Reflections on science
Reflections on science for Research Methods class:
Why do I love science?
As a child, my image of a scientist was of a white-lab-coated man, dispassionate and objective and uninterested in social justice or people really at all. I had really stellar math and science teachers in high school – my high school science teacher lent me his favorite science fiction novels and was a Star Trek fan too, like me. A nerd club, I know. He was an amazing life-long learner, too, returning to grad school every summer to further his graduate degrees. In my small-town small high school, most of the other students were planning to work at the mill after graduation – he was a role model for me to go on to university.
Still, even in the convent schools I went to, it was always male teachers who taught science and math. There seemed no place for women in science, or encouragement for my love of math. (My grade 9 math teacher insisted that all the girls in the class become as good at math as the boys – and he was such a good teacher he did get us there. But as he often told us, his reasons were to make sure that we would be good intelligent wives for our husbands. Now, I suspect that marital problems were behind that).
Certainly there was no family support for science, even though my father was an engineer turned math teacher. I’m not sure how, but somehow I got to go to CEGEP to study computer programming – not my first choice, or my second, which I very quickly realized when I also took courses in social sciences, and philosophy, and english. That was what I loved, the ideas and theories in those social sciences that studied people, and the literature about people, and speculative fiction about people, and the ideas in philosophy about people.
I may have been good at it, but computer programming hadn’t been my dream. My childhood ambition came when I was 10, from reading a biography of Albert Schweitzer, doctor, philosopher and theologian. Schweitzer received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life”, which he lived himself in founding a hospital in Gabon in Africa.
Even at 10 I was riveted by the example of a man of science, who answered the call to his vocation to devote his life to relieving suffering, and also had such scholarship in his studies of mysticism, and a devotion to music. Such an example of this mix of modes of being – a spiritual scientist – imprinted on me my own vocation. I wanted to be a doctor too.
It took me a while, and included a lot of different educational pathways, from computer programming to psychology to creative writing to film studies to accounting and back to psychology. Eventually I figured out how to balance my love of science and math, and my interest in what makes people tick – I’m a psychologist, and a science/speculative fiction writer, and still get to play with math in teaching stats and research methods.
I recently saw the movie “Hidden Figures” about 3 women, math geniuses, who were essential contributors to the NASA push to spaceflight – African Americans, and women, in a time of segregation and discrimination. I was very struck by the story, that social forces could have silenced such incredible intelligences – and reminded that these forces continue today in most of the world. Women, minorities, first nations, those without money to pay for education, are denied the opportunity to be who they are, to offer the world their talents and abilities, to fulfill their potential. As a science fiction author, I often think about how advanced our world might be, a Star Trek society indeed, technologically, economically, and socially, if the social changes that happened in the 20th century that allowed some of us in the first world the opportunities to strive and thrive, to contribute to the good of the whole, had happened even a hundred or two hundred years earlier.
If I had been born two hundred or even a hundred years ago, who would I have been allowed to be? Who would I be allowed to be today, if I had been born in the many parts of the world where girls are not permitted education, or where neither boys and girls can afford to go to school, or aren’t safe enough to? How many world-changing breakthroughs could have been made by now if all that human intellectual and creative potential were able to flourish?
This year, I’m also very struck by the desperate need for us to listen to the scientists, to bring clear thinking and understanding about facts and truth, about science and math, to the research on climate change. The numbers are the numbers! We need scientific literacy and critical thinking, we need psychological literacy, we need to listen to the evidence. We humans, all of us, are so susceptible to illusionary correlations and superstitions – and confirmation bias – we don’t change our fundamental core beliefs easily, if at all. We need to WAKE UP! I think our best hope for survival as a species is open and clear-eyed critical thinking, allied with open-hearted compassion for the suffering of others.
Think! and Care!
I’m currently reading a book by James Hoggan, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, that reminds me that we need to listen to each other, and be able to discern truth from lies, fact from spin, and understand why we so often struggle to do that. Research Methods and Statistics courses can help us understand the biases in our thinking, and Cognitive Psychology, and of course, Philosophy courses. A course I teach on Conservation Psychology explores what it is about us humans that can make some doubt the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and what we can do about that.