Asking “why?” or “how does it work?”

I was inspired to write this post by a recent Huffpost article by Carlos Moreno  on “Hollywood’s War on Science“. In the article, the author discusses that Hollywood mostly portrays scientists in a negative light, as mad, obsessed with power. And if the scientist is not outright EVIL, they are mostly quirky, anti-social or arrogant. Furthermore, science in general gets portrayed as something to be feared portraying what can go wrong in scientific experiments. The base of these movies and TV shows is often the fear of the unknown and sadly stands at odds with the demands of today’s world of technological and scientific literacy.

This is just something I just don’t undestand. Something must have gone awry at some point that many adults today shut down when it comes to understanding the world around us. My daughter is naturally curious how the stuff she uses everyday works and she loves playing “the why game” – answering each answer with “why?” (my second hit on google is “how to kill the why game“; so sad). But I’ve often heard the “oh, that’s a black box for me” with something technical around adults. Most of the stuff is not rocket science, the basic principles are easily accessible, but they don’t bother.

I’ve got plenty of cool counterexamples. One time, while still an undergrad, a loud party of non-scientists turned into a conversation in a circle when I began explaining the basic principles of flight, the original television, photocopier and the computer. The people were asking questions, generally fascinated to think behind the scenes of the things we use everyday. But sadly, I know that many of those people were happy that night, but never thought about that stuff again. The same probably goes for all those conversations I strike up on busses, airplanes, doctor’s offices, etc. People are fascinated with astronomy, when I talk to them about the news of the week (did you hear a Supernova exploded in a nearby galaxy and why that is exciting?). But do they take that excitement beyond their conversation with me, the strange scientist?

I don’t know, but I keep on hoping, keep on talking, keep on trying to excite without prejudice that it is wasted time. But most importantly, keep exciting kids – our world is nice as a magical place, but it is much more empowering to really understand it! I don’t think it’s futile, keep leading by example and honestly portray what it is that scientist do and why we generally are so interested and curious of the phenomena happening around us (first understanding them and then explaining them).

And at nights I will keep on working on my secret machine to take over the world! Har har har…

One comment on “Asking “why?” or “how does it work?”

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