Foundation Stone Remarks by Michael Atiyah
(Read out by Spenta Wadia)
I very much regret not being with you for the laying of this Foundation Stone for the International Center for Theoretical Sciences, but I am with you in spirit and send my best wishes for the future success of this important Center.
Science has the noble aim of trying to understand the natural world in human terms : to make sense of what we see. This brief phrase encapsulates both theory and experiment. What we see, in the broad sense, covers experiment and making sense is the task of theory. As the great French mathematician Henri Poincare said, science is no more a collection of facts than a house is a collection of bricks: it requires theory to hold it together.
Theory needs a framework in which to develop and, as a mathematician, I believe that mathematics provide that unifying framework. As Galileo said the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. Galileo was thinking primarily of mechanics and astronomy but, increasingly since his time, mathematics has provided the essential underpinning of ever-widening branches of science. As soon as a science moves from the qualitative to the quantitative, mathematics becomes indispensable.
Not only does mathematics provide the technical tools that all sciences require but, by its very nature, it acts as a unifying principle, integrating the diverse aspects of nature into an organic whole.
I am sure that mathematics, in all its various aspects, will play an important part in the future activities of this Center. In the complex modern world with the enormous challenges that we face, from climate change to energy, from poverty to water shortages, science provide the bedrock on which we can build our future. I am sure that this Center will play its part in guiding both India and the wider world in the years ahead.