Science as a New Cultural Tradition

I was watching Richard Dawkins dialog with Aubrey Manning (approx. 50 minutes long) the other day and some of the points they discussed made me think.

Many of the traditions we practice have religious orgins, which of course needn’t be bad in itself. Obviously, tradition and ritual have a place in building solidarity and socializing individuals. However, it seems to me that the question many ask in an increasingly secular world is what will we have instead? As Manning points out, science is a human activity which has value in itself. It not only gives opportunity for wounder but also invokes both emotions of joy and dispare.

No science is too hard to understand, at least not on a principial level. One problem is that the papers submited for peer review obscure science from lay persons. Yes, there is a point to using certain kinds science-speak; however, scientists should be obliged to not only help us understand, but also to intrigue us and to appreciate their knowledge. Those school books with nothing but formulas and constants don’t do the job.

And this is why I recommend these videos. It is a Berkeley course called Physics for future presidents by Richard A. Muller. The emphisis is on concepts and an idea of magnitudes instead of formulas and specific numbers. In my mind it should have the title “Physics for Everyone,” and while it’s alot to watch (26 episodes of ~1 hour each) I consider it a duty.

Science is also an enterprise in which we all partake. Our current advancement in technology and welfare comes from science. We only need to take the example of penicillin. Before its discovery far more diseases ran rampant through our populations. Now one may say that science of medicine represents a moral good, whereas the science of physics does not. Yet I believe there is a moral component in simply getting closer to truth. In other words science should, indeed must, be central to a modern tradition.

In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins wrote the following: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” We should celebrate our opportunity to be here, taking part in the world. Our means of celebrating should be through understanding — that is to say, through science.


2 Responses

  1. Roger,
    It is great to have you back!! 🙂 I have developed an appreciation for this topic with my job. I have a Counseling degree but I work in the School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. In this position I encourage my engineering students to communicate their innovative research/technologies. I have seen them present hovercrafts, biomedical chips that would be implanted directly in the brain for treatment of epilepsy, special packaging on food that would change color if it detected ecoli (etc), a piece of equipment that can detect if a bridge will collapse and many more exciting things that would help society. If these engineers are not able to describe their work adequately to venture capitalists, they will not get the money to bring it to the market. Understanding the science behind my PhD students work is impossible for me, however, I am excited to be able to see how their research/technology can be applied in a positive way to society.

  2. I haven’t read this post yet … i just wanted to give you this … it’s hysterical … you may have already seen it advertised on Facebook …

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