Another nice Neil deGrasse Tyson video is going around, but he’s a bit off base on this one:
I can’t think of any more human activity than conducting science experiments. Think about it — what do kids do? Young kids. Kids who can barely walk. They’re turning over rocks, they’re plucking petals off a rose. They’re exploring their environment through experimentation. That’s what we do as human beings, and we do that more thoroughly and better than any other species on Earth, that we have yet encountered.
We explore our environment more than we are compelled to utter poetry when we’re toddlers — we start doing that later. Before that happens, every child is a scientist. And so when I think of science, I think of a truly human activity, something fundamental to our DNA, something that drives curiosity.
He’s right about kids: they do play and experiment with the world in order to learn. It’s natural. But that’s different from real science, and it sells us, and those who have propelled us this far, short.
Real science is about creating repeatable experiments in order to test how different variables affect a result. Of course that sounds obvious now, but that took many cultures thousands of years to figure out. Except for when it came to developing military weaponry, there were only a handful of cultures over the last 8,000 years that employed anything close to the scientific method. And much of those gains were forced upon the rest of us by a few brilliant and dedicated men. For most of modern history, people found something that worked and basically stopped. That’s how most children work. They’re curious, but not disciplined. And that’s one of the reasons the human race suffered through prolonged periods of cultural stagnation. Because we’re not all scientists. Because real science is hard.
But its also clearly worth it. It allows us to support the needs and wants of billions of people. It allows us to launch men and robots into space. It makes nearly anything possible.
So appreciate real science. Appreciate Da Vinci and Newton and Galileo and Tesla and Edison, who made the world better not just for showing us new theories and inventions, but for showing us how to think and experiment. You don’t have to be these guys to practice real science yourself. We’re not all scientists, but there’s nothing but laziness stopping us. You can practice science in every aspect of your life. You can instill the scientific mindset in your kids. You’ll be much better off, and the world will be a better place.