June 04, 2008

"Put a Little Science in Your Life"

This op-ed from The New York Times, Put a Little Science in Your Life, is well worth reading.

A COUPLE of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we’ve all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I’d written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists’ search for nature’s deepest laws — the soldier’s letter might strike you as, well, odd

But it’s not. Rather, it speaks to the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning. At the same time, the soldier’s letter emphasized something I’ve increasingly come to believe: our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives.

I won't contend that the tone is a bit... missionary; but past an initial instinctive negative reaction, I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that.

We all apply science in our daily lives, consciously or unconsciously. It's a very basic human endeavor. So why wouldn't it be alright to make an emotional argument for it as well as an intellectual and practical one?

The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Science is not a dry, laborious and meticulous practice best left to experts that dwell in tiny mundane details. On every level of practice, it's is a powerful, beautiful and satisfying way of regarding the world, the universe and our existence within it. So if you can make people aware of the fact that science, a perspective that everyone is already using every day of their lives, is within their grasp, can inform their existence and resonate within them on an emotional level, it's worth being accused of a little bit of religious fervor now and then. But unlike the fervent missionary, the fervent scientist has empirical knowledge, reason and inquiry in his/her belt to back up the "message".

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