Thursday, February 28, 2008

The scientist and the story-writer.

Sujatha, the Tamil writer who passed away yesterday, was not only a gifted and versatile novelist and columnist; he was also a reputed scientist, who had led the design team at Bharat Electronics Ltd, that developed the electronic voting machine. This fact, I learnt, from the obituary that appeared in several newspapers today.

Popular perception is that scientific temper and literary orientation are not compatible. But, clearly, some individuals such as Sujatha seem to have been blessed with heightened capabilities, with respect to both the left and right sides of the brain. The nuclear scientist, Raja Ramanna, was also an accomplished pianist and had given several solo performances. Former President Kalam, a scientist by training, breaks into poetry, at the slightest opportunity.

In an article titled,” The scientist and the poet” Paul Cantor, Professor of English, University of Virginia, wrote:

….the scientist and the poet seem to us to be perpetually at odds. To the poet, the scientist seems unimaginative and literal-minded—with his head buried in the ground of facts, incapable of comprehending the larger significance of what he does. To the scientist, the poet seems to have his head up in the clouds, indulging in fantastic visions of what might be and losing sight of the way things really are. It is difficult for us to imagine a successful conversation between a scientist and a poet—they seem almost to speak different languages.

But before positing an unbridgeable gulf between science and poetry, it is well to remember that the great poet Goethe was also a scientist. He is of course best remembered for his imaginative works, such as Wilhelm Meister and Faust, but his contributions to science were not insignificant. Among other things, he was an accomplished botanist, he helped found the field of comparative anatomy, he coined the term morphology, and he anticipated the theory of evolution

Paul Cantor goes on to narrate how poets and writers, including die-hard romantics like Wordsworth, came to recognise the creative power in science. The same Wordsworth who was known more for his evocative images of towering mountains and thundering waterfalls even wrote a sonnet where he had described steamboats, viaducts and railways, as ‘sublime’.

Richard Feynman responded to criticism that a cold scientific view of the Universe robbed it of all its beauty :

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent? ( wiki source).

Feynman also came up with this lovely poem, imagining himself standing on the sea front::

There are rushing waves...
mountains of molecules,each stupidly minding its own business...
trillions apart...
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages...
before any eyes could see...
year after year...
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?...
on a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest...
tortured by energy...
wasted prodigiously by the sun...
poured into space.
Its might makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea,
all molecules repeat
the patterns of another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves...
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity...
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein...
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land...
here it is standing...
atoms with consciousness..
matter with curiosity,
stands at the sea...
wonders at wondering...
I,.a universe of atoms,
an atom in the universe.


5 comments:

ILA(a)இளா said...

Good Post ..

Sowmya said...

"Former President Kalam, a scientist by training, breaks into poetry, at the slightest opportunity."

- looks like you are showing a little more restrain wrt Kalam, than usual.:-)

vasukumar said...

Richard Feyman the poet, dna, atoms, molecules... very good post and an apt tribute to sujatha

Raj said...

Ila and vasukumar,thanks.

sowmya, I have changed my views on Kalam after seeing his successor. The Iru Kodugal principle.

berto said...

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