Jorge Wagensberg: "The greatest satisfaction for me is sharing knowledge"

A researcher, communicator, museologist, writer, publisher and lecturer, Jorge Wagensberg (Barcelona, 1948) is a multifaceted man who inhabits a world of science, literature, philosophy and communication ...

The statements that inexhaustibly spring from this contemporary sage’s observations and reflections are only the starting point and could eventually find their way into works that are more extensive than the current one. His extensive bibliography, in which Wagensberg reveals his scientific knowledge and reflections about the world in a readable and accessible way, reflects his constant intellectual concern and confirms that, when he declares that "sharing knowledge is the greatest satisfaction," he is telling the truth.

One of your specialities is the philosophy of science, which are disciplines that usually advance separately.
I’ve always devoted myself to research, but that has led me to communicating those ideas; the greatest satisfaction for me is sharing knowledge. Research makes you stop, look up and reflect. I believe that to be a philosopher you have to know about science and vice versa.

How would you assess scientific and philosophical understanding in today’s society?
In Barcelona, Madrid and the Basque Country, scientific work is becoming more and more advanced, but they are in the middle of a "desert". In terms of philosophy, my vision is more negative: it’s not customary to discuss ideas or publish where there’s criticism.

How would you define the scientific method?
If the non-scientific method is to look at reality and extract questions, science works precisely the other way around: observing the answers and searching for the questions. Drawing conclusions from specific cases. For example, Newton’s second law: the flight of butterflies, throwing a stone, the motion of the Earth, etc. They are all different and specific cases, but they all adhere to the same formula: force (mass x acceleration).

That links in with the thesis of Las raíces triviales de lo fundamental, which is the title of your latest book, isn’t it?
That’s right. In the book, I talk about the relationship between fundamental and trivial things. Triviality is not bad, it’s a guarantee. Everyday life is the root of all transcendental and fundamental knowledge. Scientists look at things that people might find trivial, and from there conclusions can be drawn.

Are you working on a new book?
Yes, I’m preparing a book of the aphorisms I’ve compiled over the past six years.

Could you give us some examples?
"What is purity? A benchmark mixture" or "Be careful with tradition, because it is preserved for tradition’s sake, in contrast to custom, which is preserved, because it is good." What custom or legacy should we convey to future generations? Intellectual satisfaction. You have to give it priority through stimulus, conversation and understanding. A good educational system should be based on these three cornerstones. But, in the current system, there is very little conversation, very little stimulus (reality is not there) and, rather than understanding, there’s the pretence of understanding.

So there’s no scope for developing personal initiative.
That’s right. And, here, another important cornerstone is creativity, but not only in an educational context. We should be focusing on interdisciplinarity. Everyone seeks refuge in a specialisation, but this reality cannot be blamed for school curriculums.

Give us some examples of interdisciplinarity, would you?
Certain scientists stand out like Schrodinger or artists like Borges – who, as well as being a writer, was interested in mathematics –, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, a good friend to scientists and a great writer, as well as an exceptional painter.

You argue that the economic crisis is the engine of evolution. Are we then experiencing a time of major evolutionary change?
The recession forces us to innovate, it activates competition between different alternatives. It’s good to preserve diversity as a guarantee for when a crisis hits.

Are we taking advantage of this opportunity?
So far, to combat the recession, we’ve established rules: reward, punishment, which treats us like small children. It’s better to give us knowledge, which provides us with conviction. It’s necessary to invest in science and research: invest in the future and count on human creativity, freedom, places to have conversations, to meet, etc.

Nowadays, many conversation and meeting places have moved to the Internet, haven’t they?
The Internet is a preliminary step before an actual meeting. Also, thanks to the Internet, letter writing has made a comeback. It all depends on how we use it. To find out if new technology is beneficial to us, we have to ask ourselves if we are developing more ideas than before.

How have human beings evolved since we began walking on two legs?
Changing from walking on four to two legs – something that happened four million years ago – enabled us to move from theory to practice. A dolphin might have an idea, but cannot put it into practice, because it has no hands. Hands have enabled us to develop intelligence.

Have we regressed in any way?
The Middle Ages was a step backwards in knowledge. For example, the concept of perspective was lost, which then had to be recovered. But, in general, I think that we have prospered: slavery has been abolished, democracy has spread, the role of women is becoming increasingly important, etc.

CosmoCaixa offers visitors several vision-related experiences. Why has special attention been given to that?
Basically, CosmoCaixa’s visual games show that it’s very easy to trick the brain. We have to bear in mind that vision is one of the senses and that we can learn how to develop other powers more. There are animals that live without vision, such as spiders and fish in the Amazon, which move around in electric fields. That’s actually an interesting idea to develop, so that in the future the blind can see.

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