By Sundeep Waslekar
I have rarely experienced a greater irony in my life. Hours after I spent touching moments in Einstein’s apartment at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 32 in old Bern, where he had written all his famous works of 1905, I heard the announcement from another part of Switzerland. CERN said that its Large Hadron Collider had enabled neutrinos to travel faster than light, thus proving Einstein wrong. Within minutes, scientists appeared on the Internet expressing scepticism of the new discovery. The jury is still out on this particular case.
Whatever the outcome of this CERN experiment, the message is clear. Man has started his search for the means of exceeding the speed of light. What was once science fiction is now a subject of the most serious scientific inquiry. The biological counterpart of this endeavour is an effort to break the Blood Brain Barrier through the convergence of nano-technology and genomics. If in the next few decades, humanity achieves these two breakthroughs, the universe will not be the same place that we have known for the last 12000 years since the foundation of civilization in Sanliurfa.
I am humbled and overwhelmed by the ability of our scientists to think beyond the possible and then to commit time and toil to pursue their vision. Such passion of outstanding men and women has made the world that we have today. And misuse of their inventions by greedy men in search of power has brought us catastrophes. Einstein did not formulate the equation E=MC2 to produce a nuclear bomb. Craig Venter did not create synthetic bacteria in laboratories to create future biological weapons.
It is true that the world of science is not free of envy and ego. It took more than half a decade for Albert Einstein after his publication of Special Theory of Relativity to become a full professor in Zurich. In fact, two years after the publication of the same paper, he could not qualify for the job of a lecturer at the University of Bern. I know at least one potentially great scientist who gave up neuroscience to enter diplomacy. And I know several others who remained scientists by profession but became politicians by vocation. Nevertheless, if one looks at the larger picture, the vision of most scientists and philosophers produces the world where there is yearning to reach the impossible for greater good of all people, with no regard for borders. The vision of most politicians and bureaucrats tends to produce a world where a square mile of land and a million cubic meters of water are treated as matters of pride and security, and an ability to annihilate enemy a thousand times while starving thousands of children at home becomes the greatest dream.
I miss Einstein today because since he, along with Bertrand Russell, demanded that war should be outlawed, no other voice which can represent the conscience of humanity has emerged anywhere in the world. Indeed, the half century since then has seen the death of least 50 million children due to policy neglect and 100 million innocent civilians due to warfare. This is like fighting the Second World War three times since 1960.
Perhaps, Einstein’s failure to realise his dream of uniting ideal and practical worlds has taught other scientists to confine to science, breaking the most impossible barriers in the working of mind and nature, but watching helplessly as their labour is selfishly misused for narrow purposes.
There are now two rays of hope.
First, a new moral voice emerges from unexpected quarters, most likely a scientist or a philosopher who dares humanity to change its track.
Second, CERN succeeds in breaking the speed of light barrier in such a decisive way that Einstein the man of science is defeated. But time travel enables us to reach to him again in the 1950s and Einstein the man of conscience is resurrected and this time we really mobilise behind him to save our planet.
In either case, I will always treasure the rare privilege of spending a few moments at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 32 and bow my head in humility and respect.