Why do I need to learn “Science”

I have heard some of the following statements from people many times whenever I had tried to impress upon them the importance of learning Science for everyone:

  • “I am a finance person and my work involves giving loan to people for their work. How does it make a difference for me if I understand whether Sun goes around the Earth or Earth goes around the Sun?”
  • “I am a heart doctor. It’s important for me to know how heart works. How does it matter whether I know the Law of Conservation of Energy or not?”
  • “I am a sports person. I need to keep my body fit and eat right kind of food and do exercise. How does it matter whether I know or not the fact that proteins are made up of amino acids?”
    Etc. etc.

I can give hundreds of such statements, if I had been recording all of them. I also appreciate the logical way in which these questions are asked. I will come back to this point again, but before that let me ask you a question.

Let say you have 50 apples – at what price should you sell them?

So, I am sure the first thing you will want to know after hearing this question is, the cost price of apples and other costs incurred. Right?
So, let me tell you that sum of all costs incurred in procuring the apples is Rs. 500.
Now at what price you will sell the apples?
I am sure the next question will be – how much profit am I allowed to make?
And if tell you 20% – your answer straightaway will be that apples should be sold for Rs. 600.

I am sure some of you are thinking – what’s the big deal?

Is it that simple?

Let me ask you some more questions.

When you bought the apple and were putting it up for display – you realized that one apple is spoilt – what do you do then?
Throw it away – right?
Why?
Because it can spoil other apples.
How do you know this fact that a bad apple will spoil other apples?
Either by experience or by learning from someone else or from your biology class which taught you about microorganisms.

Now let’s say that you realize by the end of day all the apples didn’t sell – so what do you do?
You will try selling them the next day – right?
So, what do you do?
Put the apples in the fridge or keep them cool in some way so that they don’t spoil. Right?
How do you know this fact that when apples are not kept cold they spoil?
Again, the same answer – either by experience or from someone else or from your chemistry classes that tell you about reduced chemical activity at lower temperatures.

Now let me ask you one more thing – when you are selling apples you keep them in a basket – maybe as a layer of 2/3/4 one above another – why don’t you keep them in a layer of 10/20?
Or let me ask you the same question in another way – you have some water melons also to be sold – and if you have limited space will you keep apples below water melon or water melon below apples?
Obviously, you will keep water melons below apples? Right. Why?
Because you know weight of water melon is more and it will squash the apples – or in case of apples only, if there are too many apples stacked one above another, the lowest stack may get damaged because of the weight of the apples above. Right?
How do you know that?
Once again, the same answer – either by experience or from someone else or from your physics classes that taught you all the concepts about gravity, pressure and strength of a material.

By this example I want to highlight two facts:

  • If you see carefully selling apples is not only about maximizing profit by knowing cost price and other incidental costs – it also involves some more knowledge, in the absence of which you will not be able to make money. Thus, a simple task like selling apples involves application of concepts from various subjects like economics, physics, biology, and chemistry.
  • Yes, you may be applying these concepts from various sciences without even knowing them or without being even aware – maybe you just heard or learnt from someone and thus don’t need to find for yourself – but that there is that first person who had to discover all this by himself. In any case it’s not important whether you find it yourself or someone else finds out and tells you – what’s more important is that this piece of knowledge must be available with mankind for apples to be sold profitably.

I am sure you must be thinking now that all these concepts like microorganisms, gravity, pressure etc. were only discovered in the last 300-400 years, whereas apples have been sold for thousands of years. So why should one know these concepts?
Excellent question. This is the point I want to highlight – the difference or let me say the connect between logical thinking and Science.

Let’s come back to one of our previous examples – let’s take the case of putting apples and watermelons in one basket whereby the apples are kept below and watermelons are kept above. The seller will realize after some time that apples are damaged – what will he do? Well it depends on him – some will just throw the apples and continue with their lives – but there will be some who will go on a thinking trip after seeing this and will naturally ask themselves – what if I keep the apples above and watermelon below? The moment they try this alternate approach, the problem is solved – Right?
This is logical thinking – when you are faced with a problem, you attempt various approaches to solve the problem, hoping that one of the approaches you are trying solves your problem.

Most of the people who applied their mind to solve the problem will stop at the stage when the problem is solved – but there will a some who will continue on their thinking train by asking the next question – why watermelons damage the apple when they are kept on top but apples don’t damage watermelon when kept on top? And within this someone – there will be those who will be adamant souls – they will not stop till they find an answer. This answer that they got is called a theory in Science and it’s widely accepted provided it explains the observation properly and can be tested by others in various other circumstances.

 

“It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
– Albert Einstein

 

So, what is Science. Science is not about physics/chemistry/biology/etc. – it is the journey of an observation from its childhood, where its experimented with by a curious mind – to its death, where it’s laid to rest by an enlightened mind. As much as you are free to start this journey, you are also free to drop out at any stage of the journey. Whenever we undertake this journey, we are a scientist walking on the path of enlightenment.

When a finance person gives debt – he needs to logically figure out the right person who can be given a debt with a reasonable chance of not losing money. This is the reasons we keep on creating better and better models to prevent defaults. When a heart doctor is treating his patient – he needs to logically see the connect between various reasons of heart illness – and to explain some of them law of conservation of energy may be required. In short, every professional who works – if they intend to work like a human being and not a robot they need to have a thinking mind that can evaluate a situation they are faced with and create a workable alternative – if they find a solution they are half scientist – if they find a fundamental rationale for the situation such that their solution works across various scenarios – they have become a full scientist.

This is why Science is essential. Doing Science is an approach to a meaningful life. When you look at a problem don’t look at them as problems of economics or problems of physics or biology and so on – problems don’t belong to any subject. Just look at them as problems of life and think logically and then apply whatever tools are required. The problems don’t belong to any subject – it’s the tools that belong to different subjects.

The problem with our schooling system is that they say they teach Science – but what they teach is actually subjects – and the problem with teaching subjects is that life knows nothing about man made division of knowledge into subjects – so the problems life throws at us invariably belongs to multiple subjects. To get our kids ready for the real life that they will face when they grow up, schools must understand and appreciate the soul of Science – it does not lie in subjects – it lies in logical, unbiased, number based thinking – that’s it – nothing more, nothing less.

Science is a way of life. To be a scientist is to have a unbiased thinking mind.

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