On the Founders of Sciencis
In the world of science the discoverers of phenomena, and the proponents of theories are recalled through their names. We speak of Newton’s laws and Pascal’s principle, Raman effect and Dirac equation. But there is no record of the first human being who harnessed fire or invented the wheel, counted the planets or recognized their periodicities. We don’t know who first thought of an alphabet or a counting system. The names of the originators of sciensis have vanished with the memories of their coeval communities.
Yet, all those major originators were human beings like you and me: who ate and drank, walked and talked. From the thoughts and careful observations of countless unnamed individuals emerged ways by which human knowledge came to be organized and extended. The fundamental discoveries which opened up the countless paths of the scientific endeavor will always remain authorless in their recall; those innovators are like anonymous philanthropists whose munificence is known but not the names. We are reminded of the stanza in Thomas Gray’s poem Elegy Written in a Country-Churchyard:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Except that in these instances, the sweetness of flowers was not wasted in desert air, but has lingered and grown as eons have been ticking away.
When we look at the heavens on a clear moonlit night, the twinkling stars and the silvery moon seem to be staring at us. Some acquaintance with astronomy might make us wonder about the incredible distances that separate us from the celestial bodies. We know, for example, that the Pole Star, which is conspicuous in the northern hemisphere, is some four hundred light years away: what this means is that light from that star reaching us this night began its journey some four hundred years ago!
Who was the human to first spotted a star that, to seems to stay put at that spot amidst the thousands that seem not so fixed? We will never know. We can only reflect upon the fact that millennia ago, in China and India, in Babylon and Africa and in ancient Greece and elsewhere, human beings like ourselves gazed at those same celestial luminaries and wondered about them also. The same human spirit, encased in different frames, scanned the same skies and made very similar efforts to understand what it was all about.
We know far less about the germinal seeds and the roots of human cultural history than perhaps about the founders of our religions. At least we have great and revered names associated with the founders of religions, even if they are colored in the shades of mythic antiquity and questionable historical authenticity. But of the minds that first had insights into law and explanation, number and measurement, and other indispensable elements of science, we don’t have the faintest clue. We talk of cave-men and nomads as if they were a faceless primitive throng with whom we would be embarrassed to be affiliated. But it would be good to realize that those were our distant ancestors, our forefathers of yester-eon. We must recognize too that among them lived, nameless and formless from this distance, keen minds and probing spirits who had made some marvelous discoveries and conceptualizations on which future generations built, eventually leading to what we call the science of our own times.
In the fading album of far-away memories, so little, alas, is left of the originators of what we call science and culture.