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“I’m not good at science.”

“I don’t like science.”

“Science is too confusing.”

Throughout my life I’ve heard these phrases uttered by my peers and students, and the implication of these comments has always baffled me. I’d like to say it’s not solely because I love science and I would assume others would share my thoughts and experience (despite my best attempts to think beyond said experience), but I’d be wrong to think my experience isn’t always a factor. These negative phrases baffled me because of the wondrous, imaginative nature of science and our existence that seemed obvious to see upon making simple observations about our world. Yet, in analyzing these statements, it would only make sense to consider what factors influenced the individual to feel that way, at that given point in their life, when I interacted with them concerning science. Questions I’d have to consider include:

  • Did they have unenthusiastic science teachers (if so, why was the teacher unenthusiastic?)
  • What were there genetic factors programmed into their DNA that would make them more or less capable of achieving traditional success in their respective science classrooms?
  • What environmental factors contributed then and now to their thoughts and feelings on the subject of science? (And how am I defining “environmental factors”?)Do I speak literally of the chemicals and interactions the entire individual (including their cells) has been exposed to in the world around them from their days existing as separate gametes of ovum and sperm to the present?
    Do I critically look at the societal constructs that dictate how we (and they) live, behave and change culturally as a member of our species over time?

These are all considerations about the influences that affect the growth and development of an individual, and all of us as individuals. The contexts in which each of us learn vary significantly from one individual to the next, and the limitless depth in how we analyze these contexts is evident in the overwhelmingly numerous questions. None of these questions are easy to answer – much like any scientific questions.

Questions can baffle us, not knowing can make us feel lost, fear of failure can discourage us, but there’s so much we don’t know, questions we’ve yet to answer, and endless amounts of failure that are all at the heart of science.

What of the big, philosophical questions of science?

What does it mean to exist? What is being? Is our whole experience just a series of neuronal pathways learning and responding to our environment as a direct result of eons of mutation and subtle change?

Given what the evidence I’ve been exposed to indicates, I am inclined to think that all we are is a series of chemical reactions. Holding this worldview might seem like it is in direct contradiction to other worldviews – and for some it may appear as condescending or injurious. I don’t mean to diminish the value of others based on my perceptions of truth and place in the universe, or that because I hold this particular worldview that I will stop questioning and doubting my particular explanation – maybe I’m wrong, and that’s okay. I just hold that perspective about life.

But, then, how do we define life? In the Western world, are our Eurocentric definitions of life inclusive enough to consider the universe, as a whole, living? Is it wrong if it doesn’t? Is there “life” that exists out there that doesn’t subscribe to the way that carbon-based life exists on our planet?

These important philosophical, scientific questions – are never completely answerable – I’d almost go so far as to say that nothing ever is. Even the idea of “scientific proof” is loaded and misrepresented at times, as many scientists will say we are “more certain” of some things. Some of these questions we, collectively as a scientific community, may have a “pretty good idea of”. Some we have no clue, but, like anything, just because a question isn’t answerable doesn’t necessarily give every possibility validity.

Or does it?

When all of us are seeking our own source of truth and validation, how do we separate our subjectivities with being objective? Are we objective and critically competent enough to pursue and acknowledge what is likely truth or fact when it is presented to us?

All of these considerations lie in the nature of science – or my perception of it. Science is relishing the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing – yet feeling that desire to know more than you did before. Wanting to know everything about anything, always striving to become better, while knowing you’ll never achieve perfection or an absolute truth. Science shouldn’t be a negative force to justify division in our world, yet it can be used thusly. Science should attempt to constantly ask questions to educate us, rather than be used to belittle opinions and worldviews as it, too, is unfortunately used. Science occurs through individuals with different philosophies, it includes an evolving history transcending Homo sapiens and has subjectivities inextricably linked to its growth. Science is having curiosity and humility when analyzing and observing our specific place, at a specific point in time, in a specific, tiny corner of an ever-expanding universe.

petlak universe quote.jpg

As an educator, I want my students to love science.

To love not knowing.

To love asking questions about everything.

To consider every perspective.


Logan Petlak

Read the next blog post here:
One of an Infinite Means to Approach Science, Education, and the Universe: Part 2 – Subjectivity, Objectivity and Perspective