How did we get to this point?
When did the incredible nature of humans to discover and improve suddenly become unimportant and ignored?
Perhaps it is as Neil deGrasse Tyson says: we stopped dreaming. Or maybe it’s something far more insidious.
Whatever the reason, I believe getting to the bottom of how we have changed as a people is significant in obeying the implicit human precept – advancement.
Some may ask, “Why is this important?”
Know that improvement is in your blood. There is not one person that does not want to be better than they are, to improve their status, or to be something. And if you are already where you wish to be in life, then it likely came from you improving yourself or from someone else improving themselves and directly impacting your life.
But think of your own lives. Where do your aspirations lie? Why would they be aspirations and not simply granted desires if there was no need to adapt to the standards necessary to acquire what you want?
Think about the tools you use. They, too, were created to improve the lives of other people or oneself. The advancement from the humble letter to a telegram to the telephone and, eventually, social media. But why? The letter was the best way to deliver information. After all, it is still used. But how much more do you think that the old systems of postal delivery are of value in comparison to sharing what you could write on a letter in a Facebook message?
Without the desire to advance, there is no new technology. To be clear, without advancement, the phone or computer that you are reading this on would not have been created; there would be no reason to create it. Without a drive for growth, you would be sitting in a home that was poorly engineered, as the tools necessary for its engineering – physics, trigonometry and calculus – would not be developed.
On the note of tools, without science – the medium from which our tools are birthed – there is no convenience in your daily lives. The grander implications, of course, are that the lack of science would lead to a lack of understanding of both our world and our universe.
But with that said (potentially unnecessarily), why is there such a difficulty tapping into this human nature? Why, when it is so critical to observe the flow of the world, do people turn away from understanding?
“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise?” No, ignorance is the poisoning of the human condition. Wisdom has nothing to do with it; knowledge is not folly.
There is a reason that the scientific method was developed. Naturally, it was a method to organize how science should be done. But it was also a method of displaying critical thought. Indeed, science is underneath the umbrella of critical thought, and what is more critically considered than understanding what is?
I believe that there is where the problem lies. The phrase “critical thought” contains a stigma. For some reason, it is synonymous with “complexity”.
No matter anyone may think of their intelligence, everyone has the potential to look at the world and ask the most important of all the interrogative words and the one that I just used.
It is this question that has single-handedly drove humanity to advance itself. There is, truly, no way that one person cannot advance themselves by asking, and answering, this same question.
But what happens when there is a cultural desire for critical thinking?
Historically, a renaissance is marked by a societal shift in thinking that places value on both the arts and sciences. The most famous – the Renaissance of Europe – brought 200 years of innovation. Copernicus proposed heliocentrism, the theory that the earth circles the sun. Galileo proved him correct by diagramming Venus’ phases, using an improved version of the telescope, which had just recently been created. Isaac Newton developed gravitational physics and created calculus; logarithms had just come into being as well. Johannes Kepler began creating the laws of planetary motion. Andreas Vesalius demonstrated proper human anatomy, something not properly understood prior to his dissection of human corpses. Papin created the steam engine – propelling the world into legendary Industrial Revolutions shortly after.
But then the argument would be that an ordinary person doesn’t consider themselves an Isaac Newton.
True. That’s irrefutable. After all, at that time, the world needed an Isaac Newton. But we live in a society that no longer has just one scientist working alone to discover new things.
You all are scientists. You live life utilizing the scientific method even if you don’t realize it. From the moment you were old enough to make decisions, you are thinking about what would happen if you were to act one way or the other, testing your limits, and coming to new conclusions. From the moment you were old enough to walk, you were exploring the existence you had been thrust into. From the moment you were conceived, you were sensing your environment through the experimentation of another.
Do not shy from away from thinking about the world around you with a critical gaze. You have been doing it without even realizing.
Do not be afraid to innovate. Leaving the preset mold of convention leads to new strides and new paths for others to follow.
Do not stop dreaming. Recognize that when you become complacent with how things are, becoming something better becomes impossible.