This paper is the Prologue of the forthcoming book Ways of Comprehending, by A.S. Fokas (World Scientific, 2022): This book is dedicated to my three children and to all young people in the hope that it will offer them the happiness and personal fulfilment that follows from acquiring an understanding of the origin of their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The search for understanding gives rise to deep admiration for the immense wisdom and beauty of Nature, and in particular for its greatest achievement: the human brain. Writing this book, I felt deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of being able to enjoy a plethora of complex and multifaceted creations of Nature and humanity. I hope, and expect, that those who read this volume will experience similar feelings.
‘Unification’ and ‘analogical thinking’ are central themes of this book. In this connection, it is worth noting that the completion of the formalism that unifies the four fundamental forces of nature, the gravitational, electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, still stands as the holy grail of physics. By analogy, it is natural to attempt to integrate the biological and cultural ‘forces’ dictating life. In this volume, an effort is made to explore this unification.
By analysing fundamental neuronal mechanisms, it will become clear that the human brain is predisposed to seek knowledge and beauty, without the artificial distinction between sciences and humanities. It is argued that such a grand quest requires an interdisciplinary, integrative approach. Furthermore, it is suggested that this search is facilitated by employing the notions of cognition, computability,creativity, and culture. The necessity for such a unified approach follows from the insight that everything is related to everything else. Perhaps no one expressed this fact better than Leonardo da Vinci, the embodiment of interdisciplinarity:
‘Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects with everything else’.
A crucial part of an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and culture is the appreciation that life generously provides many sources of pleasure and satisfaction, beyond the utilization, efficiency, power, and beauty of technological creations. Indeed, in life there also exists that which, according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘cannot