Monday, August 16, 2010

A Tale of Three Loves, Part One

Science was one of my first loves in life. When I wasn't reading books about outer space, the prehistoric past, the arcane secrets of mathematics and physics, or the animals and plants of Florida and the world, I was peering through a telescope at the cold evening stars, or through a microscope at the weird world of incredibly small things, or perhaps experimenting with a chemistry set, examining the organs of the Visible Man, trying to predict the weather by observing cloud and wind patterns, building and launching model rockets, or collecting pet walkingsticks, snails, and Venus flytraps. Even my tastes in fiction, movies, and TV shows reflected my deep and fond attraction toward science, for my favorite genre in each was--what else?--science fiction.

With such solid and impressive science-nerd credentials, no one could accuse me of being unfriendly toward or ignorant about science. When I started college, I was planning to major in Biology, with the idea of perhaps becoming a zoologist and studying animals in the wild. But, after the first day of Philosophy 101, I decided I wanted to be a Philosophy major, and the rest is history. I had already been tentatively exposed to philosophy prior to this, through discussions with my father, so I was already predisposed to an interest in the subject, but upon this more formal introduction, my curious like blossomed into ardent love.

Meanwhile, my passion for my old flame Science, I am sad to say, flagged during my undergrad years. It had already decreased somewhat in intensity during my teens, but around the time I graduated from high school, I experienced a renaissance of my artistic and creative side (which had also been strongly apparent in my childhood in the form of drawing and writing), and I became focused on making music, writing poetry and fiction, and cultivating my newfound fervor for the arts in general. Science during this time, unfortunately, lay all but forgotten in the dust. My interest in science did not begin to recover until around the time I graduated with my philosophy degree, and has continued to grow throughout my adult life until today it has reclaimed its rightful place beside philosophy and literature as one of my primary intellectual passions.

All of this has given me a heightened awareness of the relationships between science, philosophy, and literature, and the ways in which they are alike and different, complementary and sometimes seemingly in conflict.

My current love for science, while in one sense just as pure as in my youth, is in another sense more complicated. For one thing, I see now that there is a distinction to be made between science itself and that which science studies, which is essentially the same thing we call "nature" (in the broadest sense of that term, including the whole universe and all of physical reality). Science is of course one method--in our modern civilization it is the predominant, and seemingly exclusive, method--of studying the natural world. But what I understand now is that it is not necessarily the only way to know and understand the natural world. While I continue to admire and esteem science as an essential human mode of understanding, I am adamantly opposed to scientism--the opinion that science is the only way, or even just a vastly superior way, of attaining knowledge about everything. To truly love and respect this lady Science does not mean putting her up on a pedestal and worshipping her as an idol.

(to be continued)

No comments:

Post a Comment