Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why Science Education Is Important

Scientists have always been separate from the rest of the world.  Sometimes it is a mutual separation, sometimes one side or the other alienates science/scientists.  To clarify, I mean some scientists disconnect from the rest of the world; just as some people don't know how to connect with scientists.  There are always exceptions.

Some of us try to rectify this rift.  That is my goal in life.  I don't understand why this rift exists and here is why.

Children are natural scientists.  We are born ready to learn, yearning to learn.  We look around each day and ask Why?  So oft that parents get frustrated and run out of answers.  Sometime the wit of a child's question strikes deep into the heart of our own questions about the universe.  They have such striking clarity, just beautiful insights at times.  As we get older our minds are flooded with new chemicals that distract, but as a child the whole world can be understood with the simple question of Why?

Some people maintain that very question (maybe that's why most scientists I know are very in touch with their inner child), and they tend to become any form of a detective.  As a child I wished to be a detective, and each subsequent career goal I dreamed up were all seeking answers.  For years (over 6) I wanted nothing more than to be an Egyptologist.  I wanted to throw myself anything from Ancient Egypt, just bask in it.  I still have a strong passion for Ancient Egypt, but I discovered physics, or more specifically astrophysics, in high school and something clicked.

When children lose that "Why" drive they tend to become complacent, the answers are just beyond their grasp and maybe they can never obtain them.  But I don't believe that is true.  If people stopped asking why, we wouldn't have any modern convenience.  Sometimes the question is modified into "Why Not?" which can be just as important.  Repeatively asking why is only the base of science.  A real scientist knows when to pause from asking long enough to collect data and process that answer given.

I feel like everything in life that seems overwhelming should be approached with the "why."  That's the foundation of psychology and sociology (these are considered "softer" sciences because the data collection is more subject to observational bias (human behavior is hard to quantify), but fundamentally they practice the scientific method).  If more often people would take a deep breath and ask themselves "why" did I do this, or my family/friend/person on the street do that, they might develop a greater understanding of the world.  And I think that's what sets apart scientists from other people at times.  We are trained to do this about everything. 

I'm not saying shut off emotion, emotion is an important part of life, but so is understand why you reacted to something.  Why did you cry when you watched a sad movie, or why didn't you cry?  Both are important questions.

Some questions don't have an answer, sometimes they have more questions.  But that's the thrill of the chase.  Asking yourself the hard questions can be wonderful.  Sometimes you have to let the question hang there, like a grape on the vine, ripening.  You should only pick the "fruit" when it has matured.

I have a neighbor and we constantly challenge each other.  We always ask each other "why."  And sometimes having someone ask you why is as important or more important that asking yourself why.  I can get stuck in my head going around and around looking for answers to "Why?" but often having her ask me helps me form an answer aloud that silently I would have been stuck thinking about.

Enjoy the questions!

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