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Saturday, May 18 2024 @ 12:48 MDT

Science - why we do it


Why do we do science? By this question I don't mean why does humanity do science, but why do individuals such as myself who call ourselves scientists do science? Generally we all mumble something about curiosity and wanting to know about the natural world, but as always Carl Sagan puts it much more eloquently that most of us. The following is from chapter 19 of Sagan's Demon Haunted World and gives the essence of why most scientists do what we do:

Whenever I think about any of these discoveries, I feel a tingle of exhilaration. My heart races. I can’t help it. Science is an astonishment and a delight. Every time a spacecraft flies by a new world, I find myself amazed. Planetary scientists ask themselves: “oh, is that the way it is? Why didn’t we think of that?” But nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine. Given our manifest human limitations, what is surprising is that when have ben able to penetrate so far into the secrets of nature.
Nearly every scientist has experienced, in a moment of discovery or sudden understanding, a reverential astonishment. Science-pure science, science not for any practical application but for its own sake-is a deeply emotional matter for those who practice it, as well as for those nonscientists who every now and then dip in to see what’s been discovered lately.
And, as in a detective story, it’a a joy to frame key questions, to work through alternative explanations, and maybe even to advance the process of scientific discovery.

As I said, Sagan is much better at saying it than most of us, but the reason most of us are in our fields is the wonder of it all. The wanting to know not just the what but the why and the sheer delight in finding they why. The universe is a giant puzzle just waiting for us to figure it out and those of us in the sciences love figuring out puzzles. The universe and the natural world are amazing places if you start digging, full of enough wonder to keep anyone fulfilled.

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