Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan says that literature, art, culture and science are just different ways of capturing essential truths of life.
Tamil Nadu born Nobel laureate scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was in Jaipur recently to launch his first book, Gene Machine during Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Venky, as he is fondly called, is a molecular biologist, but he was awarded Nobel prize in chemistry about a decade back. He is also the president of the Royal Society, a post once held by the giants such as Isaac Newton, Joseph Banks and Humphry Davy.
In his keynote address at the session – ‘Gene Machine: The race to decipher the secrets of the Ribosome’, he admitted that there is a great divide between art, culture – the humanities and science. People generally think that a student, who is weak in science and mathematics, can not become a scientist. For them, a scientist is a person, who has no interest in literature art, culture, music etc.
Venky trashes this notion by saying that science and maths were as much a part of human triumph. He said, “Art, literature and science are ways of capturing essential truths about the world but science has some distinctive aspects. In science, it doesn’t matter who you are and where something is written. It’s accepted because it’s testable by its strengths that can be reproduced by anyone, anywhere if required.”
He stressed upon the need to acquire more and more scientific knowledge, because it not only gives you economic prosperity, but also well being. It is evident from the fact that the life expectancy was almost same from the days of Buddha and Christ till two centuries ago, but now with the spread of scientific knowledge it has more than doubled.
Venky, came down heavily, on the people who use scientific language to propagate nonsense of astrology and superstition and emphasized that we citizen should ask such people as to how good is the evidence and how valid is the underlying science. He also debunked the general notion that science is a dull and boring subject and does not have intrinsic beauty like art and humanities. He said, “Science and the persuit of knowledge is also a thing of beauty. Poets and artists have reflected on the beauty of the night sky, but the images of space from the Hubble telescope speak for themselves.”
Is Gene Editing the solution of all chronic diseases and ageing problem? In reply to this question, Venky said, “To some extent it is useful. But it can have dangerous side effects. If uncontrolled, it can wipe out entire human race. So we have to be extremely cautious about its usage.”
He also suggested that there should not be any competition between scientists. He said, “If there is a competition, it should be within the science only”. As regards different awards and prizes, he emphatically said that they should not give a feeling of winners and losers. Later on, in an interview, he admitted that the worst thing about the Nobel prize is that it can be distracting, “People assume you are a genius who knows everything. You have to guard against that and not pontificate about everything.”