Distinguished Scientist, Advisor Department of Space and former head of Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, Tapan Misra spoke eloquently on Nature, Science and Arts during a web-based Conference on Science, organised on 14 June 2020 by Govardhan Math (Puri) of Shrimad Jagadguru Shankaracharya Maharaj.
Tapan Misra’s Presentation
Asking questions is the basis of science, which is more of my hobby than profession. In our exhibition hall at Space Applications Centre, which was blessed by Shrimad Jagadguru Shankaracharya Maharajji during his visit to our centre, I was interacting students of primary schools. These children were just learning with lot of confusion about divisions and classifications of knowledge. Up till now, in their growing childhood, they were exposed to knowledge as stories, parables and epics as told by grandparents, parents and teachers. But in schools, knowledge was being subdivided as languages, science, history, geography, social science and so on leading to confusion, relating to utility of each subject and their relation with each other.
A girl, in her late childhood, once suddenly asked, “Sir, what is science and what is arts?” In fact, throughout my life, nobody asked me these two questions simultaneously. It took me some time to regain my poise.
I asked, “ Have you seen a butterfly?”
She vigorously nodded, “Yes, yes. It’s beautiful.”
I said, “When you investigate, how the butterfly grows: from egg to wriggly caterpillar; then caterpillar transforms to cocoon or pupa, hanging from leaves and from cocoon, after some days, the matured butterfly flies out. This way of understanding a butterfly or asking deeper questions about the origin of things you see in your day to day life is Science.
But you may not ask questions about how butterfly is born. Instead you appreciate its beauty, love the flying butterflies, write a poem on a butterfly or draw a beautiful painting of a butterfly – you appreciate and love things you see daily. This way of appreciating our day to day life is called Arts.”
We are practising science as a separate discipline, mostly as it is handed over to us in post renaissance period. Science is perceived as ultimate, irrefutable truth. This notion needs to be examined.
I feel, the ultimate truth is nature and its myriad manifestations. Nature consists of our cosmos, our stars and sun, our planets, our weather, seas, mountains, animals, birds, human beings, our surroundings. All living and non-living beings make up our nature. Nature is “Saswata”, ultimate truth.
Nature is perceived differently by different living beings. Dogs will see nature in black and white, blue and yellow. Human beings will sense in three colours and millions of shades. Cats can see the nature in night. Human being is blind without light. Bats can zero on target with in-built radar technology whether in day or night. Human beings lack this ability of spotting a target without seeing them.
Science and arts are two sides of the same coin, different way of perceiving nature by our human brain. Science and arts are human centric. Human brain consists of two major parts. A part enabling us for logical deductions and conclusions. Other part governs our emotion like pleasure, pain, happiness, sorrow. Apart from these two abilities, we have five senses. They sense the nature in only five sensory systems: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. These five senses feed the logical part of the brain as well as emotional part. Same sensory feelings leading to two seemingly separate perceptions.
Science is the perception of nature by logical part of brain. Nature’s manifestation may appear varied. Surprisingly, all the seeming random variations are strewn together by definite pattern or regularity. The nature may appear random. But their symmetric, regular behaviours can surprisingly be described by a set of rules. These rules are not logically derived, but their existence is understood by logically classifying nature’s behaviours in distinct categories.
Let us consider laws of gravitation. Nature follows the laws. The way earth orbits the sun, the way moon orbits the earth, the way cosmos behaves and moves, the way a ball rolls down a slope or the way a ball is kicked to a maximum distance, all are seemingly different happenings or observations. But surprisingly they are governed by the same laws of gravitation.
Human mind discovered mathematics. Mathematics is the poetry of science – describe a similar class of natural elements or behaviour in a set of pithy symbols. Mathematics made possible to capture the underlying rhythm of nature in equations. Like Faraday’s laws, Kepler’s laws, Newton’s laws of motion. Moreover, mathematics could predict hitherto not understood or not observed natural phenomenon in advance. Like Einstein’s general theory of gravitation. It predicted many natural quirks like gravitational waves, almost a hundred years ago. But its existence was demonstrated only very recently.
Human mind, being logical as it is, could even use the understanding of natural phenomena and underlying principles, to build equipment to enhance his own ability. So human being built microscope to see better than their eyes, built telescopes to see further than their eyes, built huge machines to lift large loads, impossible to be lifted by their own mite. Science led to engineering, building and enhancing our civilisations and making our lives better.
Human beings are limited by five sensory organs. They built new sensors, using principles of science, to enhance their own or acquire capability of new sensors. Men built finger print identification to discern different people. They built infrared imagers to see better than cats. They built radar to identify objects hundreds of kilometres away, much better than bats. Whatever superior ability they saw in other living beings, they tried to build devices and instruments to acquire that ability.
Nature’s wonders and behaviours of its living beings, including our own behaviour, can also be appreciated aesthetically and emotionally. When we appreciate nature through emotions, we create paintings, sculptures, architectures, poetry, novels, fictions, music, dances. They bring pleasure to our senses and bring happiness to our mind. We not only experience our emotions, we can also appreciate others’ emotions like happiness, pain, sorrow and many other feelings. This branch of knowledge, appreciating nature and our behaviour, is classified as arts or humanities.
When we observe, analyse, understand our nature and utilise our understanding of nature to our own benefit, we call it science. When we feel the nature, appreciate it and connect to its creations through emotion, we call it arts. Nature is the ultimate truth. Science and arts are perceptions of the same truth in our mind. Surprisingly, both the perceptions coexist seamlessly, without an iota of contradiction.