It’s often one of the hardest of the Access “Ten Commandments” to follow, perhaps because so much emphasis placed upon us in school and even before was in finding the answers.
While Isaac Newton, who formulated the laws of force and gravity and invented calculus in the late 1600s, may have known all the science there was to know at the time, so much information is now available that it’s actually impossible for scientists to know everything, even in their own fields.
The modern high school student probably knows more about science than Newton, but many people see science as “an impenetrable mountain of facts.”
Even scientists, says Stuart Firestein, professor and chair of biological sciences at Columbia University, can’t deal with this mountain, except by ignoring it. This creates the ridiculous and potentially dangerous situation of experts being able to understand only the narrowest range of information in their own fields.
Firestein, despite his self-described “fancy Ph.D.,” admits that not only would he not expect to get past two sentences of a physics paper, but papers in immunology or cell biology mystify him, as do some papers in his own field of neurobiology.
What if this could actually be a good thing? Firestein is at least one scientist who is writing that because the facts are so overwhelming, it is actually questions that will allow us to make use of the geometrically multiplying pile of facts science is discovering.
“Knowing a lot is not what makes a scientist,” writes Firestein. “What makes a scientist is ignorance.”
“Thoroughly conscious ignorance…is a prelude to every real advance in knowledge,” said James Clerk Maxwell, the greatest physicist between Newton and Einstein.
Ignorance leads to questions, just like Access Consciousness’s Gary Douglas has so often pointed out.
“Every new discovery raises 10 new questions,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once remarked while toasting Albert Einstein.
“This perspective on science—that it is about questions more than the answers—should come as something of a relief,” continues Firestein. “It makes science less threatening and far more friendly and, in fact, fun.”
“Questions are also more accessible and often more interesting than answers; answers tend to be the end of the process, whereas questions have you in the thick of things.”
“If scientist would talk about questions rather than boring your eyes out of their sockets with realms of jargon, and if the media reported not only on new discoveries but the questions they answered and the puzzles they created, and if educators stopped trafficking in facts that are already available on Wikipedia—then we might find a public once again engaged in this great adventure that has been going on for the past 15 generations.”
Shifting the emphasis from scientific facts and answers to questions could create the change that is now required on planet earth. It could turn creating change into an adventure.
Writing in the April, 2012, Scientific American, Firestein’s parting advice could serve us all: “So if you meet a scientist, don’t ask her what she knows, as her what she wants to know. It’s a much better conversation—for both of you.”