Tuesday 18 February 2020

Forty-something years in science - a retrospective analysis

I suppose my serious engagement with science began aged 14 when I started the first of two years of O-levels and I specialised to include Physics, Chemistry and Biology - and these then became my A-levels, preparatory to studying medicine at university - which included a fair bit of science, especially in the early years. I was also reading inspiring general interest works about science in a broad sense - I recall a biography of Einstein, works by Jacob Bronowski, an essay by Julian Huxley...

But it was not until a decade later, aged 24, that I began to 'be' a scientist - when I started my (supervised and directed) doctoral research, and began reading the primary literature, doing experiments, writing papers, giving seminars and lectures... I went on to become a lecturer in science - first physiology then anatomy; and became an independent researcher - which was another step.

At this point, I had published a fair bit, spent many hours wearing a white coat in laboratories with testtubes and microscopes and the rest of it - and even begun to write the theoretical papers which later became my main focus... I was moderately successful.

But I was not really fully A Scientist in the sense that my imagination was not engaged, and my intuition was not activated. I was doing what we termed (in The Genius Famine) 'Openness' - or 'fake' - creativity (rather like someone working in advertising or fashion); which could be summarised as the application of intelligence and effort to information. I was doing science, but not being a scientist.

It was approximately another decade when I switched-on to being a scientist, living science from the inside - and thinking intuitively about science. It happened in the space of an hour or so, in May of 1994, sitting in the sunny back garden and reading an article about Evolutionary Psychology - when I realised that this was something I really wanted to do, and indeed had been unconsciously 'preparing' to do, for the previous twenty years.

From then I had a period of a bit more than twenty years during which I lived science in a participative way; after which this impulse transformed away from science; and I instead began to live Christianity, theology and philosophy (as now).

Looking back on some four decade of science - what are the satisfactions? The main one is that - from 1994 - I was doing what I most wanted to do, working on problems and fields that I had myself chosen, to the best of my ability. I did not, in other words, focus on work that attracted funding, or that was fashionable or high status. Indeed I was always pursuing my line despite advice to do otherwise, and against frequent and general discouragement, uninterest or hostility.

But this working on what most excited me was very satisfying in and of itself. It was self-justifying. It was the most important stuff I felt I could contribute towards. The texture of most daily life was creative, engaged; and took my best efforts.

But I don't much think back on the papers or books I published, nor the talks and lectures I gave... and not the other people I influenced (which was never very many). Science moves on and the earlier work is mostly forgotten or given only a cursory name check. But even worse, science has actually faded away - and been replaced by the career of professional research; which lacks the focus of Truth that characterises science.

So whatever original contribution I made to science has pretty much gone from public discourse - or is microscopic compared with the effort and time expended. I have, to a surprisingly complete extent, simply lost interest in that aspect of my work - I very seldom re-read what I wrote, and am not really bothered about whether other people remember it or have been influenced by it.

My first satisfaction was that (from 1994) the effort and time were their own reward; and I have come to believe that any genuine creativity I put into science was not wasted by remained in the realm of... well, primary reality.

Science is one area in which we can be creative, and to be creative in a genuine sense means actively (from one's real self) to participate in divine creation (possible because our contribution has been in harmony with God's motivation, and this harmony comes from mutuality of love). And that means that the 'real' science is not really being done in the domain of scientific experiments and publications - not really a matter of that level of interaction; but in the domain of 'primary thinking', intuition, or the relationships between beings. 

In other words there have been two benefits from my life in science - the first was while I was doing it, day-by-day; and was psychological - and sometimes spiritual.

The second was whatever contribution I made to the work of creation - and this happened (when it did) by means of my thinking - and mainly in terms of insights, intuitions, breakthroughs of understanding... and is, presumably, 'recorded' in a similar realm where thinking is one of the primary realities.

Note - For most of the time that I was a 'real scientist' I was not a Christian. But I was able to do real science because I believed in the objective reality and significance of Truth - even though I could not have given anything like a coherent account of why Truth was so (transcendentally) vital, nor how Truth 'worked'. This is what enabled me to see above and beyond so-called-science 'as a career'. A key mement was reading Charles Murray's book Human Accomplishment, where he states that creativity requires a genuine belief in the reality of the transcendantals such as Truth, Beauty and Virtue - in unuty; and also a belief in the significance of individual creativity (i.e. that I, personally, can make a positive difference). I recognised myself in Murray's description, and began to feel a need to explain why these were such powerful, fundamental life-convictions.

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