As far as I can tell, scientists are the most important people we have on the planet. They are just about the only people adding to the sum total of human knowledge. Without them helping us figure out how to get everybody off the planet, we’re all doomed to die when the sun eventually goes kaplooey. (Pardon the technical language.) We’ll all die a lot sooner than that from climate change, too, if we don’t start listening to what they’ve been telling us now for decades. I mean, seriously: they aren’t right about everything, but damn close to it. We need to listen to them more.
In fact, if I had my druthers, I’d organize our entire society around the single idea of enticing as many people to become scientists as possible. The rest of us can feed, clothe, house, cure, teach, and entertain or inspire (that’s where we come in) the guys and gals in the white coats, as well as each other. That’s how important I think science is.
I think most of our social struggles can be laid at the foot of the fact that we just haven’t figured out how to deal with the stunning and difficult findings of the world’s scientists:
- The earth isn’t the center of the universe; our solar system isn’t even in a central part of the galaxy.
- Our species evolved from other species, and there’s nothing particularly special about where we are on the evolutionary path.
- Our species shares DNA with other species—in some cases, quite a lot; chimpanzees ain’t that different from us.
- The universe is about 14.5 billion years old.
- We probably don’t really have free will.
- Our bodies may be nothing more than elaborate mechanisms designed to replicate genetic material.
Don’t even get me started on chaos theory or quantum mechanics. And there are ten thousand other smaller notions just waiting, as soon as you’re done with those, to come make life tricky to understand.
These are hard things for people to deal with. It’s so much more pleasant, after all, to think we live on a specially-ordained, perfectly-designed planet made just for us by a nice man in the sky 6,000 years ago, and that being human is somehow divine and important. It’s REALLY hard to imagine that we don’t get to decide, independently, what we want to eat in the morning or how we’re going to live our lives, let alone to comprehend that our genes might be the ones in charge.
Don’t go challenging me about those last two, by the way. If you have complaints, take them up with the biologists and neurobiologists. I don’t make the news, I just report it.
And that, actually, brings me to my point: why I write about science. I write about science, you see, because I want to try to make it easier for us to incorporate these impossibly difficult facts into our sense of what it is to be human. I figure that’s my job, since I can’t splice DNA (like my brother can—he’s my hero) or discover dark matter or parse out the formulae involved in M-Theory. (I really wish I could do those things, in fact, but I tried, and I didn’t have what it took.) Writing is the least I can do.