Inga Patarčić

What are you reading, Ms Patarčić?

Inga Patarčić, who holds a PhD in bioinformatics and molecular biology, is a research data manager at the Max Delbrück Center. A native of Croatia, she recommends a book about Buddhism and philosophy, but also about egoism in research and open science.

I will provide you with an up-to-date answer to this question; not only because it is hard to recommend a single book (in that case I would probably go with the “21 Lessons for the 21st century” by Yuvel Noah Harari), but because my current read is quite an intriguing one. It's as if the path I'm on led me to this book, or perhaps, it chose me.

“Uncompromising Truth for a Compromised World: Tibetan Buddhism and Today’s World” is a book of dialogs with Samdhong Rinpoche – the first elected prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile. Samdhong is very respected for his outstanding contribution to Tibetan society as a scholar, teacher and philosopher. The book is written by Donovan Roebert and divided into five parts. The first chapter delves into topics such as: culture, societies, philosophy, law, religion, spirituality, art, science, etc. Further chapters cover dialogs on power, violence and war, environmental destruction, Tibet and various topics of Buddhadharma.

Here, I’d like to share some of his thoughts when it comes to science:

“When they are conducting research, scientists do not think that what emerges from this inquiry is common, public knowledge. Instead, they say, if I discover this, it is my property. This talk about intellectual property does not sit well with our (Tibetan Buddhist) culture. If we find something, we share it with everyone. And knowledge is universal. This effort to individualize knowledge indicates that the research is selfish (…) Now even people are being seen as a resource. Because of this attitude I have lost faith in modern science.”

Does this concept sound familiar, or does it not?

It's important to note that this book was written in 2006, several years before the open science movement gained momentum. Today, scientists are experiencing top-down pressure to make their research more open, whether through open-access and open-peer-review publications, open data and open software initiatives, or requirements related to open materials, open protocols, and registered reports imposed by publishers and funders.

The act of opening up scientific products, particularly data, aligns closely with my current role as a research data manager. I firmly believe that increased access to knowledge, improved transparency, enhanced reproducibility, and broader global collaboration in science will expedite innovation, enhance research efficiency, and yield economic benefits by reducing the duplication of research efforts. With my current position, I can actively support these efforts. And maybe, someday, more people will have greater trust in modern science.

While the book covers a wide range of topics, I've chosen to share only those related to science with you:

“I think the possibility is there: scientists can learn a great deal from spirituality. Mainly they can learn that they should know the limitations of the ordinary mind. (...) They should accept that the ordinary human mind is limited, and if they cannot merely accept this they should report to experiment as they do in other cases. They should practice meditation for two or three years to improve their minds and then come back to their laboratories and discover how differently they might understand things. The possibility of the development of the human mind and the impossibility of seeing the ultimate by the ordinary human mind: these two things they must learn from the spiritual tradition. (…) while science is developing, spirituality is already fully there, and once the two meet, that will be the day when humanity will have a new spiritual revival. And perhaps that will happen.”

One does not stumble upon such a book without an intriguing backstory, does one?

“Uncompromising Truth for a Compromised World” revealed itself to me in a quaint shop on Charles Street in Boston just a few days ago. I had traveled to the USA on a business trip without my usual reading companions, fully expecting to find a suitable companion there.

So, why this particular book?

To be honest, I can't provide a definitive answer. However, I have a theory. This book seems like an attempt to address a question that has been lingering in my mind since this summer: “How can one maintain a Vipassana meditation practice in an everyday, 'ordinary' world?”

In August, I attended a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat – an experience of ten days without contact to the 'external world,' devoid of reading, writing, and even speaking. To clarify, the retreat is facilitated by a dedicated group of volunteers who manage food and accommodations, making it conducive to learning and sustaining meditation practice. After that enriching experience[1], the ongoing challenge is how to incorporate such a practice into the fabric of everyday life and maintain the highest moral principles.

The answer, I believe, will unfold through practical application, but for now, Rinpoche's dialogues serve as a helpful guide on my journey.

Donovan Roebert: “Samdhong Rinpoche: Uncompromising Truth for a Compromised World: Tibetan Buddhism and Today's World.” World Wisdom Books, 2006.