Good days and bad days in the classroom – today was, well, a bad day, by which I mean that I did not think that one of my classes in particular actually learned very much in the fifty minutes we spent together.
I am an inferior teacher of chemistry, principally because I have no real passion to explore its depths and wring every ounce of creative genius of impartation from those who know more than I do. It can be faked, of course, much like orgasm, but we and they are not deceived. Primo Levi wrote a passionate bestseller called ' The Periodic Table' which for me is a multicoloured diagram on my laboratory wall, lacking the fire and belly that drove its author and father Dmitri Mendeleev 150 years ago. Levi was Jewish, which brings me to today's observation. Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot will be awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry – actually one third of it - becoming the fifth Israeli scientist to win the award. Jews, who number only around 0.2% of the world’s population, have won a quarter of all science Nobel Prizes, which some have ascribed to the so-called 'Jewish Genius'. Muslims, who are a whopping one quarter of the world's population, have won only a handful. They can only apologise for the grimness of this statistic and even religious scholars who portray Western political systems, social foundations and cultural achievements as manifestations of infidel entities in decay acknowledge the West's overwhelming scientific and technological edge.
Historically, authoritarian regimes are only as educationally effective as their brightest policymakers – would you buy a drug developed in North Korea? Freedom to think, explore and expand intellectually is only possible in societies where the pursuit of genuinely inquisitorial scholarship is valued, competitiveness in the academically exciting sense is encouraged and religio-societal environment places excellence above conformity to political or religious rectitude.
Even modern Islam, which encompasses modernity and places value upon it, is insufficient to develop the mindset of questioning scholarship which is necessary to create prizewinners, since it is by definition locked into a system of taboos which prevent even its brightest thinkers from reaching beyond their communities and developing new rationalities. Nobel laureates cannot grow from cultures that raise kids from an early age to never question a certain conceptualisation of reality. Die gedanken sind frei.
The image is of a ribosome, the nucleoprotein translator of the genetic code into proteins, whose function has been unravelled by this year's Nobel winners