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Sunday, 30 March 2014





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We all are born scientists

“Science is what you know. Philosophy is what you don't know.”
- Bertrand Russell, English philosopher and mathematician.

I know that my father's favourite definition of a scientist is that of a person: who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about nothing. The reason he said it was that scientific exploration goes into the minutest details of all things explored; and as one goes deeper, he discovers there is never an end to his search for knowledge because the wonders of nature are limitless. However, even if that be the fundamental truth, the basic reality; conventional wisdom states that a scientist is someone versed in science or devoted to scientific study or investigation. That being so, what is science? There are many interpretations and definitions of science; but at the very fundamental level, it is “knowledge as of facts, phenomena, laws, and proximate causes, gained and verified by exact observation, organised experiment, and correct thinking.” Of course, many of my readers would know what I think of the capability of most of my brethren with regard to the very last of that description of a scientist: correct thinking. I believe many non-human life forms will score better than most of my brethren in this, serendipitous land of ours, once called Serendip.

In fact, it was Charles Darwin who said that, “An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again; and thus is, much wiser than most men.”

I of course must say that our monkeys are no second to their American counterparts. However, in spite of any such inabilities exhibited by, the citizenry; I believe that most humans are scientists because of their enquiring nature, even if they do not profess to be. Humans love to wonder: that is the seed of science. The fact that they also like to wander, is an altogether different science.

Research may be what we do when we do not know what we are doing; but science owes its debt to human imagination.

For instance, the thought that occur when we touch the water in a river is that it is the last of what has passed, and the first of that which comes: is as with time, this moment is the last of all that had flown and the first of the many moments to come.

That is knowledge derived through scientific thinking. Thus, the realisation of a scientific truth does not occur without thought, even though we may be doing scientific experiments all the time.

The best scientists are open to experience, and as such are romantics who believe anything is possible. Take for instance, a man and a woman or a boy and a girl; two people, be they of the opposite or same sex; when they fall in love, it is nothing but scientific experiment, the result of which will be, known with time, at the end of their experiment and experience. Further, all wives experiment all the time in the kitchen, and it is the results of their many experiments, and experiences, which we enjoy while eating. Of course, like all experiments, sometimes it ends in adversity. Nevertheless, she keeps on at it without relenting, asks questions, and tries different ways to answer them. What is she, if not a scientist, a researcher?

Research, after all is what everyone else can also do; but think what nobody else has thought. From birth, every act of ours is a discovery of knowledge: some disastrous, some wonderful; and therefore, nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under our observation in life.

We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. We are all born, scientists.

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants,” said Isaac Newton. Thus, to see further, to know greater, to experience fuller, and to experiment without fear, it is necessary that we grasp the knowledge of giant minds: minds that have enlightened humanity from when man began to think.

In spite of it, we know very little; and yet, it is astonishing that we know so much, and still more astonishing that so little knowledge can give us so much power. Hence, innocence about science is the worst position a human being can be in; and there is no adequate defence, except stupidity, against ignoring science.

At it's best, science is nothing more than common sense; rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic; and that is why I suppose it is said that, “Science is nothing but developed perception, interpreted intent, common sense rounded out, and minutely articulated.”

However, it is sad to note that, in our country, common sense is not so common. Hence, we are full of theories without realising that theory guides, but experiments discover. We conceive not that the joy of discovery is certainly the liveliest that the mind of man can ever feel.

Science is not formal logic - it needs the free play of the mind in as great a degree as any other creative art. It is true that this is a gift which can hardly be taught, but its growth can be encouraged in those who already posses it. The scientist does not study science because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If science were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if science were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.

The study of science helps man find himself, within himself.

Thus, the aim of science is to seek the simplest explanation of complex facts; but not fall into the error of thinking facts are simple. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

Here is what the Harvard committee on general education says about science education: “Attempt should be, made to teach science as part of the total intellectual and historical process, of which, in fact, it has always been an important part. The students should gain thereby an insight into the principles of science.

The claim of General Education is that the history of science is part of science. So are its philosophy, its great literature, and its social and intellectual context. The contribution of science instruction to the life of the student, and to society, should include these elements, since science includes them.”

Thus, as in life, with science also, the strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not, verified by experience. That is why experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation. It gives thought to mind. What happens to thought without the backing of scientific analysis is that they become mere opinions; formed unfounded and illogically.

If science begets knowledge, opinion without science only gives birth to ignorance.

To improve the knowledge of our children, in addition to science education, we should also concentrate on informal science education such as the teaching and learning that occurs outside of the formal school curriculum in places such as museums, the media, and community-based programs.

Sri Lanka is performing its function adequately with regard to advancing scientific knowledge from school level right up to higher academic levels.

However, we cannot be complacent and must do much more to bring our science education comparable with international standards.

For views, reviews, encomiums, and brickbats: [email protected]


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