Day 015 – Unweaving ignorance

2008/09/19 § 1 Comment


I have finished an interesting book by Richard Dawkins called “unweaving the rainbow” [1]. It is an easy to read book on the wonders of our world and why science should play a much larger part in our lives than superstition and religion for example. Dawkins argues very convincingly that superstition is not at all a positive force and is unsettled by a common tendency to resort to superstition rather than to knowledge. I could not agree more with him. In fact, people very often harm themselves with their ignorance. And while I do not mind that too much (in the end Darwins natural selection will take of them) they too often harm their fellow beings too. That I mind a lot.

I met some nice Chinese the other day. Over the typical shit-chat about what each one of us does I ended up explaining my professional vocation. I explained that “chemicals” might be found (in a way of course they already have been more indirectly in the shape of all types of drugs we take against health issues) to prolong life. “Chemical!”, a female exclaimed, “but that would be so unnatural! Is that even healthy?”. I must admit that such situations require all my self-comtrol.

I explained to her that chemical are also what composites our food (I should simply have pointed out that she consists entirely of chemicals!), and that I was talking about such substances who might be derived from such sources. Her lack of science went further than just a lack of understanding the terminology.

In another discussion someone thought that you get fat from diet coke. I explained that there are no calories in diet coke, not much more than in pure water. Hence it is hard to imagine how that would work (except you are eating at the same time and the diet coke would exhibit insulin secreting properties for example. A bit far fetched thinking though). However, even to state something like that uncovers a deep lack of scientific knowledge.

In yet another situation someone was very confident that we will continue to drive cars, even if we run out of cheap oil (see my blog for “peak oil”), because we would simply switch to electric cars. His optimism is admirable and I hope (in some way) that he is right. However, his suggested nuclear energy will not do the trick (limited resources of Uranium, Plutonium etc. and not suitable for “peak demands” of electricity in the mornings e.g.). I cannot even begin to explain the problems of all other possible alternatives, and it does not matter. My point is that his statement was poorly reflected and not backed up with any deeper understanding of the science behind it.

Read Dawkins´ book for more. In any case science gives us so much “wonder” and “mystery” that we need not look for more in superstition. But if we do not show any interest in science (and science has no good rep with a lot of the kids) we risk not foreseeing and tackling the major issues that human kind is about to be confronted with, be it peak oil, global warming, overpopulation, food scarceness, water deprivation……

1] http://www.amazon.com/Unweaving-Rainbow-Science-Delusion-Appetite/dp/0618056734/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221804241&sr=8-1

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