A Maverick Talkerমতামত: ডিসকাশন প্রজেক্ট | ২৭ ফাল্গুন ১৪২১ | Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Some Newspapers have called it organising a social movement in quest of knowledge after the pattern of ancient Greece. What was that Greek way? R.T Glover, the historian, has brought that out charmingly when he wrote that in periclean Greece the citizens’ popular pastime was to take a stroll in the market places and join up any of numerous group heatedly discussed the Latest Phideas or Praxiteles sculpture or an Aristophanes play or a tragedy by Eurepedes or Democritus‘s science or Parmenides’s philosophy. Although Plato’s routine stroll with friends and desciples - talking philosophy and stagecraft and what not-frequently gardens of Akademi, has been immortalised by the coining of that internationally-used word —academy — the Greek passion for high things with friends in throngs at public public places far preceded even his mentor, the most celebrated and irrepressible Socretes. It is mainly in this that Greek cities of yore differed from the modern cities, says Glover.
What one boyish-looking avid student of science has been trying to do these past five years is to talk with friend but in a more formal setting and charging the listeners sums -moderate though - per conversazione. He started what he lovingly albeit somewhat tritly call dorshonir binimoye biggan-alochchona .way back in 1992.
How is Asif doing now? How is his Discussion project faring? He is known by that single name because be never uses any other. May be he found in this an affinity with his idols Newton and Kepler, Faraday and Einstein. In the third year of his endeavour, 1995 he held as many as 20 discussion meetings participated by 167 listeners paying a total of Taka 24,186. Most of these meetings involved only one lislener discussant. But that failed to daunt Asif who went on to hold what he calls ‘open discussions’ in hired auditoriums. To date he has held 15 such lectures. Eight of them were held in ‘95, 167 attended and paid some 24 thousand takas. That may not impress many. But in October 1996, 150 attended the last open discussion paying Tk 7500. That’s for how he and his mission is doing.
What does Asif talk about? Some of the subjects he dwelt on in the ‘95 stage presentations were called the enigma of time, the geological time scale, the search for a second earth, the forces of nature, the cosmic calendar of Carl Sagan and the life and work of Isaac Newton. What is his way of treating these subjects in lecture for very much-unprepared laymen? Let us take one example. The invitation card for the discussion on the cosmic calendar, held on October 10, ‘95 and priced at Taka 50 contained the following text:
# What is the oldest event in the universe known to us? When did it happen? What was the picture of the universe then?
# How much of the events taking place from then up to now have come to human knowledge? How far the information constituting that knowledge is dependable, how much of the information are so? What were the modes of collecting these?
# Cannot a Cosmic Calendar spanding the universe’s life be patterned upon the yearly calendar of human activities in order to better comprehend the vastness of the universe, temporally and spatially?
# At what points of the Cosmic Calendar did the Milky Galaxy, the solar system and earth come into being? When did life start on earth? When came the trees and reptiles, birds and amphibians and mammals? When did the dinosaurs start stomping the surface of the earth and what led to their extinction?
# Who are the forebears of man? Are those who started making and using fire and we, who coming across the stone and bronze copper and iron ages, now rule the earth belong to the same species? If the fire people were different when did they arrive and where are they gone?
# How much space human civilization would occupy in such a calendar? Has man been able to do anything on the cosmic scale?
“These and many other questions are treated in the discussion on the Cosmic Calendar. You are invited to participate.”
On 27 September Asif talked on the subject, ‘In search of a second earth’. The invitation card noted some of the questions to be treated in the lectures. Besides there were figures and diagrams representing the Drake equation on the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life and the radio signals that are being sent out in the direction of M-13 star clustar and the plate inscribed with the images of man and woman that spaceships Pioneer 10 and 11 carried into outer space. Space does not permit giving the text of this invitation.
On July 12 at the National Museum Asif is going to repeat the cosmic Calendar lecture although there seems to be a change in the array of questions that would be addressed. Asif’s ground breaking efforts in popularizing science comes as an interesting, almost arresting part of a general flurry of activity undertaken by young people not only to understand the messages of the sciences but also to spread the gospel to the lay uninitiated ones. This is decidedly a heartening development. But compared with the prevasive welter of unscientific beliefs and attitudes and deliberate action to proliferate these, the good development is infinitesimally small. However a beginning has been made and there is no harm if the beginning is small. Life begins small in every womb. Universe began small out of possibly nothing.
But the small beginning would need to be nurtured to grow into movements having true impact on society. Delta Insurance Company has paid for Asif’s poster for the July 12 lecture. The biggan Chetona Parishad’s regular weekly and publication programmes get a hefty and sustained support from the same organization. It would be terrific if other business organisations followed by Dela and came to help the nascent science movement to grow.
I hear that besides embarking on this unusual dorshonir binimoye biggan project, Asif has been unsparingly collecting books on popular science as well as original texts of the leaders of science. He has a good collection of book mathematics. And there is there a goodly collection of videocassettes on challenging scientific subjects. He has, for example, the celebrated Bronowski program called the Ascent of Man.
I was delighted to discern in Asif a passion for the Alexandria Library and all that was happening around at the time of its influencing the ancient world. He has a dear dear obsession for that great woman of science who like Lucretius to Bruno sacrificed her life for science and at the altar of inertia and irrationality. A comparable and loving awareness of the significance of the Alexandria Library I have found in Dr Liaquat Ali of BARDEM and that one aspect of his multifarious interests has endeared him to whoever have found in the history of human thought a drama as absorbing and exciting as nothing besides.
First published/print in Daily Star at Star Literature page, July 12,1997
Waheedul Huque, columist and freelance Journalist