Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Wonders of Science

I listen to a weekly podcast called "The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe." I discovered this podcast because of Jay. He occasionally listened to it before we were married and into the first year of our marriage. It was probably into our 2nd year of marriage that he shared it with me because they had discussed something he thought I would find interesting or funny. Shortly after that, I fell in love with the podcast. I got so obsessed with it, that I went back and listened to the podcast from the very first episode. By this point, the podcast had gone on for almost 5 years. There were over a 100 episodes that I listened to and I furiously tried to catch up to the new episodes.

I became enthralled with the people on the podcast, most especially a woman named Rebecca Watson. These people prompted my interest in attending a great conference called TAM (The Amazing Meeting), a convention for skeptics, critical thinkers, and such like minded individuals. The love for science that had been dormant within me from Jr. High and High School, once again began to flourish. Especially in this past year, I have begun to feel like a little kid discovering the wonders of nature and life all over again. This summer, Jay and I went camping. As we sat in front of our campfire one night, a question came to mind: Why does wood burn? Then another string of questions followed: What is actually happening when the wood is burning? Why is fire hot? Why does the wood turn white the hotter it gets? Now, some of these are fundamental questions that had been answered in a chemistry class that I took in my sophomore year of High school. But, it was like I was rediscovering the answers all over again and was able to fully appreciate the wonders of science. It's interesting that it would be now, after I'm done with college for now, that my mind would begin to open up to all this. But, I have to say that a lot of this is due in part to the way my mind has been expanded by this podcast.

Another example of my experience of wonderment happened a month or two ago. It was about 9 pm at night and I was taking out the trash. As I was walking back to my door, I decided to look up at the full moon in the sky. For the first time, I really really looked at the moon. It was so bright and huge that I think I could see some of the huge craters on the surface of the moon. At that moment, it clicked inside me that this wasn't the moon of fairytales, as it had always appeared to me. It was an object in space, something tangible, something real, something that people had traveled to and walked upon, much as those who first explored the North American continent. It was discovered and explored because of science and scientists.

All of the above thoughts and discussions were prompted today by a quote that was given at the end of a Skeptics' Guide podcast episode (at the end of each episode, Jay Novella gives a scientific or skeptical quote). The quote is:

'It’s funny when people accuse science of being narrow merely because it asks for proof. Science expanded the number of elements from four to over 100. It expanded treatment options from bloodletting, herbs and purgatives to the untold riches we have today. It expanded the universe from a series of armillary spheres to the current, nigh-endless void. It expanded the number of worlds from two to billions upon billions. It expanded the age of the universe from 7,000 to 13.5 billion. Science expanded our senses from a tiny range of sound and light to an endless modulation of wavelengths revealing whole worlds we knew nothing about. It extended our senses from millimeters to angstroms, from kilometers to light years. Science discovered volcanoes under the oceans, terrible lizards who ruled our murine predecessors, asteroids that shattered the world, glaciers that circled the globe, the origins of man in ape rather than god. Science exposed the lie of vitalism, extended lives, cured cancer, discovered vitamins, discovered radiation (then found it was bad for us). And in the last group of discoveries, quacks were poised to kill the discoveries and loot their corpses.' 
                                  -William Lawrence Utridge

This quote seemed to sum up the experiences I have been having lately. If one were religious, I might be classified as having a religious experience. But, I am not religious, nor am I inclined to be. I trust in science and all that has been discovered, and has yet to be discovered, through its practices and ways of exploring. So I would like to call my experience a "Scientific Experience." I can only imagine how profound of a  "Scientific Experience" that those who stepped on the moon, even if they did not fully realize the significance of what they had accomplished (though I'm sure most of them did). 

This quote has also spurred within me a greater desire to learn more about all things relating to science. I want to learn all I can about the world and how it works. Here and now, I declare the start of my journey. It begins with the works of Carl Sagan. I have already begun reading his book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I think the next book after that will be Cosmos, the book written to accompany his short television series with the same title. I may come back here and discuss my thoughts about each book. We will see! 

Until next time, averagejane signing off!

No comments: