20 May 2010

If I were a pilgrim...

I’m not easily given to romantic fancies. This resistance to idealizing people and especially places probably explains my lack of enthusiasm for globe-trotting. Years of imbibing international anecdotes and photographs from books and magazines have suppressed (for the moment) any desire for first-hand experience. Especially when the benefits of armchair travelling include low monetary costs, minimum stress and the avoidance of that terribly deflating sensation one gets the moment you realise that you’ve travelled half-way across the world only to encounter the same globalised locales, food, dress and lousy manners.

But I would consider leaving that comfortable armchair to go on a pilgrimage. And my Mecca would be the Royal Society in London.

The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge was founded in November 1660. It is the oldest organization of its kind, being one of the earliest institutions formally dedicated to the pursuit of scientific discovery. Isaac Newton was its president from 1703 until his death in 1727. One could argue that the founding of the Royal Society marked a significant moment in the history of ideas. It was the beginning of the cultural and political ascendency of science and its practitioners.

The Royal Society prefigured the formation of similar organizations across Europe, notably the French Academie des Sciences (founded in 1666). No longer were scientists isolated individuals often deprived of resources and support. With the founding of the Royal Society and its sister organizations, scientists had a forum where they could gather and share ideas, discoveries and funds. This networking accelerated the progress of science from the 17th century onwards.

I hope to one day visit the Royal Society building in London to pay my respects to a group of brilliant individuals who stood for curiosity, intelligence, reason, progress, knowledge and truth. Incidentally, I’d also like to drop by the Creation Science Movement’s Genesis Expo in Portsmouth, since the CSM (which claims to be “the oldest creationist movement in the world”) represents exactly the opposite values.


Photo by Kaihsu Tai

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