–by T. “Isaac” Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communications
I had currywurst for lunch today – a 15 cm long German sausage cut in half and doused with curry sauce and plated adjacent to a heap of golden-yellow French fries. I am at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany, where we are discussing a global vision for the future of particle physics. Wikipedia helps define my lunch,
“Currywurst is a fast-food dish of German origin consisting of hot pork sausage (German: Wurst) cut into slices and seasoned with curry sauce (regularly consisting of ketchup or tomato paste blended with curry) and generous amounts of curry powder, or a ready-made ketchup-based sauce seasoned with curry and other spices.”
As the meeting dwindles into an afternoon and wurst-coma sets in, I am thinking about the role of scientific laboratories in global diplomacy. No, scientists don’t make first-rate diplomats (although there are some exceptions). But science (and math and engineering) is about understanding the world around us and how it works. To the extent that science is based on common observations of the world, it is more easily shareable than some other elements of culture. For instance, the answer to “What is 2+2?” does not really depend on my name or how I spell my favourite vegetable dish or what side of the bed I sleep on. In a simplistic way, science is part of what we CAN agree about the world that we think is somehow true, universal, or accurate.
Some of the first critical steps in diplomacy are “Agreeing to agree” and “Getting together.” In order to get science done, practitioners inevitably have to agree to agree and they get together. The most insightful breakthroughs in science gain their prestige and impact when they are shared—and as people start to validate, endorse, and see for themselves that they “work” and hold true. This process leads to scientists getting to know each other. For instance, many scientific conferences will bring together researchers, new and old alike, from many of the 192+ countries of the world. As those scientists rub shoulders, share coffee, and talk about how they think the world works, some elements of common relatedness and understanding start to develop. And that’s the start of getting along.
For sure, if all humans “agreed on everything,” then we would have a lot less suffering in the world. But certainly peace doesn’t require that we have absolute agreement, right? So what is it about science that brings people together and has them start to get along? We might call is shared vision or common purpose. Scientists, students, and researchers have the sense that together they are peeling back the veil of mystery to understand the universe. That’s not only a common theme, it’s one that unifies—and one that ultimately transcends.
So, science doesn’t cause diplomacy. But like so-called “ping pong diplomacy” of the early years of U.S. / Chinese relations in the late 20th century, it provides a venue—and a set of topics—for people of different cultures or nations to exchange ideas and get to know one another.
So, as my jet lag nibbles away at my afternoon, I wonder to myself: The fact that we can get 3,000 scientists together from 50+ countries to design and build the world’s largest physics experiment for looking at collisions of high-speed protons MUST be a positive omen for the future of people getting along all over the planet.
p.s. I fear that my logic here has been affected by the ‘wurst!