Nobel laureate Sir Venki Ramakrishnan opened the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday morning with an impassioned defence of the sciences.
In his keynote address, Ramakrishnan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, urged people to “enjoy science and mathematics, which are as much a triumph of human achievement and part of our culture as history, literature, art and music”.
Ramakrishnan's address, one of the best attended events of the day, reflected the themes of this year's festival programme, which seeks to explore subjects such as climate change, technology and the rise of Artificial Intelligence.
“Today, science is more important than ever,” said Ramakrishnan. “We live in a world in which science and technology are ubiquitous. Decisions are constantly made by governments, corporations, educators and others that affect us in profound ways.
“Much of what I have said may perhaps sound a little utilitarian, but science and the pursuit of knowledge is also a thing of beauty. Poets and artists have often reflected on the beauty of the night sky but the images of space from the Hubble Telescope speak for themselves. The double-helical structure of DNA, the molecule that encodes our genes, has a beautiful simplicity. And there is beauty and wonder right down to the atomic and subatomic level of matter.”
Norwegian writer Maja Lunde, author of bestselling novel The History of Bees, which imagines a dystopian world where all the bees have disappeared, continued this theme with her talk, in which she questioned whether humans would be able to reverse the damage caused to the planet by pollution and climate change.
“I’m optimistic every second day and pessimistic every second day,” said Lunde. “After the latest UN report, which came out before Christmas [and stated we had 11 years to stop global warming], it felt bleak. We really need to do so much more than we do.
“I feel my pessimism is rising unfortunately but I still try to keep my hope and look at all the good things that have happened [in history],” Lunde continued. “I wonder what it is that allowed us to rule the world and to be above all other species. Is there something in us that we can also use to save the planet? Do we have it or are we just driven by our instincts to get more and more?"
The Jaipur Literature Festival is on until January 28. For more information, visit: www.jaipurliteraturefestival.org