The Importance and Beauty of Science
When facing the question, ‘What good is science?’ I always remember Faraday’s answer, ‘What good is a baby?’ We don’t know what a baby will be, but it grows and ‘becomes.’ We can imagine all sorts of future for that baby but eventually the truth of that person is before us. So it is with science.
Science pursues pure observations and findings, logic, derivations, predictions and new discoveries; these reveal the true reality of nature – not someone’s ideas about it, but its reality. The importance and beauty of Science lie in its unperturbed adherence to the truth and unraveling of the intricate workings of nature. For ages, the pleasure of doing science was in the understanding of nature – realizing, for example, atomic forces, quantum effects, and the impact of curved space – their usefulness or application was secondary. Basic research, pursued for the pure love of finding out what reality is, lays the bedrock upon which future progress is made. Our cell phones work because of scientific research done 70 years ago. Cancer treatments that work today rest on foundations laid in the 1950s. We cannot skip scientific research and smother findings now without destroying our own future.
Science is important at every moment of our lives, affecting almost anything we use (and take for granted). At the same time, it can be, and has been, used for destructive purposes, and science may not always support the good things we wish. It might find harmful facts, and tell us about the harmful uses of science, but we cannot blame science. Science does not take sides! But, by following scientific investigation, we will find solutions for our problems. So, we must nurture Science for the future wellbeing of all.
The beauty of science comes from its ability to discover the inherent mysteries of nature and its importance lies in its applications for the good of all.
I owe you an apology. I didn’t actually mean, “I hate you” in junior high school. Though the formaldehyde smell was disgusting, and seeing dead frogs with their legs splayed nearly made me vomit. I shouldn’t have rolled my eyes at you in 10th grade, when the teacher proudly displayed her Periodic Table of the Elements. But I got stuck on why Magnesium’s abbreviation was Mg, which made sense, but poor Mercury was assigned Hg, incorporating none of its letters. Physics senior year was the worst; I won’t even go there.
I successfully avoided you in college, choosing an open curriculum. Years later, in graduate school, our reunion seemed like a sick joke. I specifically chose social work to avoid you, but you found me, nonetheless. To obtain my masters, I struggled to pass the required Biology course. As it turned out, understanding the inner workings of the human brain and body proved to be relevant for work in mental health, school and community settings. So, thank you… I guess.
Fast forward to New York, 2005. My mom has a rare form of cancer called primary peritoneal. The doctor she was lucky enough to get saved her life with an aggressive operation and treatment. I am certain that in order to do his job, and to do it well, he must believe in your power and presence.
You’ll be happy to hear that when my seven year-old brought home his permission slip for a field trip to Western’s Chemistry Lab, I signed my approval right away. At 44, in what I can only hope is the middle of my life on this planet, I have gained a new respect for all of us understanding Liquids, Solids, Gases… And beyond.
Since her brother’s field trip, my four year-old invented a new form of I Spy for our preschool commute. “That rain drop is a liquid, Mama… That tree? A solid!” “Yes,” is all I can say aloud. And inside, a silent prayer that those trees can survive this changing climate; and that you, Science, will get the respect you are due.
His hearing loss and native Eskimo language rendered us virtually incapable of
communicating, but “Old Raymond” left us with our favorite scientific, medical memory from
opthalmic bush clinics in Alaska.
That winter, forty Eskimos awaited eye exams, having arrived in Nome, by air and foot, at
the snow-blanketed clinic in minus 15 degree weather.
Raymond hailed from Little Diamede, an island just 2.4 miles from Russia, accompanied by
two female elders. Wearing kuspuks of riotous fabric prints, they made a florid trio, treading softly
in mukluks across the clinic floor.
Via mime and translation, I measured Raymonds visual acuity--finger counting at two feet,
marveling at his equanimity; virtually blind and deaf, this was Raymonds first venture outside his
Once Raymond was seated in the exam chair, Bruce then performed retinoscopy. A beam of
light rotated on the corneas revealed irregular reflexes; but my husband, very well experienced from
multiple exams on Eskimos with similar findings, roughly determined the astigmatism and selected
a pair of lenses to neutralize Raymonds refractive error. He placed the trial lenses in the phoropter,
an instrument to measure vision with lenses in dials.
Raymonds companions volunteered his medical history, lamenting “His eyes got bum when
he was just a boy. They got real red and they was hurtin' real bad. The health aid rubbed charcoal
in 'em, but they still bum.”
My husband nodded knowingly; PKC, a corneal-scarring, cross-reaction to tuberculosis, was
a common problem in bush Alaska in 1971. Bruce swung the dermined lenses in front of
Raymonds eyes and pandemonium erupted. Raymond grabbed the doctor's wrists, shouting in
Eskimo, while jerking up and down in the chair, stopping only periodically to reassure himself of
the miracle of sight.
His companions laughed and conversed excitedly. We stood baffled until they interpreted.
“He says it's wonderful. Don't take it away. Don't take it away.”
Taping the trial lenses to a frame, we encouraged “Old Raymond” to walk through the
waiting room, gazing into the faces of those he had blindly loved for over 70 years. His elation was
matched only by our own.
Surrounded by political rancor, I found myself wishing Superman would swoop in and solve global chaos. Instead I read up on Gastropods and Mollusks. One night I dreamt … oh Hail to the Chief … of Super Snail.
Snails weigh mere grams. An average adult male moves one millimeter per second. They cannot hear. Their sense of smell is their most important organ. Touch is vital too, especially in mating. Male and female snails produce sperm and eggs. After mating … drum roll please … both give birth, excellent for survival, which began for them in the Cambrian age, 540 to 585 million years ago. (Snail-world.com)
Yet despite their accomplishments and intriguing calcium carbonate shells, snails have been mocked. They’ve been turned into a symbol of laziness. In Christian culture, of sloth. In Psalms 58.3 and 58.8 the righteous are told: the wicked are estranged from the womb: As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. We must travel back to the Greek poet Hesiod to find snails given significance. As time keepers and metaphysical mentors. When they climb stocks, it is time to harvest. (Wikipedia)
With all our human concerns, I still find solace knowing that scientists are researching Mollusks, discovering the remarkable adaptability of Gastropods, mentoring us on bio-diversity and symbiotic relationships: nature’s beautiful formulas. They tell us, despite their sexual prowess, snails are endangered. Like us, moving at a snail’s pace beneath the drum-rolling urgency of global chaos.
Snails speak softly. They don’t carry big sticks. Yet imagine Super Snail with a billboard-sized sign. It reads: Be wise. Live symbiotically by design.
On my snail days, when I wake slow and sluggish, I’m consoled by millions of common citizens world-wide who rise to their feet to march and plead for clean air, land and seas. Time is humanity’s hollow-ringed habitat, the shell on our backs. Left uncorrupted, science and nature … when in symbiotic dignity … bring Earth’s needs to light.
The Ecology of Value
Clean the air! Clean the sky! Wash the wind!
Wash the stone, wash the bone, wash the brain
wash the soul – wash them, wash them all!
T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
The learn’d biologist stands motionless
mid-stream in muddy moving water
at slight angle to the universe of life
and sees, as if for the first time,
through eyes of the big fish
that bumps her leg and the eyes
of a big bird screaming overhead
because she sees them seeing her, as if
for the first time, looking into the eyes
of a member of a pest species
that has been clouding their water, their air,
she sees as if for the first time how fragile
is the beauty of a world that allows
birds to value air and fish to value water
and there is air and there is water.
The biologist watches the eagle value
a trout from the river downstream,
a rainbow who had been valuing a cadis fly
from the air just above the hungry water.
She casts a long thin translucent line
of valuing out through what she once
thought was clear air and clean water,
her dry fly imitating the juicy one, mirroring
and modeling the world in order to understand
and protect it. The fly lands in an eddy behind a rock.
Earlier she had worried about the future.
Now she fears for the future of the future:
She doesn’t worry about knowing so much
as she fears whether there’ll be a world worth knowing.
Roger William Gilman, for the March for Science, April 22, 2017
April 22, 2017
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