I have been studying science for around 7 years now. In reality, science has been a subject that is integral to our core education ever since the childhood but once you get into grade 11 or 12 and pursue higher studies, you finally start looking into these topics in depth.
From 2013-2016, I was studying the pure sciences, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. From 2017 to the present, I have been delving into the social sciences with Applied Psychology as my graduation course. Every branch of science that I have studied, I have learned something new about myself and about humanity as a whole. I know that many people might get miffed about the lumping of the social sciences with the pure ones here, but it is a grouping that seems appropriate here.
I thought I would share some of these things that I have learned with my readers too. Let me know what you thought from these subjects.
Physics is the study of the mechanics of the world. My studies of physics have included mechanical physics where we studied the laws of motion; thermodynamics, where we studied about energy and heat; astrophysics, where we studied about the universe at large and quantum physics, where we studied about the tiniest particles of matter.
As you can see, the scope of physics varies right from the largest black holes of the universe to the tiniest quarks of the atom. The building blocks of all matter. Everything that has ever existed, exists today and will exist in the future will be made up of atoms. Atoms that are largely just empty spaces. Atoms that have a protons, neutrons and electrons in varying numbers, intermingling to create the building block of all that is.
Physics made me feel small and gigantic at the same time. Astrophysics tells you about the billons of galaxies in the universe, each galaxy with billions of stars and each star with multiple planet-like bodies revolving around them. I am just a small collection of these atoms, on one of these planets, revolving around one star in one tiny galaxy.
At the same time, physics has also made me feel gigantic. I am a collection of trillions of atoms, trillions of tiny electrons and protons and neutrons, all packed up neat and tightly to create my present form.
The mechanical branch of physics has made me wonder about the uniformity of the universe. The universal constants, like G, the gravitational constant is the same throughout the universe. It has the same value in my home, as it does in Mumbai, as in a tiny, rural town of Uruguay and in the a galaxy that is so far away from us that its light (which is the quickest thing to exist in the universe) would take billions of years to reach us!
Biology was the focus of my studies when I was pursuing medicine. As a child, I had always been fascinated by the human body and how it always seemed to be working in complete unison. It was only when I got into the depths of biology that I really began appreciating the true beauty of the subject. Before I didn’t completely understand the theory of evolution and struggled to understand how we have evolved but when I did; I was taken aback by the true extent of the evolutionary process.
Think about it. Every human being ever, has had an ancestor in common with a monkey, a chimpanzee, a tree and even a bacterium! Earlier, I had this arrogance that humanity is the most evolved species and has taken control of this earth because of its superiority but then I learned the reality. We humans are very inefficient when compared to a bacterium or a fungus. We are more complex, of course, but we are also very very wasteful.
In molecular genetics, I learned about the basic components of life, the cell, the DNA, the nucleotides, the process of how DNA turns into protein which then builds everything else in our body. Did you know that there are 3 billion base pairs inside each cell of your body? The sequence of these base pairs decides who you are, what you look like, what is the color of your skin and so much more! Moreover, most of these base pairs are completely inactive. You are carrying billions of useless base pairs in each cell of your body. Your body contains billions and trillions of cells, remember what I said about being wasteful?
There is another thing about biology that always left me with jaw wide open. The universe and the laws of thermodynamics are such that the universe is always moving towards a state of greater randomness, more chaos, more disorderliness. This is known as entropy. Every single atom of your body wants to disassociate with you and turn itself into a disorganized mess. Yet, you don’t. No one does. Every single moment that you are alive, your cells are engaged in an existential struggle. Every single cell in your body is expending huge amounts of energy just to keep everything together. You are the product of this struggle. A constant existential struggle that each cell of your body carries on for its lifetime. A struggle against the very nature of the universe.
And now, when my love affair with the pure sciences ended, I entered the world of the social sciences. I will be honest, I didn’t expect to learn so much from this field. I didn’t expect to be surprised because for me nothing could be more appealing than the objective truths of physics and biology.
Boy was I wrong?
Before studying psychology, I had this certainty in me that wat I knew was real, what I could see was real and what I sensed and perceived in this world was perfect. But it isn’t. Human beings, at a psychological level, are not perfect. We are not the rational, objective and analytical beings we pride ourselves to be. We make mistakes. We are prone to optical illusions. We are vulnerable to cognitive biases, logical fallacies and heuristics.
It was a shocking revelation to me and yet, by this time, what science had to reveal to me wasn’t so surprising any more. Remember The Dress from 2016?
The image of a dress which some people saw as white and golden and others saw as black and blue. Remember how certain you were that the colour of the dress you saw was the real colour and everyone else was wrong? Remember how you couldn’t even entertain the idea of it being a different dress?
That’s what psychology taught me. You cant always be certain about the things you perceive, the meaning you interpret from words and the motivations of your actions.
All in all, I have learned a lot from science but if there is one thing that I have learned that I will carry with me in life; humbleness. It is humbling to learn all these realities of the world and to understand the meaning they have for us as a species. It is difficult to be arrogant isn’t it?
Humanity is gigantic and yet nothing more than a speck of dust in this gargantuan universe. We are mostly made up of empty spaces and yet we are full of life. We are capable of logic, philosophy, rationality, objectivity and technological progress, yet we are misers when it comes to thinking which makes us victims of all sorts of fallacies, shortcuts and biases.
How then can I be arrogant enough to be arrogant? How can I be so full of pride that I am not humble?
Science is humbling and humbleness is something we could all use in today’s world.