MAJeff here, and I’ll be one of your guestbloggers for the next several days. I’d first like to thank PZ for asking me to do this. I was more than a little surprised to get an email the other day inviting me, and I hope I can keep up the quality people have come to expect from the place.
I’m not sure of everything I’ll be posting about yet. But, I’ll probably be doing some of what I do when I teach, and that is asking questions. Y’all are a chatty bunch, so I probably won’t need to do much asking. Sometimes, though, I just like to get to know folks better, to move beyond argument and talk. As a sociologist, I study people. I don’t always understand them, but I do find them fascinating. Opportunities to get to know what drives folks are never to be turned down.
So, here goes: What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?
My brief answer–it’s not Boobies; not that there’s anything wrong with that, w00t–is below the fold….
This is a picture taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It’s a photograph of the Phoenix Mars Lander, with parachute deployed, descending onto the surface of the planet. The first time I saw this image I burst into tears. Yeah, I cried over these mere dots of white on a rippling black field. It was so overwhelming just imagining that we were taking a picture of our own work from another planet, and sending those images back to ourselves.
We’re an incredible species. We’re also amazingly insignificant. Indeed, some of the things that make us so incredible are what allow us to realize how insignificant we are. I love the fact that we have figured out how life developed on this speck, and that we’ve figured out I’m my cat’s cousin–about 85 million years or so removed. I love that we were able to send men to the moon, and bring them back alive. I love that many people I care about are able to live longer, healthier lives than they would have a mere decade-and-a-half ago. I love the thrill of discovery.
So, for me, the answer is partially emotional. For all of the talk of rationality here, we are emotional beings. I, for one, revel in that. Science locates me in the world, and in the universe that contains this world and it allows me to understand that location. Scientific knowledge allows us to see how–as Eddie Izzard would say, in “the original meaning of the word”–awesome existence, and the spaces in which it takes place, really is, and I love experiencing the sense of awe.