Science can be neither conquered nor defended by armies and its advancement will change the way humans govern themselves, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Tuesday.
“Science cannot be controlled or arrested,” the Nobel laureate said at Rideau Hall. “Science doesn't respect distances or frontiers or laws.”
His opening remarks to a roundtable discussion on education and innovation drew obvious parallels to Israel's fears of Iranian nuclear development.
They also clattered discordantly with current events on Parliament Hill, where the Conservative government stands accused of running roughshod over parliamentary debate while stifling independent sources of information and muzzling government scientists.
Mr. Peres, in Canada for a five-day state visit, gave a nuanced address that was part political parable and part philosophical discussion of the human condition.
“The major thing is the world is becoming ungovernable,” he said. “The real force in our time is no longer politics, but science. And science took away the strengths of politics.”
Citizens now must be persuaded rather than ordered in this new age of knowledge, Mr. Peres said.
Governments “cannot rule unless people can be convinced their rule is necessary. We shall have to act by consensus, by agreements; spend much more time to reach an agreement,” he told a morning panel of education and business leaders.
Governor-General David Johnston opened the hour-long discussion by lauding Israel's scientific prowess in turning desert into arable land, then building a “start-up” nation.
“In our discussion today, we think about our two nations becoming smarter together,” Mr. Johnston said.
Mr. Peres was more provocative.
The 88-year-old statesman, twice prime minister of Israel, said wars need not be fought over land in the future and science can't be conquered by arms. But he cited academics who've said human aggression will still cause wars.
“Is it impossible to change human nature? Who told you so?” he asked, rhetorically. “The minute we shall overcome ourselves ... you will have the combination of non-governmental management, based on goodwill, answering individual tastes and trying to improve human self-control.”
Self control is vital, he added.
“We need it because the alternative is very dangerous. Otherwise, crazy people with nuclear bombs in their hands can really create catastrophe. For that, we have to work together.”
The panel included the presidents of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Research Council and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, along with university representatives and business groups.
After the roundtable, Mr. Peres witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Royal Society of Canada and the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Brain science will be the first area of collaboration.
Mr. Peres, who turns 89 in August, then took part in a commemorative tree-planting ceremony on the grounds of the Governor-General's residence, pitching two shovel-fulls of dirt with an ornamental spade.
The Israeli President appeared bemused by the size of the eastern white pine – a symbol of peace among the Iroquois – and asked its age. An arborist explained that the tree he was ostensibly planting, which stood about six metres tall, was 15 years old.
Mr. Peres met NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair late Tuesday before moving on to Toronto on Wednesday and visiting Montreal on Thursday.