ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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​Reflections on Science and the Human Endeavour

The advancements (and destruction) we create by engaging in scientific research are as much a reflection of human nature as they are of the character of science.

[The author gratefully acknowledges Venkatraman Gopalan and Mukesh Manjunath for their perceptive comments on early drafts of this article.]


For most scientists, their chosen profession is the result of doggedly pursuing their intellectual curiosity through their childhoods and young adulthoods. This is certainly true in fundamental research, but arguably also in applied research. While intellectual curiosity is excellent motivation, as we grow into adults, faced with the prospect of spending almost half of our waking hours on our professions, it’s only natural to wonder how our work affects the world. What does fundamental research in the natural sciences do outside of tickling the intellect? How do we reconcile our evolved world views as adults with the impact that scientific research has on the world?

It helps to begin by going back to where it all starts. As kids, any inclination we show towards science and maths is encouraged, even celebrated. More often than not, this continues through our time in school and beyond. But good luck if you were instead interested in music or sports, or (god forbid) art! The pursuit of scientific knowledge is viewed as a noble endeavour just as it is. This may have something to do with how vocations associated with science are relatively lucrative, but perhaps it’s more deep-rooted than that. Even outside of the trappings of the modern world, it would benefit a tribe of people to have a scientifically skilled population—the problem-solving ability would help tide over daily challenges, scientific insights could potentially heal deadly wounds and diseases, and inspire tools that make peoples’ lives easier, and technology and weaponry that could defend the population against attacks from outsiders. Clearly, the overwhelming motivation for society to support science (morally and monetarily) is all of these things, rather than for an abstract pursuit of knowledge and beauty. Scientific research is deeply intertwined with peoples’ lives in a very utilitarian manner.

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Updated On : 20th Mar, 2021
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