Saturday, April 12, 2008

From Natalie Angier's latest book

Not that any of us need encouragement to pursue science, but I'm reading Angier's testament to the field right now and I love her writing. Thought I'd share:

"Childhood, then, is the one time of life when all members of an age cohort are expected to appreciate science. Once junior high school begins, so too does the great winnowing, the relentless tweezing away of feather, fur, fun, the hilarity of the digestive tract, until science becomes the forbidding province of a small priesthood-- and a poorly dressed one at that.


In sum, I'm not sure that knowing about science will turn you into a better citizen, or win you a more challenging job, or prevent the occasional loss of mental faculties culminating in the unfortunate purchase of a pair of white leather pants. I'm not a pragmatist, and I can't make practical arguments of the broccoli and flossing kind. Unless you're a scientist, you don't need to know about science. You also don't need to go to museums or listen to Bach or read a single slyly honied Shakespeare sonnet. You don't need to visit a foreign country or hike a desert canyon or go out on a cloudless, moonless night and get drunk on start champagne...of course you should know about science, as much as you've got the synaptic space to fit. Science is not just one thing, one line of reasoning or a boxable body of scholarship, like, say, the history of the Ottoman Empire. Science is huge, a great ocean of human experience; it's the product and the point of having the most deeply corrugated brain of any species this planet has spawned. If you never learn to swim, you surely regret it; and the sea is so big, it won't let you forget it.

Of course you should know about science, for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gak: These things are fun, and fun is good.
There's a reason why science museums are fun, and why kids like science. Science is fun. Not just gee-whizbag "watch my dip this rose into liquid nitrogen and then shatter it on the floor" fun, although it's that, too. It's fun the way rich ideas are fun, the way seeing beneath the skin of something is fun. Understanding how things works feels good. Look no further-- there's your should."

-Natalie Angier, from The Canon

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