There is a weird old story in Hindu Mythology.
Indradyumna, the son of Bharat, was the greatest man on Earth. It was well known that there was no one to match his “Dharma-Swabhaav”, his righteousness. As a consequence of his good deeds, he ascended to Swarga (Heaven). There, for thousands of years, he enjoyed the limitless luxuries he earned as a consequence of his good deeds. But one day, Indra, the king of the lesser Gods, told him, “O King, you have done immense number of punyaas (good deeds) in your life and as a result you were here for a very long time. The time on earth past so much that now no one remembers any of your good deeds and hence it is time for you to leave heaven”. [Now, why the God king used such a long convoluted way of saying “Time’s up!” escapes me, but that’s pretty much how dialogues in most religious texts go.]
The rest of the story is about Indradyumna’s quest to find the one creature on the planet that remembered his good deeds.
The crux of the story had always struck me as a kid. That even the deeds of the greatest man on earth are great as long as they are remembered.
There are more several ways to be remembered in history. Becoming a great philanthropist like Mother Teresa. Writing great work of literature like Shakespeare.
But for me, a great way to survive would be to make a scientific discovery.
Nothing underpins the impact of making scientific discoveries more than the story of Archimedes. You know his story about him running in his birthday suit, crying ‘Eureka.’ If you had a good science teacher in your highschool, you might have heard him tell you that it was something about dipping things in water to determine their purity. But you need to delve a little deeper into the story to appreciate the timelessness of an epic scientific figure.
Archimedes died during the siege of Syracuse, during the second Punic War. The name of the war sounds unfamiliar, right? The Punic War took place between the Romans and the Carthaginians. Much like the first and second world wars, the battles saw great strides in scientific discoveries, with all the participants employing cutting edge war machines and military strategy to outclass their opponents. Over a hundred thousand soldiers died in the battles alone, in a war that lasted for seventeen years.
It is one of the battles that shaped human history as we know it. For one thing, if the Carthaginians had won the war, Jesus might not have been born. If you still are not convinced about the epicness of the war, just take a look at the map of the participating nations.
The fact of the matter is, the Second Punic War was at a time, as significant to human histories as the World Wars are to us. However, we barely remember it.
But we remember Archimedes and his naked run in the streets of Syracuse.
So it is not a far off bet to guess that one day, humanity will forget about the First World War, but remember Maxwell and his equations; we’ll forget about Hitler and the Second World War, but remember Albert Einstein’s theories.
And that is a compelling reason to pursue science as a career, for the remote chance that we might find something that lasts through humanity’s history.
Also, the work hours are nice.
Note: The post was inspired from Professor Evgeni Narimanov’s first lecture in his course ECE60400: Electromagnetic Field Theory. This was undoubtedly one of the best classes I have ever taken.
1. Wikipedia articles – Indradyumna, Second Punic War, List of battles by casualties.
2. Cartoon: https://speechdudes.wordpress.com/tag/archimedes
3. Map: From the book Atlas of Empires by Peter Davidson.