In 2013 I began a course of study which, I hope, will eventually lead to my second degree, a B.S. (Honors) in Astronomy from the University of Central Lancashire. As I have re-entered the academic world, I have discovered that there is a lot I either do not know or has changed since last I seriously studied this wide-ranging scientific field. I find myself not only studying my core astronomy courses, but dabbling in the theories of relativity (special and general), string theory, quantum mechanics, and particle physics. I am by no means any sort of expert in any of these fields and, frankly. much of what I have learned so far has left me scratching my head and going “That doesn’t make any sense. It’s so counter-intuitive.” And that, people, brings me to the point of this entire essay.
Being back in the academic world means doing a lot of research: for papers, general studies, and extra work on my own part to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. That means I subscribe to and read a lot of scientific sources: web sites, journals, newsletters, and so on. I watch programs and videos devoted to science. I listen to radio programs and podcasts on topics covering my fields of research. Be certain that I do not claim to understand everything I see and hear and read! There are a lot of things I encounter that ar3e “over my head”. But I file that information away for a later time, when my understanding and comprehension have improved to that level. Along the way, though, I have seen something rather disturbing. Naturally, I am not the only one reading these papers and such. Others are, as well. And the comments I read and hear from many of these people bother me.
Today I was watching a video presentation from the Goddard Space Center on the MAVEN mission to Mars. I made the mistake of glancing through the comments people were posting regarding the video and its information. (I know, I really have to stop reading the comments posted on the Internet about anything, anywhere!) A recurring theme was one of smug self-satisfaction from several people about the “blatant contradictions” they observed in this video. Several of these “armchair scientists” even went on to say that this is why you can’t believe Science today, because it is so full of “contradictions” everywhere that it is obviously false. To these people I say this: These so-called “contradictions” you point to so smugly are not really contradictions. What we have here is a failure on your part, a failure to acquire the most basic skills for understanding and discussing scientific matters in the first place. In order to make much of science accessible to you, the subject (no matter what it is) has to be reduced to the simplest and most basic form. When you do that, when you strip away all of the data and how it was achieved and the higher meaning of it all, you create what appear to be “contradictions” to the ignorant.
I don’t swallow hook-line-and-sinker everything I read and hear, but I do stop to realize that I, even with my advanced education and breadth and depth of experience in 50 years of living, that I do not hold a candle to the likes of Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Brian Green. These are all very learned men, experts in their fields, with and education and understanding of their fields that I cannot hope to emulate at this stage in my life. That does not mean that they are 100% correct, 100% of the time. After all, as Carl Sagan once said, being a genius is no guarantee against being dead wrong. I do, however, realize that these people all know quite a bit more than I do and that if something seems weird, maybe I should do some more reading and research, so that I can comprehend things better. I guess, though, that it is easier for some people (too many people, it seems) to just sit back and smugly sound off on misperceived “contradictions”, rather than actually bother to learn anything about the subject matter at hand.
There was once a day and time when people like Einstein were front page news stories in the popular press. The average citizen could not wait to hear and read what great thinkers like Einstein were doing. Sadly, they have been replaced by the Kayne West/Kardashian crowd. That seems to be the height of our intellectual yearnings today. This nation once put a man on the moon and returned him safely to the Earth. I grew up in that era and I remember it well. All the potential promised us in that era, wasted completely. Our society as it is today could never have achieved what our parents and their parents did and they had a fraction of the resources available to them that we have today.
That’s my rambling rant for today, 21 September 2014.