By Bernadine Rodrigo
A local who has been nominated for countless awards time and time again, Dr. Senerath Dayathilake, is
one exceptional individual with an intense love for his work and most importantly, his country.
Dayathilake once released a research paper named “Nature of Human Intelligence” which brought him into the mainstream internationally many times. He has been considered for the Rolex award 2006, Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize 2009, Bower Awards and Prize for Achievement in Science – 2010 of the Franklin Institute, and Heineken Cognitive psychology Prize Award for 2010. His greatest – and indeed most persistent achievement is being nominated not less than ten times for The Grawemeyer
The Grawemeyer Awards are five awards, presented by the University of Louisville to individuals who are exceptional in the fields of music, education, ideas in improving world order, religion and Mr. Dayathilake’s field, psychology. This awards, although perhaps unknown to in Sri Lanka, is an enormous award, usually presented to individuals like Nobel laureates and world leaders. Consequently, as Dayathilake himself points out, this gives his work a great deal of credibility, and validates it vastly.
So, what is this great work of his?
Dr. Dayathilake’s research, is not normal scientific research as one would imagine it to be, but rather research that is oriented years, in science but also towards the greater good of humanity in a large and obvious way. He has visited many universities and more than seventeen libraries for conduct his research.
His goal, which has become not only his goal in work but also takes up his entire life is to find out what can make an individual live the best life he or she can with utmost wellbeing. This, he explains is not simply the physical wellbeing of being healthy, fit and so on. He is more concerned with the fascinating human mind, a concept which not even the greatest minds who have lived thus far have managed to even begin to understand. He explains that this all roots down to happiness and how one can truly feel the feeling of happiness and hence, live the best quality of life.
For this work he has engrossed – submerged, been lost, used his entire life time, dwelling the field of psychology – specifically cognitive psychology and for this exceptional man, it doesn’t end there. He is also a scholar in the field of neuroscience, Buddhism and indeed, physics. As he explains, every one of these fields is necessary for him to reach his ultimate goal of finding out what unlocks ultimate happiness in a person.
He uses his immense knowledge, the acquiring of which has taken up his entire life time to understand the human mind and distinguish the intricate process of thought and feeling. This great, fascinating and sometimes overwhelming work of his has even inspired men such as Sri Lanka’s beloved Arthur C. Clarke, who has recommended him as someone worthy of receiving any financial aid which can be offered.
Dayathilake believes – or rather, has learned that the brain, mind and conscience functioning occurs as a result of a mixture of all these fields and this he has found of through mostly self-funded research. He explains a few misconceptions he finds in Einstein’s theory of relativity, the functioning of the brains millions of neurons and synapses- the gaps in between neurones in the brain which a vital for transmitting electric/chemical messages – and the Buddhist theories of the mind and conscience to identify how this unknown ‘drive’ or ‘essence of a being’ works and why sometimes it seems to work in disfavor of happiness. His answer to this is what he calls ‘mind viruses’. ‘Mind viruses’ are not something which can be explained as easily as computer viruses,” Dayathilake says, “although it may be used to compare and understand them more simply.” In a simplified manner, they can be called something like bad thoughts and negative thinking.
Although this may be understood and of course can be and has been accepted as the reason as to why people become unhappy, Dayathilake’s work doesn’t end there. What he wants to find out is why people get these bad thoughts – not simply state that they have them. While he has understood many things about it, he is able to explain it saying simply that it is a great deal of emotion and many other things in psychology and neurobiology which act as factors for this.
He also tackles the nature-nurture debate here and says that there is another factor which can be called ‘micro genes’ which plays a part in ruling human behavior and feeling. This, as he explains is something like the knowledge we get through experience- how consequences are embedded in us so as to raise negative emotion when confronted with that situation again since our childhood through classical operant conditioning methods. He says that this knowledge is not something which is only exclusively gained through learning but that some of it actually may be innate and that we are in fact born with some of it. He even agrees that this may sometimes be ‘the knowledge of our ancestors’ passed down to us after being stored biologically in our genetics and the being transferred into the new zygote once the gametes
meet each other.
Likewise, his research is extraordinarily vast and has taken up, as mentioned before, his entire lifetime.
What inspires him?
His biggest inspiration thus far has been his dearest mother, who he says was a uniquely curious person – a quality which was certainly passed down to her son. He says that while she always got everything done, her eyes and ears were constantly on the search for some new knowledge about the world. Indeed, while she only watched or listened to educational shows on television and on the radio, during advertisements, she would be found reading something. Sadly, she passed away recently and this brings great sadness to Dayathilake, especially as he was not able to fulfill his goal to a maximum during her lifetime.
With his attachment to his mother as an example, Dayathilake is someone who very ardently loves his family including his two younger sisters and brother and father – who also, sadly is not amongst us anymore. While he is happy to see his younger siblings living comfortable lives, he wishes every day that he would find out what could make them the happiest and give them lives which can be lived in the best wellbeing as possible.
Further, he strongly believes that his goal in life is to serve humanity in this manner. All he needs is a little more help.
As mentioned before, Dayathilake is almost entirely self-funded. While some individuals have helped him is whatever way they could, he as scientific research does, requires proper, driven funding. Many a times has he gone to media institutions to have his story be proclaimed and get some attention to his work but, alas! Nothing has come out of it for over two decades.
He explains that, even to obtain research articles to be cited or to conduct proper controlled studies, he needs funding as everything costs money.
He also does not want to leave the country in search of money as he says that this is where he belongs- in his country, where he was born. It is clear through his actions in the past that his is keen on living in Sri Lanka as he has mentioned so many times and has even tried to go abroad but has always resorted to coming back to Sri Lanka.
Right now, he is in hope that the current president might take notice of his work and aid him in which way he needs. However, any local aid is welcome- one need not definitively be the president.
He can be contacted on his personal number, 0712244455, and is open to speak with anyone who would like to help.
Photos: Saman Abeysiriwardena