EXCELLENCE AND SOLIDARITY
RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY
I chose a general theme of excellence and solidarity. Their harmonization might be one of prerequisites for a free, safe and productive society (if such can exist). It is difficult to imagine true excellence without solidarity. This is because excellence is not just the professionalism although it requires professionalism. Excellence involves the dignity of its actors through their fundamental morality and therefore solidarity. Excellence cannot last long and grow in an unjust and violent society.
Without sufficient solidarity there will be no security, and without any solidarity there will be justified terrorism. Furthermore, without security there is no freedom, and a productive innovative excellence is inconceivable without the freedom to create and security to live and work. Thus, we must find ways to harmonize solidarity and excellence.
Excellence is often associated with elitism because it involves a positive selection of individuals with talent, know-how and knowledge, and elitism was traditionally opposed to solidarity. This seeming opposition between the excellence and solidarity might have been the fundamental cause of the collapse of socialism that gave a clear programmatic and declarative priority to solidarity over excellence. In typical socialist systems and ideologies, privileges were reserved for the political elite and not for productive excellence. This bread poverty, and solidarity without something to give is not a credible solidarity. If free schools and hospitals are lousy, an atmosphere of “Lumpen-proletariat” is created rather than one of knowledge, creativity and productivity. There is no virtue in poverty, because poverty often generates existential fear about basic survival, and certainly about the lasting quality of life.
Science and art do not flourish in material poverty. And the lack of research, science, technology and arts breeds, in a competitive open market world, further material and spiritual poverty. This explains the current situation where rich countries support their research and development and become richer, whereas poor become poorer.
A potentially dangerous mistake rich countries are making is precisely a deficit of solidarity within the society that already breeds internal insecurity (big economic crimes often committed by the privileged, and mugging, stealing and social tumults committed by the poor). Insufficient solidarity among different countries in the globalized inter-dependent world breeds an apparently justified terrorism. By consequence, insecurity and terrorism draw ever-growing resources from productive innovative activities into unproductive defensive activities with the perspective of a lost battle. Even cynically, rich countries should “invest” into solidarity to avoid the perspective of becoming poor due to growing unproductive investments in self-defense. Yet, what a good feeling of dignity and pride of being human by effectively helping other human fellows, and countries, to become confident and civilized partners in human endeavors such as the science, art and fair trade!
In order to “invest in solidarity” we must have means, funds. These means are the material goods generated today mostly by the application of the results of innovative fundamental research. The question is where is the bottleneck in the creation of wealth: in the application of the existing knowledge or in the acquisition of new knowledge? I shall argue that it is the latter case.
A special case of decreasing solidarity born by the modern capitalism is a source of major concern. Two social casts are being created: that of creators of goods and that of organizational and financial managers of the results of creator’s work. How come that the manipulators of goods are so much privileged compared to the creators of goods? Which are the mechanisms by which the creators have lost control over the results of their work, and over the money gained by their work? The two casts are increasingly separated and their human contact is as good as inexistent. Managers earn ten, hundred, sometimes thousand, time more than the creators in the same company; they live in different areas and sit in elegant offices far away from inventors and producers. When managers make mistakes, creators’ salaries drop or they lose their job. And when the managers’ mistakes are too costly for the investors, then they eventually must leave the company but with lucrative “golden handshakes”. Because all this cannot be justified, the gap and tension grows between the manipulators and creators and it becomes a source of insecurity and fear which breeds authoritarian regimes that are traditionally not inclined to support the spirit of free research.
How does research produce richness?
The great commercial successes are results of a long process; they are like the deltas of large rivers that exist because there is always upstream a small source that structures the flow of creeks and small rivers that make the mighty river. In today’s economy, the original invention or scientific discovery is the paradigmal source that attracts other researchers and finances (R&D) on the way to the commercial application. Lucrative applications require the ownership of the discovery/invention. There is no gift in this area – each country must pay for their innovations. The main bottleneck of each country’s development are the talents of their scientists and their living and working conditions (funds and culture). The true discovery cannot be anticipated because such innovation can be recognized by the need to create a new word to describe what is discovered (radioactivity, antibiotic, supraconductivity, apoptosis etc.). Therefore, it is impossible to give “milestones”, time frame, of true discovery. One must gamble on the talent of selected scientists like some gamble on horses. And what concerns the unpredictable nature of the true scientific discovery, the French Nobelist Jean Perrin said: “X rays were not discovered by those (doctors) who wanted to look inside living human body”.
There is another notion from evolution that can be useful in achieving lasting productivity. Instead of financing only projects targeted to a product, it is much more important to invest into a process that keeps creating many projects generating repeatedly many different products. This is called a scientific culture. We need to create special spaces where such process is ongoing. In Anglo-saxon countries such places are called academic campuses – that’s where most of innovative, and lucrative, discoveries are generated for centuries. The society is entitled to prosper by exploiting its talents by offering them best working conditions, and thereby making them productive and happy. It’s simple and it happens regularly for top sportsmen and artists. Why not for scientists? Let’s fund hubs of excellence with permanent turnover!
Because talents acquired by the good luck of gene lottery and social (mum + dad) lottery, exceptionally gifted individuals should not be the exclusive owners of the products of their exceptional talents or energy, because they did not merit it. Enters the solidarity with those from the same gene pool who did not have such good luck. It’s called taxes that, however, should go directly to the search and funding of new talents and help to members that had bad luck. This seems to me is the way towards a civilized and secure society because we should (capitalistically) be equal shareholders of the common human global gene pool. Handicaps are an inevitable trade-off of the Gaussian distribution of the diversity of individual human performances. This may be a basis for human solidarity and down-to-earth humanism.
Science and democracy are highly correlated today and throughout the history. Science and democracy need and feed each other. More specifically, scientific research and democracy are highly correlated.
Science is the ensemble of tested archived knowledge that is taught by teaching whereas Research is the process of the acquisition of knowledge taught by training and practicing! Therefore, research is an ever-evolving process of creative and critical thinking without frontiers, a sort of mind building – a permanent intellectual hygiene. Unlike science, which is knowledge, research occurs at the margins of our ignorance, it advances by doubting and questioning everything including science itself. Therefore, research must keep evolving new arts of problem-solving strategies and methodologies. Research appears as the best school of critical and creative thinking available to us.
Arts are great at fostering creativity and generating a wide diversity of ideas usually driven by emotion (including suffering as a very strong emotion) but the selection process is done by the public/customers who are always prone to fashions. Traditional humanists are like artists – they appeal more to emotion than to reason, and emotion is a very precious but ephemeral currency in our lives.
Although there is a lot of emotion associated with the beauty of thoughts in the course of scientific research, research is driven basically by curiosity and endless questioning. The selection of generated ideas goes by confrontation with “facts” via tests and experiments. Finally, after confronting diverse ideas (potential solutions to our problems) and testing them theoretically and experimentally, at the end of the day everybody can agree. Therefore, research appears as a universal language across cultures, religions etc., - a language for seeking and selecting truth and counter-selecting all sorts of strategies of cheating. Research is the best school of creative problem-solving thinking available to us.
Therefore, scientists could teach politicians the rigor in analyzing complex systems and situations and the art of doing experiments – small-scale “pilot experiments” - before applications to entire countries. Politics is about selection of different societal projects. Man-driven selection from the diversity of anything carries the value judgment and therefore - enters ethics! We should better know what we want of our lives and then know how to implement our decisions. When this exercise is carried out in the art of scientific exploration (fact seeking) and in the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, we call that kind of behavior democracy. Creating conditions for creative and critical thinking, as a prelude to productive activities, is probably the best political project requiring understanding and courage.
Science (S) and arts (A) are diagnostic of a society’s level of development:
A+S+ is a democratic society rich materially and emotionally.
A+S- is a poor society, often with oppressive regime, raising the spirit of resistance.
A-S+ is a pragmatic society, materially rich but emotionally poor.
A-S- is a dead society.
DEMOCRACY, ETHICS & PEACE
Democracy, like the fundamental scientific research, requires and depends upon high quality thinking – the only safe “immunity” against intellectual “parasites” that can lead any society into destructive modes of functioning such as wars.
Best we can do for humanity is to train excellence in high-quality thinking, both creative and critical. Why? Because humanity (our brains) is exposed to two competing, and exclusive, ways of thinking (meme-complexes): Scientific-humanist versus Fundamentalist.
Fundamentalists offer an attractive “package deal” and teach: life is simple if you believe in what we say (not what we do!). If you don’t believe, you are not with us, and if you are not with us you are against us, therefore we must defend ourselves by fighting you. It is a simple message that offers solution to all problems granted that (i) you don’t indulge yourself in critical thinking (it’s done for you!) and (ii) don’t learn from others. It offers solution to all problems at once!
Scientific-humanist way is much less attractive because it teaches that life is complicated and solutions are offered from time to time only to specific problems. And there is likely to be more than one solution to the same problem. This way of thinking proceeds by mind building, questioning, disentangling, problem-solving exercises. We can agree only upon proven facts, therefore all cultures can learn from each other – it is a universal language. No fighting is necessary.
Research and science provide the most robust immunity against aggressive fundamentalism.
Democracy requires an ever-evolving high quality thinking because it must keep solving emerging, real and most often unpredictable problems. Democracy requires, and breeds, excellence in thinking to assure the best quality selection from the varieties of ideas generated by artistic minds.
Research, science and arts breed good education and mature projects which, when realized, produce richness and wellbeing that can flourish only in democracy that is our best warranty of freedom, fraternity and peace.
Reciprocally, absence of science and arts results in poor education that breeds poverty and almost inevitably corruption and proneness to fundamentalism leading to the loss of freedom, hatred of others, and to wars.
Best science is produced in freedom and democracy that protects creative and critical minds from the arbitrary censorships and allows them to generate innovative spiritual and material public goods. Unlike research and science, arts are not necessarily killed by terror because suffering is a strong emotion and emotion fuels arts.
How does research train cooperation? Productive creativity in today’s science requires most of the time a trans-disciplinary network of cooperating brains to come to significant scientific breakthroughs. Such effective communication puts demands upon social and emotional intelligence and intellectual generosity! Basic research is free, open-ended exercise of the human spirit that is favored by the teamwork in an interacting “horizontal” social structure of the jazz band style. No “music” (project) is formally fixed in advance – it is generated de novo by interacting creative brains! The “symphony orchestra” style of research is typical of technological platforms and mission-oriented research that is important but not truly innovative because the “musical script” (project, mission) has already been written. The latter research receives justifiably generous financial support but the former does not and is done as a clandestine activity that will be applauded only after demonstrated success. It is curious that the leaders of large successful companies are more aware of the necessity of supporting the “jazz band” research than the governments and even many prominent members of academic establishments.
Where does such open-ended research and individualized education of future creative scientists take place today? Almost exclusively in special intellectual spaces called university and similar academic campuses where tutors/mentors and students maximally interact by working and living close together. Campuses are sheltered places of tolerance and excellence where individuals can grow their own specific talents to become personally happy and socially productive. The number of top university campuses correlates well with the richness of the society that hosts and supports such institutions (e.g., USA about 50, UK about 5, Sweden 2, France perhaps one, South-East European countries zero). The human “engine” of today’s global economic and cultural development lives and grows on best academic campuses!
E N D
Mediterranean institute for the study of life (MedILS) is a very ambitious project because of its two main tasks: (i) to become a place for growing new generations of exceptional young professionals “specialized” in critical, creative and synthetic thinking and (ii) to become a place for fostering highly innovative and therefore risky research projects – a “factory” for generating original research projects. How can (i) and (ii) be achieved more effectively than in the existing best and richest academic institutions, and why such a project in a scientific province that is the city of Split in Croatia? It will provide a conceptually unique space for gathering of most creative and productive senior scientists, along with selected young talents, where they will together enjoy - free time: a commodity no one has enough in order to reach beyond what appears to be (at best) a high level intellectual routine.
Why Croatia? Ever since the troubled 1990-ies, E.U. has been politically inapt to deal with the problems of people and countries of South-East Europe. There will be a long queing in front of E.U.’s doors with growing disillusion and loss of dignity of young people from this area. The danger of escape in some form of fundamentalism (ethnic, national, religious) is considerable and could soon become the scene of new conflicts. This region needs to earn and regain the feeling of dignity that normally goes along with a real success, i.e., improved quality of life and work.
What can a small research institute do for such a huge task? It can, and it will, breed people for a functioning and successful democracy. Thus trained young professionals will leave MedILS and disperse in academic, industrial and political institutions and spread the “virus” of scientific and humanistic thinking to the next young generation, etc.
MedILS is to become a small but very attractive international campus with a distinct profile – a school of critical thinking for future democrats. The project will require the initial build-up of a critical mass of excellence at least during the summer months. It is not meant to become an ivory tower because it will act as a magnet for the entry of a large number of young students through its wide open doors. But, it will be a place of refined positive selection of special talents and of strong motivations.
Split, the Croatian second largest city, is geographically, climatically and culturally in quite an exceptional Mediterranean region and is a rich source of creative young talents. Geopolitically MedILS should become the center of scientific excellence for the South-East Europe. The success of the MedILS project should play a positive role in the political stabilization of this troubled area of Europe. The natural beauty and the existing buildings at MedILS provide the scenery for a campus that can hardly be equaled. Yet, there is an international airport 30 min by car or 10 min by a speedboat. Students, instructors and professors can all be lodged on the campus so that they can mix and talk during meals, sports and relaxation on a breathtaking private beach.
The key „product“ of MedILS will be a special breed of scientists, as a result of original and effective selection and instruction processes. The results of their research must be unpredictably innovative. Unlike in any existing research place, high-risk research – and therefore low rate of publication – will be encouraged. This goal will be achieved through the excellence reached by special selection and instruction (e.g. mixing very young people with senior scientific „coaches“ – exceptional individuals at the end of their scientific careers, even post-retirement), a flexible and disposable administration so efficient as to be „invisible“, and the perfect services. The scientific and administrative management will be inspired by the best research institutions.
Teaching, learning and brainstorming will be a natural way of life. Training courses will be provided due to the state of art equipment in high tech biological and computational research and the world-class instructors will be shared with the affiliated famous Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the USA. In fact, MedILS will function also as a bridge between the European and American science, later on with Austral-Asian and hopefully soon, African science. Scientists at MedILS will work in the (horizontal) style of cross-inspiring „jazz band“ rather than a „symphony orchestra“ (vertical) style with one director and determined fixed projects. Creativity and excellence are the keywords of MedILS. MedILS will be a truly international institution totally independent of local and even European governments, with an ex-territorial status, having English as a working language. It will be the headquarter of an international school of scientific journalism.
Excellence And Solidarity
EXCELLENCE AND SOLIDARITY