This blog is the result of a stray thought that keeps recurring and has been troubling me for some time. The thought is this: what can I offer people? What value do I add to the society that I live in?
The reason this question troubled me so much is that originally I had not thought to frame my actions in terms of how they were relevant to society. To me, `society’ was always the enemy, or at best a stuffy and overbearing parental figure that had strange outdated ideas, was incapable of positive change and who wouldn’t let me do what I wanted. I have since come to realize that, despite its imperfections, the social community in which we live is one of the most powerful forces wielded by human beings. Society is not some other, but it is an integral part of my own life. I am society.
The realization that I am inseparable from the people around me (no matter how insufferable people can be at times) came alongside the realization that I have a distorted view of myself; that in fact, I am far less of the ideal personality that I once imagined myself to be. I have great potential, but also great obstacles to overcome before I can say that I am really defining myself as an individual. The struggle to be an individual has two parts: the first is a struggle against oneself, against the basic tendencies of laziness, greed and fear that are the enemies of every human being. The second aspect of being an individual is engaging with the rest of the world. A personality does not exist within a single person – it exists in the relationships between that person and their environment and particularly in their relationships with other people.
I have therefore come to realize that the things I love doing most, which are all centered around gaining a greater understanding of nature, are enjoyable to me only to the extent that I can share my discoveries with the world. This may be one reason why academics tend to be so generous in sharing their ideas without trying to protect them or keep them secret: we enjoy imparting our own experience of enlightenment and having that power to change other peoples’ world view. Indeed, this is one of the main joys of teaching.
These are my skills: I am a good communicator and I know many interesting things about the world that other people do not know. Probably the most powerful thing that I know is the scientific method and the application of rational thinking to problems in life. I fear that even many people who have made it through the school system have failed to grasp just what the scientific method is: it is not a religion or a faith or a choice one makes. It is the very core of how we interact with the world around us, stripped bare for us to see. I have heard people deny the relevance of the scientific method and in the same breath use a logical or deductive argument to make some claim about the price of oranges or the changes in the weather. They do not seem to realize that the very act of describing the world in terms of logical and causal processes is the act of employing the scientific method. In this sense, we are all scientists whether we like it or not – it is just that some people are much better scientists than others.
I want to show people their inner scientist. I want to show them that science does not preclude art, philosophy or romance, but that it is inextricably linked to them. Science is as much a part of life as breathing or feeling melancholy, or tasting wine. If science seems unnatural, then you are doing it wrong. I want to show people how to feel science. The brain is one of our greatest organs, yet so few of us know how to unlock its secrets. A person can go an entire lifetime without ever knowing how to use their brain. They think that brains are for playing chess or solving logic problems, not for figuring out what to do when the enemies invade, or their wife is caught cheating. But it is those times of greatest emotional intensity that our brains become our most valuable asset: they allow us to not be enslaved by our emotions but to respect, understand and harness them for good. When an animal is angry, it bites something. When a human is angry, he also has the option of turning that anger into energy, which can be used to achieve great aims. The same goes for sadness, joy or any other emotion. Our senses and our feelings are the basic way that we experience the world, and it is the duty of the higher functions of our brains to make sense of these experiences and steer them towards something constructive. Science is, both literally and figuratively, the key to navigating the stormy seas of the world to find new shores.
So, my purpose in writing this blog is to reach out to the part of humanity that is curious about the natural world and particularly about the far reaches of modern physics. Just what is it that those scientists do, up in their ivory towers with their blackboards full of equations? What are those heated discussions about, in the hallways of universities, under white cloaks of chalk dust? Are they building more bombs to wipe us out, or rockets to fly us into space, or genetic mutants to take over the world? Or are they just people, like anybody else, trying to understand the world around them and the only thing that sets them apart is the fact that they’ve hit on the best way to do it – the scientific method? I want to make things like quantum information and quantum gravity sound less like the plots of mad villains and more like the outlines of an exciting journey to a new frontier. We are still sailing to new lands, but these lands are no longer on Earth but in the mind. I want to give you a glimpse of the adventures and unexplored lands that lie ahead, and invite you to come aboard.