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The annual meeting of TWAS, The World Academy of Sciences was held a few weeks ago in the Festive Hall of the Austrian Academy of Science. The building originally housed the University of Vienna, and one of its remarkable features is a spectacular ceiling,  decorated by a fresco, the Allegory of the University.

Four faculties occupy the four sides – theology, philosophy, law, and medicine- recalling a simpler time when there seemed to be fewer boxes into which knowledge was categorized. What struck me (as my attention wandered to the ceiling, between the talks) was the motto (in Latin)  that accompanied each:

  • TheologyNotitia Divinarum,  Divine Knowledge,
  • PhilosophyCausarum Investigatio, Investigation of Causes
  • LawIusti Ac Iniusti Scientia, Knowledge of the Just and Unjust
  • MedicineArs Tuendae et Reparandae Valetudinis, the Art of
    Maintaining and Repairing Health.

The faculty of Philosophy, at that time, included both the natural sciences and mathematics, hence the injunction to find out why, to investigate causes. Of the four mottos, though, it is the only one that sounds vaguely imperious: Causarum Investigatio! Go forth and investigate! It might well be an incantation (of the kind made famous in the Harry Potter series- Lacarnum Inflamarae!, for instance) but an imperative: Find out why! is a good motto to have for a natural scientist.

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