Antonio Lima-de-Faria: “Stave Off” Deadly Obscurantism

ANTONIO LIMA-DE-FARIA

“[G]reat thinking and writing relies on rogue experimentation.”—Siobhan Lyons, Philosophy Now

With scientific papers increasingly written by teams of scientists at universities rather than by individual scientists independently researching in their own labs, kitchens, basements, or garages—the result is too often a compromised paper with abstruse language intended to masquerade, to keep the public from knowing how its funds have been wasted while serving to pump up team profiles and H-indexes. It’s a gaming of the system and not a healthy development for science. But author Antonio Lima-de-Faria in his new book, Science and Art Are Based on the Same Principles and Values (Artena Anarchist Press), goes further in his assessment, saying “a wave of obscurantism is spreading over Western countries affecting both science and art in a deadly way.”

Politics, of course, has to be factored in. Obscurantism emanates from political circles whose members are intent on controlling the population (Plato’s Noble Lie). Think Weapons of Mass Deception and Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Think P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act and emergency law. Think Covid politics. It’s especially important to co-opt influential scientists and artists, who provide the bedrock and imagery for our civilization. Think Dolly Parton singing “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine” to the tune of Jolene.

Antonio Lima-de-Faria is a cytogeneticist and professor emeritus, Lund University, Sweden.  He has been decorated by Sweden’s king for his visionary science: “Knight of the  North Star.” 

I first became aware of A. Lima-de-Faria’s work through his 1988 landmark book:  Evolution Without Selection.

Lima-de-Faria lives on top of a Swedish fjord and in his latest book describes himself as “a lonely wolf howling against an immense sky.” But it is because after a long, distinguished life in science, and at age 99, he sees the enormity of a crushing of humanity without sufficient public outcry.  He thinks the dumbing down of our civilization by technology and its cut & paste digital world has now reached a critical point.  However, he argues that we can “stave off” this deadly wave if we urgently look to the principles that have historically enabled human ingenuity.   

In his book Lima-de-Faria presents lively vignettes of genius at work through the ages—from Plato, Pliny, and Pythagoras to Verdi, Mozart and Chopin, to Rodin, Matisse, and Picasso, to Einstein, Bell, and Edison (partial list).  He doesn’t mention Nikola Tesla, though, who electrified the world.  And he doesn’t mention the models of Rodin, Picasso et al. who were crucial to their art.

The complicated personal life of Picasso is widely known.  But a recent article in the London Review of Books by artist Celia Paul—who sat for Lucian Freud and is the mother of their son, Frank—lets us in on some of the backstories of Auguste Rodin and painter Gwen John, who was one of Rodin’s models, as well as the backstories of Celia Paul and Lucian Freud. 

Paul says this about the relationship of Auguste Rodin and Gwen John:

She [Gwen John] was 27 when she started to model for him.  He was 63.  Rodin slept with a lot of women during his lifetime and the women he slept with also posed for him.

Not surprisingly, Gwen John was tortured by jealousy, but Celia Paul says Gwen John’s art was not dependent on Rodin, even though:  “‘Longing’ is the emotion that drives Gwen John’s art. And, she admits, her own art as well.

Paul says further:

People don’t become artists if they are sane and well-adjusted.  The world is indulgent towards the neurotic male artist.  The more impossible his behaviour, the more he is valued.  The world disapproves of neurosis in a female artist.

The backstories of our eminent scientists can be just as messy.  Einstein’s personal life for starters.  And the more recent cases of star scientists involving sexual harassment and child pornography.  One accomplished scientist I interviewed in the late 1970s hanged himself two decades later when child porn was discovered on his computer.

Lima-de-Faria prefers to share the more delightful stories of discovery.  He recounts one about Mozart composing Piano Concerto 7 based on the song of a starling.

He also reveals Ivan Pavlov’s recipe for productive science:

First of all—consistency.  Of this important condition of fruitful scientific work I can never speak without emotion.”

Lima-de-Faria says a significant number of those who transformed the world were born in the 19th century and he cites many of them and their work—Jules Verne, Louis Pasteur, Marie and Pierre Curie et al.  He notes that some were aristocrats, like Tolstoy, Kropotkin, and even Karl Marx. 

Lima-de-Faria, himself was born (1921) into an aristocratic Portuguese family.

He quotes the wisdom of Johann van Goethe

He who is and remains true to himself and to others has the most attractive quality of the greatest talents.”

 And physicist Linus Pauling, recipient of two Nobel prizes: 

Nowadays we have big physics—million-dollar. . .or billion-dollar physics.  Papers are published in ‘Physical Review Letters’ with more than a hundred authors. . .but there is still a good number of people, theoretical physicists and chemists, who continue to work the old way of the individual trying to have an idea that will lead to the solution of some problem.”

Surely, Antonio Lima-de-Faria shares a space with the rogue experimenters he profiles.  These bold, highly imaginative thinkers with enormous talent to enlighten and the goal of balancing humanity and ingenuity.

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