O Science! My Science! Our fearful trip has just begun...
"Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?" - Stephen Hawking
I love discovery. I love those moments when it seems as though a dark veil has been pulled from over your eyes; when the depths you had once thought unattainable become your new swimming spot; when life, for the tiniest of moments, is before you, gloriously simple and ready to be understood.
I feel, after that wonderous description, I should qualify what I mean by discovery. Before the theory of relativity, if someone were to have come up to you and attempted to explain how much different you looked on the approach, based on your, and their, position in space-time, you would have labeled them a nutter and briskly entered the closest brightly lit building.
Sidenote: If, at the mention of the theory of relativity, you scratched your proverbial head (or your real head), then I am sorry, both for you and in the apologetic sense. There is no reason why you should not be familiar with the basic tenets of the theory, but your ignorance may not be completely your fault, as we will get to later. In any case, keep reading, you may learn something (I know, shocking!).
Now, those who grasp the concepts of space-time and its relation to the velocity of the observer understand why it is that objects "may appear larger than they are." Not only did Einstein's discovery change the way we use rear-view mirrors, but it allowed us to begin analyzing the universe around us within the confines of our own limited understanding. This is the essence of discovery. Einstein took seemingly incomprehensible data and accessed it, opening it to the realm of human understanding. This why every great scientist after him pays the man homage in their work.
Discovery is NOT the latest report you viewed on the evening news, or read on your favorite blogging site. Telling you that the meat you eat has steadily become less natural and more synthetic is not a discovery. In order for it to be a discovery, you would have had to not notice that the animals this meat comes from had bulked up Hulk-style over the last two decades AND, the synthetic materials being used to fatten you up would have been "used by accident."
Discovery is NOT to be found in statistical analysis. Numbers can explain and quantify phenomena, they can not discover them. This has become a scientific crutch as of late. When a study comes out saying that 53% of all adults are unhappy with their current work situation, this should not be heralded as a grand discovery! You have no idea how the data was gathered, who did the gathering, why it was done, or really anything other than it may be relative to you. Because a statistic may apply to your situation does not constitute true discovery, even if you want it to be. Statistics merely prey upon a human need to feel part of something larger than themselves.
Discovery IS an awakening of the mind, a revolutionary dawning of a new day. Discovery irrevocably reshapes the way we perceive the world around us. We find ourselves now mired to a culture fueled by consumer discovery, not actual discovery. We get excited when new ways of manipulating old technologies are marketed to us, thinking that they will fundamentally change the way we view our lives. Smartphones were not a discovery. Tablets were not a discovery. These were merely different ways to look at computing power. The creation of an artificial intelligence, on the other hand, was a discovery.
Since philosophy has long been relegated to private conversations and academia, science is one of the only fields in which true discovery can be found, but the evolution of our culture has put us at odds with the fundamental nature of these discoveries.
I think it would be an understatement to say that we, as a society, have become bogged down by what we see as our "responsibilities." It seems the further we move along in life, the more we tend to heap upon ourselves, fulfilling some type of sadistic self-actualization. Many would argue that these responsibilities are part of living within a functional society. I would counter that these responsibilities have inhibited our ability to actually embrace a life of our own. Instead, we choose to walk a path laid before us, not blaze our own.
I say this because the more we heap upon ourselves, the less of ourselves we have to dedicate to living, or discovering. Instead, we allow "professionals," whom we have labelled such because of a piece of paper and some time in the system, do the discovering for us. We are perfectly fine with an M.D. or a Ph.D. dictating to us what has been found, or how we should live based on the discovery. What we neglect to remember is that letters behind a name do not negate the name. That name represents a human, much the same as you or I, with the same bundle of responsibilities laid upon them. Their groundbreaking discovery is the same as your groundbreaking discovery.
There are a few reasons why we have come to this point. First, there isn't a whole lot of self-discovery going around anymore. Self-discovery is an absolute must when attempting to understand the grandiose nature of the world around us. Far too often people are willing to accept an outside definition of themselves as truth instead of putting in the time and effort it takes to become an individual. How do we expect to notice beauty and power outside ourselves if we are not willing to recognize both within?
Second, the continuing divergence of the scientific community and the masses has caused a Grand Canyon size rift to form between an understanding love of science and the instant gratification nature of our civilization. This divergence manifests itself in both language and a basic understanding of scientific method.
Because of the steady decline in quality of education and our society's inability to read beyond an elementary level, scientific publications are no longer accessible by the general populace. The language held within these reports is written by scientists for equal minds, not the average human. This fact alone accounts for much of the separation because it has given rise to the newspaper type reporting of scientific discoveries. When people receive news this way, their expectation that they should be able to own it far outweighs logical reasoning.
Take, for instance, quantum teleportation. A photon was transferred between two pods, without any connection to each other outside of their mutual existence, only a wee bit ago. The first reaction the population had was to ask when they could have one installed in their home.
One of the greatest discoveries of our time, and all we cared about was when we could "own" it. Little do we realize that we do "own" it. We are human. One human's discovery changes us all, for better or worse.
Science takes time. Science takes patience. Our expectation that brilliance should come with a price tag has only taken us further from what it means to discover.
Lastly, the internet's fabled ability to connect people to each other. In reality, this "social revolution" has created a massive hole in our humanity and, in turn, has capped our ability to discover anything but our own shame. Far too often do people turn to the almighty Google, or a Facebook post, to answer a question. Instead of pursuing the answer in the world and DISCOVERING it for ourselves, we choose to allow technology to dictate it to us.
Ask yourselves this: When is the last time you wondered where something was and actually went out exploring for it? When is the last time you did this without GPS, Google maps, or the like? Discoveries, even in their simplest form, are rewarding when work is put into them; when human intuition and deduction are used to devise an answer.
Fortunately, all it takes to break us out of a scientific funk is good ol' fashioned human curiosity. Do you even remember what it feels like to be curious about something? To yearn for an answer so badly that you throw your entire being into discovering it? No? Well, give a science project a try. Discover the glory of the world around you.
Fear may be the most fundamental reason for the decline in scientific discovery, or discovery of the self. The world, and the universe at large, are scary. The fundamental laws that govern their existence are so powerful, so overwhelming to even imagine, that doing so makes one feel very small. Feeling very small is not exactly something that your average human enjoys. As a matter of fact, some spend every waking moment in an attempt to feel bigger than they actually are.
So, when the average human is faced with the vastness of space, the deadly power of a flower, or their own existence, they shy away in fear. After they do this enough, they not only become closed off to the thought of discovering what may be out there, but the courage it takes to even think about it.
Take, for example, the fact that there is a compact-car sized, NASA rover driving around Mars right now. The goal of this complex creation is to find out if there are any signs that life may have existed, or does exist, on Mars. This is quite possibly the largest endeavor put forth by NASA in recent years, but since there hasn't been a little green man discovered, the public eye has long since turned away. Personally, I enjoy watching the feed from the rover, because it is another freakin' planet, but that is just me.
This fear of the unknown has caused humanity to look for solace in places outside of their curiosity and self-reliance. Mainly, organized religion.
I hesitate to bring this up, as I am truly not trying to offend anyone, I am merely pointing out an observation. In our fear of the unknown, we tend to look for neatly packaged answers, and nothing is more neatly packaged than monotheistic belief. Every answer to all your fears can be found in these systems. This idea has caused spirituality and science to be at odds.
I tell you now, nothing could be further from the truth. Science takes an incredible amount of faith. Imagine if Einstein didn't believe that there was an answer to be found, he would of given up long before he came upon relativity. Imagine Galileo not believing there was more to be seen in the night sky or Copernicus bending to the will of the masses.
Science strives to find answers, as complex and scary as they may be. This requires a vast amount of faith in both the process and the belief an answer may exist. In my mind, this ties spirituality and science more tightly than any organized religion could tie a human to a deity.
Curiosity, self-reliance, intelligence, intuition, faith; these are the very characteristics that make humanity beautiful. They are all required to discover, and discovery is a part of living.
I write this not in the hope that every person who reads it runs out to purchase a chemistry kit, but in the hope that curiosity has not faded from our view. I write this in the hope that the desire to look at the universe in splendid wonder still exists at our very core.