Monday, November 14, 2011

A Waste of Scientific Curiosity

I took the science stream in school for a simple reason: I did not want to miss out on the knowledge of how the world works. I had questions that I needed answering. Physics would allow me to understand how the world worked, how planets revolved and yay verily how indeed the Universe itself is expanding rapidly; with the galaxies accelerating away from us as we speak. The night sky in the distant future would be devoid of stars and if humans lived on, we would never be able to confirm the Hubble effect, because light would have to travel such infinite distances to reach us, that it never would. I wanted to learn why water was a great solvent; how it could 'consume' anything, but not effectively destroy it. I wanted to unravel the mysteries of the elements, understand the chemical reactions and see how chemistry ruled over our lives. And finally I knew I wanted a career in biology, because the cell; the single most elemental component of a system was in its own right, the most complicated thing known to human kind. Even today we continue to find new cell pathways that continue to baffle and surprise scientists. Certain types of cells protect and some cause autoimmune disorders. There are so many checks and balances to ensure smooth cell reproduction. And most fascinating of all, there are still living fossils to this day that have remained unchanged over millions of years and there are bacteria that can be frozen in time,only to be revived later.

I have friends who regretted taking up the science stream in the 10th grade.
I have University acquaintances (I dare not say friends, as we've never shared anything of a bond from 2005-09) who probably curse the fact they took an intensive course in biotechnology when they only wanted to duck into an business course or turn themselves over to the coding giant that is TCS and CTS. I've known valedictorians from the biological field give up four years of hard work and enter the hip world of B-schools, where every picture henceforth is in black, imitation Armani suits with huge fake smiles plastered across their faces.

The last four years were to them, simply a mistake; a temporary lapse of judgement. And let me tell you one thing, they may have financial security, but they have sold out their scientific curiosity.
And that's a darn shame.

Edit: @Seeker of Truth: I would like to point out at this juncture that scientific curiosity is somewhat innate and to some extent environmentally induced. Everyone is curious as to how something works, but it depends on the individual as to to what measures he uses to answer a question. Some of us may be just satisfied with just asking someone for the answer and never verifying; some may look up Wikipedia; others read journals, but many others just shrug their shoulders and go "Who knows?". See, from a pragmatist's point of view, they see these as facts that they should accept and not read into any detail "Planets go around the sun, salt dissolves in water and we evolved from apes". As far as your query goes, our parents, our teachers and professors should constantly ask us to challenge our existing notion of the world around us. Never take anything for granted. And needless to say we live in an age where the sheer amount of knowledge available in print media and online affords no excuse for people to say they can't find the answers. Initiative is the key. We should encourage our youth in the universities to start science blogs and write something about which they're passionate about (I'm sorry that this cliched word crops up). More scientific magazines in our school's libraries including Popular Mechanics. And of course, good ol' shows with explosions, babes and science- Mythbusters!

@Prateek: Look, mate,you can be practical, but why did they take the course and then decide to do an MBA or code? Did they not read the market before they joined? Did they not know that big companies like Biocon or others may/may not show up and may not employ all 250 people in the Department? At the end of the day, I would like to be in the field I'm interested in. I don't diss these folks who took the fork in the road, but some of them paid a price: they ditched a subject they honestly loved all for the sake of temporary monetary security.


Seeker of Truth said...

This is a shared story of a generation of Indians. What measures do you suggest to keep scientific curiosity kindled, both on campus and outside?

The early 1990s would feature Doordarshan shows like Turning Point and Kyon Aur Kaise which did a great deal for science popularization, before the age of reality TV. One area where bloggers could contribute is to create parallel virtual courseware to (i) get beginning readers and adult hobbyists interested and (ii) keep interested undergrads in their field. There are science blogrolls aplenty to further this.

Eventually however there is no substitute to making science teaching profitable professionally. Till then, how best do you think we can 'sell science' using the media at our disposal?

prateek mathur said...

Curiosity doesn't feed you man! Simple thing.
If Biology had money, people would stick to it. The dissatisfied coders in TCS make twice as much as a post-doc in Biology would ever make.
They have not lost their scientific curiosity but they have become practical and have stopped chasing a wild dream in an imperfect world.

I think they took a smart decision.