Monday, November 9, 2009


Sorry, I just found out how to type in Japanese with Vista and just can't resist tapping out bits and pieces every so often. Anyway, 繋がり (tsunagari) means 'connection(s)', which is the topic of this lovely video here:

I don't know what it does for you, but I haven't had such goosebumps since the first time I contemplated the big bang, deep star nucleosynthesis and evolution. I was sitting in the library of the Physics department at uni at the time, mind wandering while I studied for an exam. All around me were aspiring scientists and tomes and journals by the metric tonne, the distilled sweat, blood and tears of hundreds and thousands of scientists who had come before us. And in a file before me, in the frenzied scribbling of a student trying to keep up with the professor's OHP slides, sat my notes, a miniscule sliver of knowledge of the Universe.

A huge piece of the puzzle clicked into place for me back then, and I got that feeling one gets when you're, say, building a complex model and you put that piece in place which just puts you past the border between "chaotic mess" and "it's taking shape". I'm pleased to say I've had a lot of those moments since then, and such is the complexity of the Universe (and so much of it of our own making!) that I know I can look forward to many more.

The model-making analogy works the other way as well. Consider the acquisition of knowledge without the aegis of the scientific method, i.e. no formulation of hypothesis, no experimentation, no peer review, no constant testing against the realities of the universe... Is this not akin to grabbing a model off the shelf, dragging it out of the box, ignoring the instructions, casting aside files, knives and glue and slapping together whatever you like with duct tape? Well, I suppose this is but one possible scenario, exemplified in the real world by that special breed of person who is so open-minded his brain has dropped out.

The point is, there is a balance to be maintained. It's all well and good, perusing Wikipedia, National Geographic, Youtube and the popular science section of the local bookstore for these clips, articles and books exalting science and its bounty, but one would do well to remember the discipline and effort that went into them.

And right now, if I had a hat, I'd take mine off to the late Carl Sagan and all of those very rare scientists with the ability to communicate the beauty of science to the general public. Hum. It's been too long since I've watched a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture...

No comments: