Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Science is a way of life

I have a degree in science as do some of my friends, and I've noticed when talking to non-scientist that we seem to "think differently" then they do at times. It's not a situation where we simply know more background facts than the other person and so come to different conclusions. It sometimes seems to be a more fundamentally different way we approach problems, evaluate evidence and reach conclusions. And I believe that it's due to the training we have in science (and math) that we integrated into our lives.

Part of this is employing a healthy dose of skepticism, part is knowing that there can be a big difference between what we want to be true and what really is true, and part of this is knowing that the facts can sometimes point to one true answer (or at least firmly eliminate some options) and that everything is not just "a matter of opinion".

It is interesting to note that at no time do I consciously decide to "look at something from a scientific perspective". It's something that is so integrated into my way of thinking that it applies to almost everything I do. Believe me, the way I evaluate which clothes to buy in a store can drive my artistic wife up the wall :-)

With that in mind, I read an interesting Op-Ed by Brian Greene in the NY Times today (He is the author of “The Elegant Universe”). In the article he comments that:
It’s striking that science is still widely viewed as merely a subject one studies in the classroom or an isolated body of largely esoteric knowledge that sometimes shows up in the “real” world in the form of technological or medical advances.

He further explains:
But here’s the thing. 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.

It's disappointing, and a failure of science education that this feeling is not more widely shared. The full op-ed is available here.

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