Part of my goal for this summer is to attempt some posts actually focused on science. I have plenty of experience thinking and writing about the humanities from classes in high school and a few in college, but writing casually about strictly science doesn’t seem to happen often. And so, I’m not certain what I wanted to write about. Do I stay within the theme of the blog and, perhaps, feature scientists by highlighting their work with a little technicality and their interplay with culture? Do I share scientific concepts that have fundamentally altered my outlook on life? Do I summarize recent publications that come in to my RSS feed? Too many options!
In the past 2 years, I’ve read only a few nonfiction science books. Phantoms in the Brain (I’ve actually lost this one…), The Grand Design, excerpts from The Origin of Species, excerpts from Cosmos. Nothing too grand or significant, and I’m a lover of science fiction, a genre with classics, themes, and stories that are more than just relevant to the idea of this blog. How does science affect humanity, and how will humanity affect science? How can we use science to explain subjective ideals, and how are the arts and humanities used to explain or push the sciences? Ethics is one area where this is particularly potent, and unfortunately seems to be characterized by more ignorance on scientific understanding and plenty of bamboozling rhetoric in theology and ethics.
Lots of people say that science arms us with the tools to explain the what, where, when, and how, but it can’t explain the why. I think this claim that science can’t answer the Why? question is most prevalent in my discussion with the religious, and it’s so riddled with absurdity that I can’t help but point out that it’s Why? that pushes science! In fact, maybe it’s Why? that we have such elegant scientific theories and such grand artistic compositions. Why? may be the root of the domain of humanity.
So while I ponder the domain of my writing, I’ll leave with a quote from the end of Silberburg’s Chemistry, Fifth Edition.
With this chapter, our earlier picture of the nucleus as a static point of positive mass at the atom’s core has changed radically. Now we picture a dynamic body, capable of a host of changes that involve incredible quantities of energy. Our attempts to apply the behavior of this minute system to benefit society has created some of the most fascinating and challenging fields in science today.
We began our investigation of chemistry 24 chapters ago, by seeing how the chemical elements and the products we make from them influence nearly every aspect of our material existence. Now we have come full circle to learn that these elements, whose patterns of behavior we have become familiar with, yet still marvel at, are continually being born in countless infernos twinkling in the night sky.
For you, the end of this course is a beginning–a chance to apply your new abilities to visualize molecular events and solve problems in whatever field you choose. For the science of chemistry, future challenges are great: What greener energy sources can satisfy our needs while minimizing climate change? What new products can feed, clothe, and house the world’s people and maintain precious resources? How can we apply our new genetic insight to defend against cancer, AIDS, and other dread diseases? What new materials and technologies can make life more productive and meaningful? The questions are many, but the science of chemistry will always be one of our most powerful means of answering them.