24 December 2006

Science, Wonder, and The Greatest Game Ever Played

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science."--Edwin Powell Hubble

Science begins with Wonder. We ask "Why?" and go from there. What we do next we call Science.

We watch, feel, listen, taste, smell...then interpret. We use reason to relate what we experience to what we have experienced. We group and categorize our experiences, cutting the world into individuals then grouping the individuals into categories.
We pick out objects and note events with those objects as the players.
We note temporal relationships of events. We note frequency of one occurrence followed by another and call common trends causal. When this happens enough we call it a law.
We are skeptical. We amend our law when the evidence is against it. We appeal to no authority but Nature.
Nature is the most beautiful story, the most intricate and elegant game, and we are simply trying to listen to the story and from what we hear learn the rules of the game. We translate the story into the language of mathematics and simplify. We know that Nature is complex, but not convoluted; simplifyable to very basic rules.
The process of simplification is long and tiresome...but the "Eureka!" (I've got it!) moment is well worth it. The simplification takes time and often it seems that it is just too damn complicated...though, with time and effort the pattern will unfold and it is guarantied to be beautiful. The initial appearance of convolution is what I think scares most people...but if well explained ANYONE can understand.
Science does not strip Nature of its beauty! It allows us to see its beauty in all its glory, in all its magic, in all its grandeur.
And after all this, we still wonder "Why?" For we can always try to understand the rules of the game but to try to understand why the game is being played is a much greater task. But we must start with the rules, and enjoy the game...for it truly is the Greatest Game Ever Played.

"This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it."--Thomas Carlyle


Ed said...

Congratulations on starting your blog and Merry Christmas. This seems like a good time to begin a conveersation on science and culture. The birth of Jesus; how and why we celebrate his birth brings issues of science and culture together.

My first comment and question, however, relates to context.

How and why did you become a scientist? What were the forces and events that influenced you and brought you to this position.

By discussing this you will learn more about yourself and give us a context in which to ask further questions, agree and offer challenges.

I believe in dialogic learning. You have started a conversation, and offered some background. It would help me if you shared some more of the personal history that brought you to this line of inquiry.

This blog is a service to us all. It will make me think deeper and learn more about what I believe, too.

Aubrey said...

Hey Jack-
I think your view of space exploration is interesting, and many of your points are very true, but I don't feel that space exploration needs to be something that discourages us from taking care of our own planet. O'course this is coming from an Environmental Studies major who is also very interested in astronomy. :)
When I gaze at the stars, or think about galaxies collosal distances away, I can't help but feel small, but it has never made me feel insignificant. In fact, in some sort of strange way, the stars make me feel empowered: The earth is just a little spec in this universe, but what an important spec it is. Or the sun-- just one of gazillions (yes, that's a scientific term:) of stars, but we all depend on it. So then I can think about myself: I'm just a small person on this earth, but that doesn't mean I can't make a huge difference.

And I think about the fact that I am made up of the same elements that make up the rest of the universe, and I feel incredibly connected. My energy will forever affect not only the world, but the universe, and whatever is beyond that. We may not notice it now, but the energy we exert on the "system", every bit of it, does not go unanswered. Every action has a reaction. We have the power to influence the universe! (I can't wait to talk to you about this further-- I have realized that this is a large part of what you might consider my "spirituality.")

And I think about coincidence and timing and chance. Think about all of the different forces in the universe, and yet somehow I came to be. What are the chances? How lucky am I?

And how lucky are we to be part of such a special earth. These space explorations: maybe they're necessary to teach us not to take what we have on earth for granted. We discover it wouldn't be too pleasant to live on mars, or how difficult it will be to find a new home, and so maybe we'll take better care of the one we have. We discover that chance and coincidences that generated our little earth are just as great as those which created each one of us, so maybe we will be inspired to protect the earth as we would protect ourselves.

And I am excited about what's around the next corner, or in the next galaxy, just as I am excited to look through a microscope and discover THAT world which is also beyond the powers of my normal senses. This is exciting because I know I will never stop learning!!

Do we go to extremes from time to time, and forget to learn from what we COULD notice with our regular senses if we stopped looking 'beyond', and instead just looked around. Absolutely.
Do we sometimes get our priorities mixed up? Duh!
Should we spend billions of dollars on manned missions? Probably not. But let me conclude with this thought:
Maybe we need to venture and explore what is unfamiliar and beyond our lives before we can really understand what is right in front of us. I think that space missions CAN help us better understand and appreciate the earth, just like my experiences in Madagascar helped me to better understand myself, and my country Sometimes you have to leave in order to be happy to be home, and to realize how you can or should improve that home.
Wheeww, that was a lot of abstract thinking. I need some hot chocolate :). Happy New Year, and have fun, my friend. Cheers!