Oddly enough, I have only recently made this discovery. I hated math as a kid, and was bored by science class. Maybe it’s because we always studied the same basic things and they became boring – cells, plants, atoms, etc. Or maybe it was because there were quite a few misguided people out there who either explicitly or implicitly told me that imagination and/or faith was at odds against science. For much of my life, I’ve considered myself a fairly artsy, “right-brained” individual. I was sometimes suspicious of things that seemed too “scientific,” because I was under the impression that for something to be scientific it had to be inflexible, rigid, or black and white. And that’s not who I wanted to be.
But I think I was wrong about two things:
1) Science, it turns out, requires quite a lot of imagination.
2) It takes logic and “scientific” left-brained understanding and organization in order to have a healthy sense of creativity, or even a religious faith. In order to create something or believe in something, you have to order things somehow, requiring a realistic way of looking at things, an understanding of how patterns work, and a good sense of deductive reasoning.
I have a great respect for the scientific method. Its whole purpose is to find truth, some kind of real reality. That resonates with me. The things we have been able to prove and discover in just the last 200 years are absolutely mind-boggling. However, I believe that once you get down to some of the grander theories, science also requires some imagination and faith. Many theories can be proven within our scope of life-as-we-know-it, but the deeper you dig into the theory of the universe, the more unanswered questions there seem to be. I have no doubt that in 50 years I will be amazed by how much we have discovered about our universe, but I have the feeling that the more questions we answer, the more questions we’ll find.
In bookstores, I find myself drawn to the science section. It’s usually a fairly quiet little section – I guess not many other people really care to advertise to the world that they are actually nerds. Recently I picked up two books – the first is by Bill Bryson, called “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” This book almost made me want to become a science teacher. And THAT certainly is not a sentence that I ever thought I would utter! Seriously, though, if they taught science in high school with a book like this, people would see the subject much differently. There is so much wrong with the way we educate. But I digress.
Bryson’s book works because it approaches all questions with an energetic and relentless sense of curiosity. He tells stories about the people who were curious enough to devote large parts of their lives to figuring stuff out. Science IS curiosity. How do things work? Why are things are the way they are? Why are people the way they are? What do we think will happen in the future? People who are not curious might, in fact, be robots. (That’s my theory, anyway.) Curiosity makes us human! Sure, some of us are more curious than others. (i.e. Being curious about what Snookie is going to wear when she goes out to the club on Saturday does not count.) But deep down we all want to know: Why? How? Who? When? What?
The second book I picked up recently in the science section at Borders is written by Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, called “The Grand Design”. Incredibly, while Hawking is able to take his mind-blowing gift of genius and distill it into some fairly accessible writing, the concepts are still very grand and difficult to wrap your head around. This way of thinking about the universe and our existence absolutely blends both science and philosophy. In today’s world, science and modern philosophy are basically one and the same: the greatest scientific thinkers like Hawking are essentially trying to uncover “The Ultimate Theory of Everything.” And that, I think, is at the heart of philosophy. And religion. Interestingly enough, “The Grand Design” does (and in my opinion, unnecessarily) focus a large part of its aim on disproving the existence of God. I am fascinated by M-Theory and the concepts in the book, but I heartily disagree that science and God are foundationally mutually exclusive concepts. Perhaps the universe is much more complex and wild than we previously understood, and yet perhaps so is God.
In general I think that every person out there is seeking truth. Religion, philosophy, faith, science… If we spend any time thinking about it at all from any one of those angles, we’ll each distill our thoughts down to a single difficult question: “What is the theory of everything?” Of course, we could think about it in the abstract all day, but the more interesting and personal question is, “If there is a theory of everything, what does that mean for my life?” It certainly deserves some thoughtful consideration.
p.s. Science is awesome.
p.p.s. Yes, I totally went there and blogged about the “Ultimate Theory of Everything.”