Posted by: sioglac | May 2, 2014

Vatican Day 1: Two millennia of experience

Back of the envelope calculation here:

There are 43 participants. Let’s say each one has 50 years experience being a scientist (FYI for Walter, this is an underestimate by 50%). Conservative estimate: I’m sitting in a room with just about two millennia of experience of how to be a scientist.

Oh I guess I should back up here. If you missed previous posts: I’m at the Vatican for a joint workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. There are three students here to watch. I am one of them. What does this mean?

Basically just that I’m way out of my league.

photo 2

Not a bad place for a conference, eh?

There are lots of things to say about Day 1. I’m tired, with this being my fifth consecutive day of day-long conferences, so let’s just hit some highlights:

  • Jeffrey Sachs definitely won the day, bringing the house down with his talk about sustainable developement and, in response to a question, rattled off one of the longest, most beautiful quotes I’ve ever heard, off the top of his head nonetheless (granted it was a JFK quote and he just wrote a book about the guy…).
  • I got taught biological evolution by Werner Arber today. FYI he has a Noble Prize for something he did with DNA. Oh and his slides were hand drawn cartoons #sciencecrush: photo 1
  • On the topic of two millennia of experience, one of the biggest things that has struck me is how these academics form questions (or, more generally, ideas). While there is always the person with the rambling questions at every conference, most of the questions and comments are impressively succinct, unambiguous, and, best of all, penetrating. It’s like a masterclass on how to be a scientist. I’m never going to be in a situation like this again, so I’m trying to learn as much as possible via osmosis.
  • On the topic of amazingness, some of the things that have come out of these scientists’ mouths is pure gold. “We carry our parents’ luggage…the role of education is desperately important.” “Throwing food away is unacceptable from an environmental and ethical perspective.” “We have filled up the nooks and crannies of the world’s economies to a very dangerous extent.” “Man is a technical giant, but an ethical child.” Obviously we (and by we, I mean them) have run the gambit of topics and done it incredibly eloquently.
  • Oh the guy who discovered Lucy is here.

That’s enough for now. Meeting starts again in 8 hours (tomorrow is cryosphere day!!!) and my walk in the morning along the Vatican wall is like 30 minutes (poor me, right?). So I’ll just leave this panorama here for you all:

photo 3

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