Oral history of British science
Wickramasinghe, Chandra (1 of 13). Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. Life Story Interviews
The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »
Science and Religion
2015-07-28, 2015-07-29, 2015-07-30
British Library, London
Wickramasinghe, Chandra, 1939- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 1: [Session one: 28th July 2015] Chandra Wickramasinghe born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) on 20th January 1939. Story life of father (born 1909) including private education in Royal College Colombo [RCC], outstanding academic performance here, degree in mathematics at University College of Colombo [UCC], senior scholarship to Trinity College, University of Cambridge [UOC] including graduation as a 'Wrangler' in mathematics, two years in British civil service in India due to lack of academic posts in Ceylon, return to Ceylon. [4:36] Comments on father's experience of UK as UOC student in the 1930s, including experience of racial discrimination. Mentions own experience of racism in UK in1970s/1980s. [5:58] Comments on father's experience of this racism outside of UOC itself. [7:02] Comments on life/character of paternal grandfather. Mentions father's affection for his mother. [9:07] Brief comments on formality of own relations with these grandparents. [9:34] Comments on life of mother; paternal grandparents. Mentions close relations with own father. Continues story on life of mother, including education in Catholic school, marriage, playing of the piano, fluency in English and Sinhalese. [12:09] Comments on time spent, as a child, with mother, with related story; family holidays in the "hill country" (of Ceylon); father's tendency to recall/talk about his time as an undergraduate in UOC, influencing own aim to study at UOC. [14:28] Comments on father's stories of UOC, including his reference to lecturers/tutors WM Smart, Arthur Eddington. Mentions book on father's shelf in childhood home 'The Mysterious Universe'. [18:41] Comments on time spent with father as a child, including reading (together) of Aesop's fables, evening walks along coastline called 'Galle Face Green' with father's explanations of features of night sky. [22:45] Description of childhood home in Colombo, Ceylon (including relations between childhood interest in astronomy and clear skies). [26:17] Comments on memory of parents being in certain parts of this house, including mother's making of clothes, father's interest in astrology and gardening. [28:37] Comments on lack of interest in sporting activity as a child; enjoyment of walking and swimming; tendency to play with younger brother Sunitha. Mentions Sunitha's future career, leading to position as Professor [of Haematology], Imperial College, London. Discussion of childhood conversations with Sunitha on biology mentioned in autobiography 'A Destiny of Cosmic Life' [ADCL]  including evolution (related to own reading of HG Well's 'A Short History of the World' ). Comments on own inability, at this time, to understand evolutionary mechanisms/processes; Sunitha's acceptance of evolution as a "dogma" in biology; scientific discussions with Sunitha as an adult. [35:21] Detailed comments on continued difficulty accepting that dramatic changes in the "tree of life" can be explained by the accumulation of small "copying errors"; belief that "new information" needed for such changes must derive from "a much bigger universe". [36:03] Comments on extent to which early reading on evolution, in 'A Short History of the World', was influenced by own Buddhist background. Mentions extent to which Buddhism does not set constraints on thinking about cosmology. [36:55] Comments on parents' Buddhist faith (regarded as much stronger than own); freedom for science within Buddhism. [38:12] Comments on expression of parents' Buddhist faith, including participation in rituals, "shrine room" in childhood home. Mentions own and brothers' participation in worship in this room.
Life story interview with Professor of Astrobiology, Chandra Wickramasinghe