RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND DEMOCRACY:
A MEDITERRANEAN PROJECT.
(prepared by Miroslav Radman for the meeting with Mr. George Soros in Zagreb 21/06/2005)
Mediterranean institute for the study of life (MedILS) is a very ambitious project because of its two main goals to become a place for: (i) growing new generations of exceptional young professionals “specialized” in critical, creative and synthetic thinking, and (ii) fostering highly innovative and therefore risky research projects – a “factory” for generating a diversity repertoire of original ideas. 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. When attempting a true innovation, certain level of initial isolation – a distance from powerful establishments - could be an asset rather than a handicap.
Why Croatia? Ever since the troubled 1990-ies, E.U. and UN have been politically inapt to deal with the problems of people and countries of South-East Europe. There will be a long queuing in front of E.U.’s doors with growing disillusion and loss of dignity of young people from this area. The danger of another escape in some form of fundamentalism (ethnic, national, religious) is considerable and could again 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, young professionals, for a functioning and successful democracy. Thus trained professionals will leave MedILS and disperse in academic, industrial and even political institutions and spread the “virus” of scientific and humanistic thinking to the next generation, etc.
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.
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 maintenance and evolution. 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) 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 an ephemeral currency in our lives. Their success has been, unfortunately, dismal. We need a “humanaissance” that will feed optimism into the generation of our justifiably resigned, scared and cynical children.
Although there is a lot of emotion associated with the beauty of thoughts emerging in course of scientific research, research is driven basically by curiosity and endless questioning. The selection of generated ideas goes by confrontation with “facts” obtained by 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 cheating strategies. Research is the best school of creative problem-solving thinking available to us.
Therefore, scientists could teach our 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 - enter 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.
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 regimes causing resistance.
A-S+ is a pragmatic society, materially rich but emotionally poor.
A-S- is a dead society.
“Humanaissance”: Research, Democracy & 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 the South-East Europe and for the humanity is to train excellence in thinking, both creative and critical. Why? To solve our problems we need high quality problem-solving skills called thinking. Humanity (our brains) is exposed to two competing, and exclusive, ways of thinking (“meme complexes”): scientific-humanist versus fundamentalist, and the outcome of that competition concerns us.
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 you don’t indulge yourself in critical thinking (it’s done for you!) and don’t learn from others. It offers solution to all problems at once while you obey!
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 may 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 fundamentalistic memes.
Democracy requires a permanently evolving high quality thinking because it must keep solving emerging, often unpredictable, problems. Democracy requires, and breeds, excellence in thinking to assure the best quality selection from the varieties of ideas generated by creative “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, in turn, is the best warranty for freedom, fraternity and peace available to us.
Reciprocally, absence of science and arts results in poor education that breeds poverty and poverty leads to loss of dignity that results almost inevitably in corruption, criminality and proneness to fundamentalism. The final result is loss of freedom, hate of others and wars.
Best science is produced in freedom and democracy that protects creative and critical minds (that are often irritating for the establishment) 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.
Modern research trains cooperation. Productive creativity in today’s science requires most of the time a trans-disciplinary network of cooperating brains to arrive 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 well-trained 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. This kind of research is being progressively carried-out by commercial companies that are more efficient for this kind of research work than the academic labs (viz. the sequencing of human genome by Venter’s company).
But the academic labs should breed original research projects! It is therefore aberrant that the funding agencies give generous financial support only to those academic labs which propose the mission-oriented research whereas the innovation and creativity are clandestine activities that are applauded only after achieved 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 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 – universities and similar academic campuses where tutors/mentors and students maximally interact by working, even 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, Switzerland and Sweden at least 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!
MedILS is to become a small but very attractive international campus with a distinct profile – a school of critical thinking for future scientists and democrats. The project will require the initial build-up of a critical mass of excellence at least during the spring and summer months. It is not meant to become an ivory tower because it will act as a magnet for a large number of students entering through its wide open doors. But, it will be a place of refined positive selection of special talents and of strong personal motivations.
Split, the Croatian second largest city, is situated 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 anywhere. This beauty is not a matter of snobbery: it is a natural way of attracting world’s most successful scientists (who have almost all they need) to want to come to Split in order to enjoy a precious commodity no scientists has enough – the free time! That commodity cannot be given – it can only be taken by each individual. The natural beauty and the intellectual and social life at MedILS will provide motivation to take free time. There is conveniently 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, artistic happenings, sports and relaxation on a breathtaking private beach.
The key „products“ of MedILS will be (i) ongoing generation of a special breed of young trans-disciplinary scientists and (ii) rare scientific breakthroughs, both conceptual and technological. The results of their research must be unpredictably innovative. The research of the initial four small research teams will be in the area of molecular and cellular evolution, maintenance of molecular memory in genes, the study of complex systems, and miniaturization of biological experiments through the collaboration of physicists and biologists. Miniaturized experiments will be carried out, under the microscope, on individual living cells in a similar way they are done macroscopically on single animals. Unlike in any existing research place, high-risk research – and therefore low rate of publication – will be encouraged.
These goals will be achieved through: (a) the excellence achieved 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), (b) a flexible and disposable administration so efficient as to be „invisible“, and (c) perfect services.
In principle, there will be no tenure for the scientific staff in such a small institute. To assure the open entry into MedILS for new talents, there must be an open exit into the wide world of academic, industrial and societal carriers. The functioning and style of scientific and administrative management will be inspired by such management in world’s best research institutions.
Funding. The achievement of these tasks is an awesome endeavor anywhere but particularly in this Mediterranean region and it will never succeed without adequate funding of top research facilities and competitive salaries. However, because the volume of MedILS is small, we are talking here of no more than about 5 - 7 million euros per year. Most of that sum should be provided from competitive grants and fellowships from the EU, ERC, EMBO, ESF, FEBS, HHMI and exceptional contracts with commercial companies. An endowment covering at least 1/3 of the costs will be essential to carry out an independent research policy.
Teaching, learning and brainstorming will be a natural way of life at MedILS. 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 through affiliation with EMBL in Europe and 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, be taught and teach in the “horizontal” cross-inspiring dialogue and polylogue rather than a “vertical” style with one director and determined fixed projects.
Creativity, excellence and transparency are the keywords of MedILS: an ideal place to “think the unthinkable”. MedILS will be a truly international institution totally independent of local and European governments, with an ex-territorial status, having English as the working language. It will also act as headquarter of an International school of scientific journalism.
Our motto is:
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”
SOME OF OUR SLOGANS :
It is imperative for a nation, a culture, a university and a company to understand the nature of the creative process and to encourage its support.
1959 Nobel Laureate in Medicine
True discovery creates necessity and not vice versa.
Science is a growing tree nurtured by society. You can not have just the fruit.
E. Bertz, 1901