The potential end to the current health crisis and the Covid-19 virus depends ultimately on science. Sooner rather than later, science will hopefully produce the drugs to deal with the virus or the vaccine to suppress it. There is hardly a serious science lab around the world that is not currently devoting enormous resources to achieving these goals. However, these are processes that are unpredictable by definition as they follow the scientific method of trial and error, learning from what does and does not work.
Discovery is the essence of science. It is an inherent component of human nature and for centuries was the precedent for the formal scientific research process of today. Thinking about the end of 2020, I present here some ideas about discovery that I have found striking:
“The unknown is the largest need of the intellect” Emily Dickinson, 1876
“Evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding: those who understand are more likely to survive” Carl Sagan
“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such trifling investment of fact” Mark Twain, 1883
“Read to live,” says Flaubert somewhere in his letters, and where else does one live if not in a house of straw, signs, and symbols made from the shaping and reshaping of a once-upon-a-time. History is a record of events (kingdoms lost and battles won, cities built and churches burned), but it is also the compost heap of human civilization; the finding of the present in the past, the past in the present, is the stuff of which our lives, our liberties, and pursuits of happiness are made” Lewis H. Lapham
“A few years ago, as Your Highness well knows, I discovered many things in the heavens that had been invisible until this present age. Because of their novelty and because some consequences that follow from them contradict commonly held scientific views, these have provoked not a few professors in the schools against me, as if I had deliberately placed these objects in the sky to cause confusion in the natural sciences. They seem to forget that the increase of known truths, far from diminishing or undermining the sciences, works to stimulate the investigation, development, and strengthening of their various fields. Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions that for the truth, they have sought to deny and disprove these new facts that, if they had considered them carefully, would have been confirmed by the very evidence of their senses. To this end, they have put forward various objections and published writings full of vain arguments and, more seriously, scattered with referencesto Holy Scripture taken from passages they have not properly understood and that have no bearing on their argument. With the passing of time, the truth that I first pointed out have become apparent to all, and the truth has exposed the difference in attitude between those who simply and dispassionately were unconvinced of the reality of my discoveries and those whose incredulity was mixed with some emotional reaction…It is not as easy to change one’s view of conclusions that have been demonstrated in the natural world or in the heavens as it is to change one’s opinion on what is or is nit permissible in a contract, a declaration of income or a bill of exchange” Galileo, 1615
“At the beginning of 1595, Johannes Kepler received a sign, if not from God himself then from a lesser deity surely, one of those whose task is to encourage the elect of this world. His post at the Stiftsschule carried with it the title of calendar maker for the province of Styria. The previous autumn for a fee of twenty florins from the public coffers, he had drawn up an astrological calendar for the coming year, predicting great cold and an invasion by the Turks… Johannes was charmed with this prompt vindication of his powers… O a sign, yes, surely. He set to work in earnest on the cosmic mystery…He had not the solution, yet; he was still posing the questions. The first of these was: Why are there just six planets in the solar system?Why not five, or seven, or a thousand for that matter? No one, so far as he knew, had ever thought to ask it before. It became for him the fundamental mystery.Even the formulation of such a question struck him as a singular achievement” Graz, 1595
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” Shannon L. Alder
“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions” Claude Levi-Strauss
“Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to seek those answers that continues to give meaning to life. You can spend your life wallowing in despair, wondering why you were the one who was led towards the road strewn with pain, or you can be grateful that you are strong enough to survive it” J.D. Stroube, Caged by Damnation
“I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all for fear of being carried off their feet” Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840
Happy New Year!
Luis Rubio is chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI) and of México Evalúa-CIDAC. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof