Why Science & You (ESS1)|
"And now for something completely different..."
This famous quote from John Cleese in Monty Python's Flying Circus is a fitting opening for this website. The topic is science but the object is fun. For many of you there is no doubt already an interest in the topic which is why you are reading this in the first place. For those of you who may have stumbled onto this site and are curious what it's all about, have a look around.
Although it was tempting to turn this into "Mr. Science meets the Smothers Brothers" we are going to do our best to deliver some real substance. Be warned, the intent is to get you hooked on science. If this makes you think of test tubes and heavy mathematical equations, relax. The story of science is a fascinating one, because it is the story of men and women at their most noble as well as their most vile.
Where to begin. I am reminded of one of my science professors who, I suspect was fifty percent scientist and fifty percent "ham". It is partly because of him that this site came about, for it was he who showed me how truly exciting the history of science is. He talked about early man scanning the heavens in wonder and with more than a little fear.
I guess that's where our story begins, a time when there was no science. Sure, man had figured out that if you stuck a seed in the ground it produced a plant that you wouldn't have to hunt for later and assembling a herd of animals on your homestead made for a more settled way of life. As to the rest of his existence, most things in nature were thought to be caused by gods or demons.
He may have become a successful farmer but I supect that the life of early man, to quote Thomas Hobbes, was "nasty, brutish and short". Before things could improve, he had to invent Science. It didn't really happen that way of course because he didn't actually "invent" science, he stumbled onto it. It was the sky above his head that first got him to ponder the kind of questions that still lead us to discoveries today.
One of the late Robert Kennedy's favorite quotes, borrowed from George Bernard Shaw, went: "Some men see things as they are and say 'why?' I dream things that never were and say 'why not?' " In many ways science works that way. On one hand, finding answers to "why" questions is fundamental to the work scientists do. The stunning breakthroughs however are almost always the result of "dreams".
There is a well-known story told by Albert Einstein in which he explained how at the age of sixteen he stumbled on his theory of relativity. As he told the story he was lying down in a meadow one afternoon. While there he fell asleep and had a dream in which he was riding a sunbeam at the speed of light. The rest as they say, is history. Although this is one of the better-known examples, it is by no means unique.
One of the recurring themes running through the whole of science history is the realization that things are sometimes not what they appear to be. Not only are commonly held beliefs often challenged by careful scientific research, many scientific theories are themselves found to be based more on faith than on solid evidence. This is one area we hope to explore at length because bad theories can be downright harmful.
So that's what this website is all about. We're going to take a look at all aspects of science with a special focus on how many of the concepts that guide modern science came to be. George Santayana is famously quoted as saying "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Another of his quotes reads "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."
Ironically both quotes are very relevant to our subject as we shall see in future articles. Our goal is to blow some fresh air into an area that badly needs it. This should achieve at least two goals -- better science and a greater understanding by a much wider audience. We believe that both goals are not only desirable but also attainable.
Above all we want this to be an interactive site. We urge you to share your insights. Come on in! The Water's fine!
*This vase illusion was made popular by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin in 1915. It can be perceived either as two faces looking at each other, or as a white vase on a black background.