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Space, dinosaurs, and robots

With deadline approaching and writer’s block and just a few hours of sleep clouding my mind, I was trying to find my way back to that golden road of righteousness: productivity. I was doing what anyone would do when facing impending due dates: I was reading the webcomic XKCD (Fine, maybe only nerds do this. Shoulda just said Twitter). What caught my attention was an illustration of the depths of the ocean that included a remark about the depth and pressure that sperm whales dive to and how we really know very little about our very own planet. It was a reminder of both our curiosity as humans and our power to explore.

I’m talking Science with a capital ‘S’ here, be it physics, biology, chemistry, geology, or any other combination of -ologies you can think of (no bonus points for saying mathology). I started out at Concordia  as a music major, and now I’m checking off pre-med requirements as a psychology major with biology and chemistry minors. As I’m told, it seems like I switched in the wrong direction. I’ve explained it as deciding I knew enough about humanities and needed some science before I could know everything. I’m only half kidding; the sciences at my high school were rather poor, so I sit through a lot of lectures thinking, “so that’s how that works!” I feel like a five-year old playing with dinosaurs or spaceships again.

In a society where science, especially of late, has been so polarizing, I think this sense of wonder is important. It’s why as a kid, you loved “Bill Nye the Science Guy” (You did love this show. We all know it) and learning about stars or momentum or recycling for the first time. Unfortunately, over the years the idea of science “explaining the unexplained” dies off, hacked away after lesson upon lesson and slaughtered upon the altar of unintelligible textbooks. As a result, the sciences seem like something we can’t relate to, a tool for destruction and fear (as an illustration, please refer to all literature written after the invention of railroads).

Public perception of science needs to be shifted back into the paradigm of exploration. I believe this is why Concordia’s Science Academy program is so inviting to children; it’s a break from the normal style of class that puts science on display. You can lecture all day on kinetics or free energy, but show me something that changes color or better yet explodes, and you’ll have my undivided attention. I can only imagine that having government-sponsored laboratories open to public experiments would result in both a tremendous increase in scientific understanding and technological advancement. Just look at what open-source software has done for the Internet and tech startups. The benefit of widespread scientific literacy would be huge, and if nothing else would probably eliminate the fad dieting industry (I apologize if you are heavily invested in fad diets, for several reasons).

I’ll admit, the idea of public labs seems far away, living only in some weird science nirvana. Sadly, science has garnered a reputation for being standoffish, although one that has probably been earned. Oftentimes it seems that scientists can be very possessive of their studies, looking down upon the uninitiated and insisting on a single line of thought. Yet as many of Concordia’s professors would be happy to tell you, science and faith are not mutually exclusive. For many, they reinforce each other and prompt even deeper questioning of the way things work. As we continue exploring, we find more and more questions that we haven’t been able to answer, and to me that might be the single most fascinating thing about science. For all the work we’ve done and all the progress we’ve made, we still can’t completely explain our universe. That’s awesome, in the truest meaning of the word. Are we really the only planet with life? Amazing! Or must there be another planet just like ours that has also produced life, somewhere in the far-flung reaches of the cosmos? Mind-boggling!

We can push our knowledge further and fill in gaps between information by constantly exploring the world around us. It has been said recently that science answers only the questions we want answered. Whether this is true or not depends largely on interpretation, but if more people are asking questions, we continue to flesh out our world view. Whether you can titrate like a champ and can name all ten genera in the family Sciuridae (go you!) or just enjoy reading National Geographic, there’s a place for science in your life. It’s time we went exploring again.

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