In an outhouse in Devon a remarkable man has spent much of his adult life working on science that is slowly changing the thinking of the world. He even makes his own beautifully honed equipment. He is not funded in what he does by anything but his own writing. He is an independent scholar. His name is James Lovelock and in spite of the great changes that his work has brought to the world, there is no Nobel Prize in sight, because Lovelock does not work within the resident weltanchauung.
Outside Geneva a 27 mile fast track has been built underground, in order to create the complex conditions present a few seconds after what became known as the Big Bang. It has cost a sum that would eradicate poverty in a large African state and the purpose of the enterprise is to photograph collisions that might reveal the identity of the Higgs’ Boson, a mysterious particle that has started to be called ‘the God Particle’. The public face, in Britain at least, is a scientist called Professor Brian Cox, a man so youthful and trendy that he would not look amiss as the lead singer in a rock band. When Cern was activated over a year ago, he was incandescent with excitement because he seemed to think that the collider could just put to rest for ever all the nonsense about there being a mysterious hand directing events. It would not surprise me one bit to discover that Cox wins a Nobel prize, though he’s so busy tarting about on TV that I don’t expect he actually has time to do science.
I wonder how history will view these two men and their science. Will Cern, like Dubai, rise and rise and topple with the weight of its hubris? Will the world eventually come to see the link between Cern science and the rise of obeisity in the West? We cannot have anything we want when we want it. Because we see does not give us the right to bring it into being. Someone has to stand up and say enough before we run out of resources.
There are mythological implications in the rise of the power of science. Not only has it taken on the mantle of religion, it has more of a whiff of Inquisition to it. Or Prometheus, the creator of mankind who stole a glowing charcoal from the fiery sun and escaped with it in the pithy hollow of a giant fennel stalk. Thus giving mankind the wherewithall to destoy itself.
No, give me quiet ,gentle 90 year old James Lovelock any day, who learned his love of science in the basement of Brixton Library, where he said the science books allowed him to ‘mine magic’ and where he laid the foundation for becoming a polymath-a rare enough gift in these days and yet the only one that allows us to see the whole, unless one of course takes it all on faith or trust.