Why I practice science
There are always the standard answers that sound like the start of a college essay. “Since I was born, I was catching crayfish in the creek and climbing trees.” Hell, if you didn’t do that stuff, were you ever really a child?
But that’s how it all begins. Humans are blessed with the gift of curiosity, a need to make sense of their world, and the ability to self-reflect on their own place within it. As Rachel Carson put it in her Sense of Wonder,
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
And that’s what science is: it is wonderful. As I learn more about the intricacies of life, from the way different organisms interact with one another to the molecular devices within a cell, I am constantly amazed by its mere existence.
We think of “evil scientists.” They are often the ones who tinker just for the sake of it; who push hard and break boundaries to solve the puzzle for its own sake, not for what it means to them, or to the human race, or to the planet or universe. Just to know the answer. And what happens when they get that answer?
That there is not my purpose. My goal is twofold. It is firstly to do work that is beneficial to the world in some way, that tries to elucidate the roots of large problems and find real solutions. Our world is in trouble, that is something undeniable, and I care about it and want to help fix it. Go ahead, call me an idealist. I know I am one so it won’t get to me.
The second goal is more selfish: to continue my perpetual amazement at the world around me. I understand why every culture developed religion and believed in higher powers: how else could something this beautiful have been created? Biological systems often seem to fit lock-in-key, with each partner, whether they be interacting proteins or the animals and plants in an ecosystem, existing as if made for the other. This is a consistent fact about biology. And the thrill, near disbelief, and sense of wonder I feel each time I discover something new fuels me.
I guess that makes me a “good scientist,” or at least a not-evil one. I study for the daily affirmation that chance works.