out to the hospital and there one of the strangest little episodes in history occurred. Hardy as I told you at the beginning, was very shy and he couldn’t, even with his intimate friends, really make conversation at all. He began immediately with what he was thinking. He travlled down to the hospital, which was in a suburb of London, in a taxi. When he reached he said not a word about Ramanujam’s health, into a word about the state of nation, not a word about anything else. But he began like this” Ramanujam, I thought my taxi had a very dull number 1929.” “No Hardy, it is a very interesting number, it is the lowest number which can be expressed in two different ways as the sum of two cubes” Ramanujam went back to India, of course, and died shortly afterwards at age 33 Hardy, I think, might have said “though it was a great personal loss, mathematician’s like Ramanujam do their best work when they are very young. “There are very few example of mathematician’s doing great work after 40 and so perhaps his best creative work was already complete. But I come now to the real point of the story, and I am afraid it is going to be much to long. And that is both Hardy and Ramanujam have been made to do something useful. Neither of them as far as I know was immensely capable. They both had astonishing characteristics. Ramanujam was a great genius and Hardy, at the lowest estimate, was a man of very high talent. What could they possibly have done? Hardy was one of the most impractical of human beings except in his own field. He went around the world. He was a radical. He believed in all good causes. When we think that this kind of excellence should not be allowed to flower we are questioning values to much, I believe that the world becomes too impoverished if we are not prepared to say that beautiful ambition to life is good and should be encouraged I simply cannot bring it into my heart to say knowing this being absolutely useless that every ounce of ability you have got, every single intelligence on earth must be devoted to the immediate cause of immediate material benefit. I can’t bring myself to do that. Hence I am totally against it
Now I go on to some of the parts of science which are in my view absolutely intrinsic to our present culture and have come exactly within the scope of Sarabhai’s definition and where all things and the fashions which men think of themselves is possibly changing their values certainly giving a new stimulation to the whole civilization I think I will take three examples: One is quantum physics. Quantum physics is in most respects likely to be as useless as mathematics of Hardy and Ramanujam. The strange world of certain nuclear particles looks older than ever Quantum physics was nicer when it began and it seemed there would be a great generalization in the fairly near future. But since the Twenties when it looked as though the subject was being cleared up, there has been no such generalization. And yet it is one of the greatest hits in whole of the intellectually deficit mankind. Yet it is a strange desire that makes one think about problems like uncertainty. It gives you even perhaps (I am not sure of this) a very vague theoretical justification for free world. But it is something, which should be part of intelligent present day education, it is, on the other hand, I must say, very difficult. It is, on the other hand, I must say, very difficult. I doubt it will ever be easily communicable. I am sure that people with a taste in concept of thought, most philosophers, for instance, could imbibe at least a good deal of it very easily. For the rest I think it will have to be left, as something, which educated people, will at least touch their caps to.
My other two examples are much more comprehensive. The first is modern Cosmo-energy, largely the result of radio astronomy, but not entirely. The way in which out whole universe is made up, is very strange indeed, and what we can now say about it is strange too. This certainly should be a part of any civilized education. First so far as these things mean anything, and so far as one has s mean anything, and so far as one has any certainty intellectual statement it seems the universe began almost in a few seconds, 15 billion years ago. We even give date. These particular formulations are almost meaningless. But one has to make them. All matter and energy in the universe was concentrated in a tiny space and then time began. You can’t ask what was time before this began. ? You can’t ask what was time before this bang occurred. Within seconds or minutes the constituents of our present cosmos were formed. And all through way what happens over the limits of the observable universe, again it is useless to enquire. We know the time span of our won bit of the universe. We know how the earth probably cane into existence about 4 billion years ago, again not very large by the standard of infinite time. From then of course we know where life proceeded. We know also the enormous stretches. Stretches almost unbelievable of the observable universe, the billion upon billions of light waves. When Askines said” the silence of the infinite space is frightening”, it is not that frightening and it is not that silent, it is buzzing with radio impulses. It is the actual space of the infinite space that is frightening. But I am afraid that means it is most unlikely that we shall ever get in touch with intelligence’s elsewhere. Statistically one feels there must be, but the distances are so enormous that you just can’t transmit messages over hundreds of light waves. And I suspect that so far as human destiny is concerned and human self-realisation is concerned, we live alone in the great spaces forever, I wish we dint. I believe we should at last come together as so many of us would dearly love to. Again my hopes there have been denied. I also think by the by their are parts about the universe we shall never understand. Jack Bolder who became a fellow countryman of yours once, said, “it is not only something we can’t understand now, it is something by nature of mind we cant understand”. I find that hard to accept. But it may be true. It may be that our limited minds just can’t go with some of the extraordinary features of this cosmos of ours. There are strange things every day. We hear if Black holes into which the gravitational forces are so great that they suck in every thing around this is strange. Where such things go, you mustn’t ask. But I don’t like a whole set of questions at all by the wisest of scientists. Those are questions that are simply impossible to raise.
A third and last, is the great discovery of recent years in molecular biology. The discovery of DNA. That is the material, which makes up our genes. This is a discovery of revolutionary kind. It probably will alter man’s conception of himself as much as Darwin theory. It is rather surprising it hasn’t percolated wider and further already. (Darwain’s species (they are original species) were about in Victorian intellectual circles). The trick be that once started, so far as I know, has not really gone very far among people who are not in any sort of scientific domain. But then it must. Physics is going to tell us, it does tell us, some very hard truths some of them very unpleasant some of them people of intuition of course have always known. There are some thing’s that, whatever the chances one can never do. Most of the people for instance would know and would have known since they were young. That whatever they do they could not have run as far as the great middle distance runner. Most of us would know, if we had moderate humility, that even if we spend our entire life with all possible mathematical tuition in the world, we could not do anything like the work of Ramanujam or Hardy. And I hope most people come to terms this. It is very important. In fact very soon we shall have scientific testimonies to that extent. We are bound to do it, it is going to make part of life less radiantly optimistic. That all that is possible is something that one likes to feel, when one is young. Wise people though find it rather difficult to reconcile with this notion when they look at their own lives so far. That notion will have to pass out of the common though. We shall have to know that part of our lives, part of our potentiality, is written down in the genetic code and something we get by odd combination of ancestors and these genes are theirs. These are not the same as divinity in the true sense. You do not necessarily get all that your father gets. It is a mixture, which comes from all the various ancestors you ever had. And so genes play tricks. Anyone who has been in a large family knows that while one brother is marvelously gifted another one may be quite ordinary, though both are from exactly the same environment and have the very same parents. Well now we are beginning to get scientific, prescriptions of what empirically people have done for a long time. It is certainly the most marvelous of recent scientific discoveries. It was done, by the by, (and this will cheer some of the scientists here) extraordinarily cheap it was done on something like a thousand pounds a year and very small salaries. It was talked about as long ago as the mid-thirties. It was an interesting case of science waiting for technology to give it the tools. All these developments pass into our common culture. It seems to me, they must do two three important things. They ought to make us all reverent towards nature, more humble in various essential ways. They ought to make us more brotherly because against these great discoveries, mystery is no longer a mystery, against the stretches of time, which we know now, we are small and the same, we live on the same earth. We ought to make of it as much as we can. We ought to do our best for it. We also ought to try to point out some of its excellences to be admired even if they are not practical Excellencies. We ought to huddle together and comfort ourselves as best as we can.