The wave of euphoria across the globe triggered by the election of Barack Obama as the next American president set me thinking on what constitutes meaning in our lives. One man with a lot to say on the subject is Václav Havel—playwright, political dissident, president, and a hero of our time.

In his book Living in Truth, Havel described the worth of a life of struggle against an oppressive regime. One passage that resonates with us as scientists reads: "The warning voice of a single brave scientist, besieged somewhere in the provinces and terrorized by a goaded community, can be heard over continents and addresses the conscience of the mighty of this world more clearly than entire brigades of hired propagandists can."

You get the sense from Havel's writings that, although certainly not preferable to our...

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