Blinded Me With Science

Science is scary. Maybe it’s all those numbers, or maybe it’s the weirdness we attribute to the people who are punching those numbers in. But no matter the reason, we’re entering into a new world order in which the universal language is science. And if we don’t look under the bed and into the eyes of the boogieman that we think science is, we’re going to have no say in the future.

We are in an age of knowledge. Unlike our ancestors who could have gotten away with understanding lightning as the manifestation of Zeus’ anger, people nowadays would laugh if you naively explained the universe through magic and witchcraft. We now know that there are fundamental forces that stop me from floating off into space every time I jump rope and not the “hocus-pocus” by the hands of invisible gods in the sky.

Yet some people just can’t get sturdy footing on the bandwagon. It’s disheartening that most Americans don’t appreciate how close scientific knowledge really is to our fingertips. A simple Google search and you can really find out why the sky is blue (if you’ve ever lived in the Midwest like I did, you’ll know that the reflection of the ocean answer is bogus). I don’t mean to make you feel guilty, but I’m sure da Vinci’s flying machine would seem rather mundane in relation to the crazy concoctions he could have cooked up if he only had access to that college-level physics textbook that’s collecting dust on your bookshelf. So is it too much to ask to appreciate the countless generations of scientists that have dedicated their lives to giving you an understanding of the natural world?

I can, however, sympathize with this cohort that refuses to get with the times. Until recently, I loathed what I saw as the extravagant and unnecessary nature of iPhones. I saw this form of technology and the like as the incarnation of human laziness. I didn’t want a machine to do something that I could do in my head. Perhaps, I felt that I was losing my worth as an individual if I relied upon a GPS to guide me as opposed to my own spatial memory.

But I soon realized that someone probably felt the same way when the wheel was first invented. That’s just the way technology progresses. It keeps on alleviating burdens to the point that they become trivial and instead allows us time to focus on doing other things. You have to look at technology in the long run and trust that it’s advancing us one step at a time.

Most Americans, however, have the opposite dilemma. They are all too interested in the fancy innovations that technology has to offer, but care little for the science that goes into them. And that’s because we’re not given enough support to do well in the sciences. In fact, we use science to justify to ourselves why we’re not good at it!

I wasn’t too bright of a student in high school, but I’ll admit that I had determination. And like all too many of us as students, my number one culprit in life was math. On one instance, I approached my 10th grade Algebra 2 honors teacher and brought my struggles to her attention. Instead of a new study technique or at least recommending a tutor, she sat me down in a mournful tone and explained to me that some people in this world just weren’t born to do math. She was essentially telling me that my genes would dictate what I could and couldn’t accomplish in life (another dose of bogus). You only have to hear about an instance like this one, and you’ll know why American students trail behind the rest of the developed world in scientific aptitude. We may be making ourselves feel better by excusing our laziness, but we’re limiting our capabilities in the long run. I can’t tell you how many times science has entered into a conversation I was having with someone, only to be abruptly interrupted by that person claiming that he’s got a right-sided brain.

There’s no turning back now, though. Renaissance fairs and traditional South American tribes are the only places left where technology, and thus science of the new age, have yet to penetrate. So the next time you see something that catches your breath, don’t be afraid to ask why; that would be a pretty good start.

 

Faisal Chaabani is a fifth-year neurobiology major. He can be reached at fchaaban@uci.edu.