Science unites cultures

Monday 20 November 2017

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience and philosophy at the School of Advanced Study, is one of a group of leading scientists, including 29 Nobel Laureates, who have launched a new initiative, ‘The Science Bridge’, aimed at building a better world through science.

The initiative’s first goal is to establish intercultural research collaborations to accelerate basic scientific discovery and to advance the treatment of disease. The second aim is to improve relations between diverse world cultures, with the current project focusing on Western and Middle-Eastern/South-Asian countries.

In an article, published on 15 November in the scientific journal Neuron, 122 authors, from 82 research centres in 22 countries, describe the successful intercultural scientific dialogue during the ‘Golden Age’ of medieval Arab and Persian cultures. This historic model of tolerance and free exchange of ideas serves as an inspiration for efforts today to bridge Western and Eastern cultures through scientific pursuits.

Mazahir T Hasan, Ikerbasque Professor at the Achucarro Basque Centre for Neuroscience and founder of this initiative, emphasises that: ‘Scientists, as seekers of knowledge, are the ambassadors of humanity and they can unite the world by harnessing the creative power of cultures and international collaborations to eradicate human diseases.’

In the paper, the authors propose a two-step plan for The Science Bridge. In the first step, the initiative will organise scientific conferences, research exchange programmes and shared grants, to enhance collaboration in the life sciences, especially brain research, with a focus on medical treatments. In the second step, it aims to establish ‘Twin Institutes’ – complementary research facilities, one located in a Western, the other one in a Middle-Eastern or South-Asian country, and both structured to promote open dialogue and exchange of researchers and ideas.

Nobel Laureate Professor Torsten Wiesel of the Rockefeller University in New York, USA says: ‘Researchers from different cultures and nations in the “Twin Institutes”, an innovative concept proposed by The Science Bridge, could make important contributions both in science and in human relations.’

Thomas Lissek, first author of the paper in Neuron, who is a medical student at Heidelberg University, said: ‘Our key motivation is to accelerate scientific progress by establishing new friendships and new collaborations around the world.’

An argument for why science might be successful in bringing cultures together is that research relies on reason and logic at its core and scientific thinking should be independent of factors that impede the free flow of ideas, such as fundamentalism, excessive nationalism or censorship. The results of progress in science and technology are almost always beneficial to the society in which they are achieved: innovation can translate into better health and increased prosperity. In modern global markets, countries need strong creative forces in the science sector to remain competitive and to drive their own economic growth. Collaboration with people from different backgrounds will stimulate progress and improve everyone’s situation.

Along the way, The Science Bridge plans to engage the public by communicating and discussing the results of research, so that people will have direct access to new knowledge, and so that they can witness different cultures working side-by-side.

Professor Sir Colin Blakemore said: ‘The world is fractured by ideological, political and religious differences. In principle, science should be capable of transcending these cultural obstacles and bringing people together to fight the common enemies of ignorance, prejudice and illness.’

For more information about The Science Bridge, please visit the homepage or email