We were asked a simple question in class: ‘what causes tides?’
‘Class’ here means a mixture of fourth years of an integrated Masters in various sciences, and also some integrated PhD students. All of us were already the equivalent of bachelors.
We were blank. A little worse than blank, actually. Some tried to give answers containing words and stuff heard elsewhere, phrases that go with the situation. All of them knew that they did not have the answer. But answer we must, because it’s a race. Ignorance is idiocy, so we must spew words. This regrettably works often. Teachers frequently latch on to a keyword and continue a narrative themselves. This time our attempts were too poor even for that.
We had people in the room who have studied and discussed the intricacies of quantum mechanics, something I still cannot even begin to understand. And all we had to show were some half layman-ish ranting and whole ignorance to answer what causes tides.
I went into the library with a friend afterwards and tried to look it up online. Almost everywhere it was in terms oft-repeated and unilluminating, too scientific if pressed. As if this is a world that cannot be explained in an uncloaked language of simple motion, flow and weight. The question of tides is not a simple problem. Nothing really is a simple problem, only that it can be made so. But hey, when it starts to sound like a ‘scientific’ question, you need to sound ‘scientific’ in answering. What’s ‘scientific’? Why do we lose perspective? It’s just a question about this world we find ourselves in. At what point do you label it as ‘science’? And why can’t our science education teach us enough not to do that?
I wanted to say something else, but I guess writing has its way of carrying you away by creating a dialogue. But I’ll keep it short, and I’ll say that thing.
I saw a guy on YouTube who makes ‘Kinetic Wave Sculptures’ from wood and string. I had commented that he’s going to be a lot more help than most scientists with publications and degrees if humanity needs to rebuild after Armageddon. What I hadn’t realized was that that comment of mine would keep circling like a vulture above my head for a long time to come.
I, for one, wouldn’t be much help. I cannot make electricity or fire or light or mechanical solutions from the earth’s native resources as easily as you would expect a student of science to. Granted, science today is not about that. But I feel this personal shame studying Christoffel symbols if I can’t make a lightbulb glow from a turning fan.
We have been breeding useless scientists. We have been learning and preaching a science that is to be read and got used to, a science not to be practised and dirtied. A science not of motion, flow and weight, a science too elevated to connect to now and here. We have made people that spend their life studying racing motorbikes having never got on a bicycle.
This is because we labelled it. It is no longer a question about what we find ourselves in. Oh no, drop that audacity. It is not your question about your world any more. It is now a certain language, a certain typeface, a certain manual of style. It is now a citation, a peer-review and a GPA. All of that time the earth keeps spinning around in its void, and the motion, flow and weight dances around us, oblivious.
More fatal than blind submission to the wrong ideas is blind submission to what are clearly the right ideas. In either case you excuse yourself the tests for being wrong, but in the latter you have the illusion of being smart. Science is today’s witch-burning with a lab coat on. But we are breeding for just such batches of scientists.
I don’t have much more to say. I hope I change before I die; the shadows of those vultures keep getting darker around me.