I consider myself a “late-bloomer” when it comes to being a science-enthusiast. I didn’t grow up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy, I attended a high school where creationism was taught as an alternative to evolution, and I originally went to college to become an English teacher. Now, science is a huge part of my life and identity. I confidently believe that studying science and simply being exposed to scientific ideas has helped me to become a better person. So here’s the top 6 lessons that I’ve learned through science, I hope you find value in them as well.
- Observation is the key to discovery. Every great idea began as an observation. Most of us are familiar with the story of Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree and seeing the apple fall, leading to the theory of gravity. Although this story is only a legend, it illustrates the point that the only way to discover something is to first make an observation. In order to do this, you must be aware of your surroundings; taking the time to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the world around you. You must be present.
- Knowledge knows no borders. Science is an international community. Every conference and lab I’ve attended or worked in has been a melting pot of cultures. People from every walk of life are drawn to science, as they are drawn to other interests as well, but science is unique in that we need people from all over the world to collaborate in order to make profound discoveries, and especially to have scientific innovations change the world for the better. There’s even an International Council for Science, which works to “strengthen international science for the benefit of society”. Of course no industry is without bias or prejudice, but in order for scientific discoveries to continue to be made, the scientific community must work together, regardless of location or politics-and that is a wondrous thing on its own.
- We are a fundamentally connected to the universe. You may have heard the saying we are made of star stuff. While that may seem like a romantic notion, we are indeed connected to the universe through the elements that compose our bodies. Elements such as iron are believed to have originated from stars, in a process called nuclear fusion. When stars exhaust their supply of hydrogen (the building block for all other elements) they explode in what’s called a supernova. During a supernova, the material of the star, including elements like iron are scattered across the universe, providing the building blocks for all matter—including us. In fact, it’s believed that all of the atoms in the universe are connected by a single origin. As Carl Sagan said so eloquently during an episode of the original Cosmos, “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff”.
- I have not failed 1000 times, I have figured out 1000 ways how to not make a light bulb. Though this is a misquote, with the actual quote originating from a conversation with Thomas Edison in which he said “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work”, this is still a powerful idea. Science embraces failure; without it nothing would have been discovered, no theories would have proven, and no laws would have been established. One must fail in order to succeed, and one usually must fail several times. Instead of being disheartened and allowing this to stop you, you observe your own mistakes, learn from them, and try again. Allow your failures to encourage you to grow rather than to give up—you will not regret it in the end.
- Life is about creating and maintaining a balance. From physical forces like gravity keeping us in place, to chemical reactions occurring in our brains to allow us to think and type blog posts: life is about balance. There’s a word commonly used in biology—homeostasis—it describes a state of balance within a system; for example when we become too hot from external sources, our body works to maintain a core temperature by regulating internal conditions. In our own lives we can strive to maintain homeostasis. When external forces work to disturb our bodies or minds, we can in turn use internal forces to prevent that disturbance from effecting us (use the force). You can also think of “maintaining homeostasis” through keeping matters in your life balanced: work, family, friends, personal goals, etc. Finding and keeping a balance allows you to de-stress and enjoy more in life.
- We are connected to all forms of life. When you look into a dog’s eyes your brain releases oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, and maybe not-so-surprisingly, your dog’s brain releases the same hormone. When a baboon mother loses an infant, she shows psychological and physiological signs of the same grief human mothers feel at the loss of a child. These aren’t just coincidences of nature; instead they are signs of a deeper connection that we share with all other organisms—we are genetically linked. Our closest relatives are the chimpanzee and bonobo, sharing up to 98.8% of our genes. (For an explanation of how this is determined follow this link). But it may be surprising to some that we’re also closely related to animals such as mice, sharing nearly 90% of our genes with them—this is why mice are commonly used in biomedical research.To me, this is the most important lesson. Being connected to other organisms not just because we share this world and its resources, but because we are genetically related is profound. Other organisms besides us feel emotions, they feel pain and fear, love and compassion. Just because they speak a different language doesn’t mean that they do not feel or have thoughts, it only means that we must take the time to consider, respect, and appreciate other forms of life so that we can better understand them. No matter what religion or philosophy you believe in, having love and respect for other beings is one of the most important things you could ever do.
So there you have it, my top 6 lessons from science. There’s numerous more that I could go on to talk about, but they all relate to one of these 6 main ideas. So here’s the last piece of advice I’ll leave with you today: keep your curiosity.