Is literature the solution to scientific ignorance?  

The gulf between science and society is wider than the Pacific Ocean: science just isn’t as integrated into our culture as other subjects.

 

This is a problem because the majority of people therefore think it’s okay not to take an interest. Let’s take art as an example, you couldn’t say (without recoiling) that you didn’t know who the Mona Lisa was painted by. But try asking someone what a Ribosome is and the other person will likely balk and say (boastfully) that they don’t know anything about science. Well that’s just duff. I’m afraid, there’s no excuse for your ignorance of the special Ribosome cell. (Ribosomes are the protein builders of the cell by the way.)

“I would like science to be more central to our society.” Said Venki Ramakrishnan, a molecular biologist and current President of the Royal Society, “there is a double standard. We accept that people don’t know anything about science and that’s perfectly okay, but we expect every educated person to know about music, history and so on.”

“I often go to parties and if you tell people you are a scientist they immediately start feeling a little intimidated. They immediately back off. But imagine the reverse, suppose I had said to them that I don’t really know anything about literature or music. They would think I was some ignorant bore.”

I’m no expert, but my solution would be for more people to start writing about science for a wide audience. That is, in a comprehensible way for those outside the field. Mixing science and literature isn’t easy. It takes impeccable understanding and an ability to bring to life difficult concepts with imagery. I imagine good science in literature would look a little like this section of an article written by Brian Greene for Newsweek called Welcome to the Multiverse

“If space is now expanding, then at ever earlier time the universe must have been ever smaller. At some moment in the distant past, everything we now see — the ingredients responsible for every planet, every star, every galaxy, even space itself — must have been compressed to an infinitesimal speck that then swelled outward, evolving into the universe as we know it.” “The big bang theory was born…”

Here, Green is explaining sophisticated cosmology and physics, but you wouldn’t even know it!

Some scientists may be ‘lab rats’, but they are sick of being ignored. If you wish to learn about the behaviours of man turn to the Ethnologist. If you want explanations about the universe turn to the scientist. But if you want these ideas to be brought together and to life, turn then to the writer.

 

Picture credit: Chechi Peinado

 

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