ICMP 2003

Opening session

2003 July 28, 10:00 - 10:30

Before his official intervention, the President of the Republic started with a few personal and informal memories of his youth, as a student of the University of Lisbon. He recalled that he was asked to give a 3 pages talk, as representative of a student association, and to show its content, before, to the authorities. Only the first page was accepted, so he had to decline this invitation to talk. He observed that many things have of course changed in Lisbon (and Portugal) since then, but that others are still true to tradition. In particular, he remembers that, fourty years ago, the Aula Magna (the Main Hall of ICMP) was in need of air conditioning and that it is manifestly still the case nowadays.

Intervention by H.E. the President of the Portuguese Republic,
Dr. Jorge Sampaio

I am very pleased to be taking part in this Opening Session. I would like my presence here to be seen as a sign of public recognition of the activity of the people and institutions that have advanced scientific knowledge in all its domains throughout the world.

It is impossible nowadays for any society to advance fully unless favourable conditions for scientific development are created, unless institutional capacities for disseminating the scientific spirit among the younger generations are fostered, unless the method, the critical perspective and the experimental culture that characterise scientific practice are permanently acknowledged and encouraged.

I have accordingly always stated that in the debate on the major issues of society and its sustainability it is important to encourage a scientific attitude. This means that we have to pay constant attention to research activities, and also to stimulate through them the awakening of younger people, and also of society as a whole, for curiosity, for experimentation and innovation.

In fact, there are no major themes in present times which do not concern science and scientific research: from the oceans to climate change, from the environment to public health, from development to social exclusion, from the use of resources to the management of major technological infrastructures.

The discoveries that served as the foundation of the modern world favoured a view of the world based on the primacy of transformation and the study of motion. Modern science was the intellectual response that legitimised the new attitude towards life and the universe.

The civilisational construction that we have built since then is indelibly marked by Galileo's seminal sentence: "Nature is like a book written in mathematical language". This is the founding idea that pervades all modern scientific thinking. The International Congress of Mathematical Physics that begins today shows the pertinence and vitality of this cultural attitude of modernity.

Modern mathematics and physics have been entangled from the start; both are linked to the way in which the recent past and the present of our societies were constructed. I would also like to assert without hesitation, that mathematics and physics have to be assumed as essential vectors of the road to the future, a sustainable future that must increasingly bring more justice and solidarity. In that future, science and technology will be influencing citizens daily life more intensely. How can we ensure that society's expectations with regard to science, naturally contrasting and conflicting, revealing profound concerns as to the nature of the transformations in progress, will not hinder the free course of scientific research, particularly that of a more basic nature?

In other words, how can we guarantee a permanent flow of new ideas? How can we ensure that the effort of the private sector in the support of basic science is truly creative? And how can we be certain that political decisions will always be based on the best science that exists in our planet, that is, that the scientific knowledge available is correctly incorporated into the decision process leading to the definition of governmental choices?

Political activity is crucial for the social acceptance of the path we will follow to reach the future. The search for the new "polis" which coexists in a multipolar world of networks and globalisation, but is also renovated by participation and the free exercise of citizenship, is definitely entangled with the sustainability of the scientific effort.

The advances of science are vital to improve the learning and education processes, which in turn will accelerate those of scientific creation.

No-one therefore can deny the importance of the intense and mediatised circulation of ideas concerning the major issues facing the development of science in present times. No one can also deny the importance of public engagement in this respect. I also believe that this is a great opportunity to renew the essence of political debate and to rediscover politics as the symbol of collective will.

The most precious asset of our societies lies in their capacity to invent, discover and transform. This capacity, which is continually recreated, requires the involvement of all generations, from the younger and most imaginative to the more experienced and reflexive.

Which is why it is so gratifying to witness the significant number of young researchers present here today. It is a token of trust in our future. I would therefore like to greet the promoters of this International Congress and in particular the Mathematical Physics Group of the University of Lisbon, who worked so hard to organise it. I would also like to extend a greeting to the University of Lisbon where this Congress is taking place, as well as to all the entities that have sponsored this event.

Lastly, I would like to address a special greeting to all the Portuguese and foreign participants in this Congress and to hope that the meetings and discussions over the next few days will be a further step forward on the road to the future that we all wish. I hope that your work meets the success it so thoroughly deserves.