Everyone is washing their hands now. It is said, washing hands with soap is the most effective way to kill the viruses that cause COVID-19, which has brought the modern world to its knees! It seems that everyone now understands; including terrorists.
But have you ever seen this virus? How do you know the virus is causing it and is spreading? How does soap destroy the virus? Where are you getting all these information from?
Even if you do not know this, you can wash your hands with soap. It will for sure destroy the viruses. None of this knowledge came to anyone immediately from enlightenment, or not derived from ancient religious texts. You owe it all to Science. Science is something that benefits even those who do not know what it is or how it works. It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, what country you belong to, or what color you are. Whether it is Mahatma Gandhi or Osama bin Laden who washes his hands with soap, viruses will be destroyed. Because science does not discriminate.
Why don’t we try to understand what science really is at a time when everyone takes science the most seriously?
For many, science is just something that scientists do and study. But not so. Everything, including humans, is part of a system we call the universe or nature. From the time humans had the ability to think, we observed that nature operated according to certain laws. Everything, including the sun, moon, and stars, became part of his observation. Observation became a part of everyday human life.
Later, when he started cultivating crops and eating cooked food, his brain development accelerated. He had the ability to remember and analyze what he had observed. Such observations were the first form of science.
The development of language later guided our observation skills. Our ability to read and write helped us to record observations and pass them on to the next generation. This was an important change. Because every new generation could read the knowledge recorded by the ancestors instead of rediscovering it. With each generation, the collective knowledge and capabilities of the community continued to increase.
Another problem was that because language was not restrained to any particular idea or knowledge, anyone could write anything. That is, anything that was written did not necessarily had to be about observations. Thus art and literature all came into existence.
At the same time, superstitions arose. Superstitions are what contradictory to observations. Thus the science of the early time was a mixture of all the knowledge that humans derived from observing nature, and the suppositions about what we did not know. Today we call it Protoscience.
Religion is one such mixture. It is just that it also includes the concept of God, a supreme being of power and knowledge, according to many. As humans began to observe natural phenomena, they realized that many things were inexplicable and unpredictable. For example, we could have predicted without a doubt that the sun was setting in the direction we called the west, and that it would certainly rise in the opposite direction after sunset. But we could not explain everything in that way. This disturbed our conscious effort of observation and understanding. The inability to predict disasters such as the flood, caused panic in human society. This is how man began to believe in the forces of nature. The sun, the moon, the wind, rain, thunder and fire all became gods. It was by chance that he came to believe that pleasing the gods would save him from calamities, or that even if he died, there would be an afterlife and that it would be in heaven. Fear of death is the root cause of such beliefs (if everyone were always ready to die, we would not have to fear anything). Michael Stevens has included a video of such fears in his series Mind Field.
Yet nature continued its movement; it was not affected in any way by human beliefs or knowledge. This is how the society we live in today and its beliefs and customs came into existence. At one time all knowledge was one, but then gradually each became a branch; religion, science, philosophy, art and such. In this article, we are talking about science today. Because we today understand that nothing is more useful or never was beneficial than Science.
Observation is said to be the first method used by man to gain knowledge. Experimentation is another process that is just as important. An experiment is a test of whether the conclusions reached by observation are correct. The Greek philosopher Aristotle never experimentally determined whether his ideas or conclusions were actually true. Therefore many of his explanations of natural phenomena were incorrect. For example, he thought that heavier objects would come down faster than lighter objects. But even little children today know that this is not the case, even if none of them have tried it anyway.
It was Galileo who brought about a change contrary to Aristotle’s style. He was the first to state and prove the importance of making sure through repeated experiments that the conclusions reached through observations were correct. He found that natural phenomena could be explained by simple laws and the consequences could be predicted using those laws.
From there, science grew independently. Scientists from Isaac Newton onwards have shown how important mathematics is in stating the laws of nature. That knowledge reached all languages and all countries through scientific texts. Everyone began to experience the benefits of science. Technology evolved along with science (technology is the practical application of scientific knowledge). But even when the achievements of science were applied in everyday life, ordinary society was ignorant of what science really was or how it came to be. Hence, false customs and superstitions continued to remain in the society, and bug our progress. We have such an ignorant society in the year 2020 as well.
When a human being is born, his brain contains only the knowledge gained through evolution. For example, how to breathe and how to blink. All the ideas and beliefs that he develops throughout his growth are derived from the environment in which he lives. The society he belongs to, the place where he was born, the climate, the way of life, all shape his ideas and beliefs. This is what we generally call culture. There were different cultures in each place. But the beliefs and practices of one culture were very difficult to adapt to another because they are very much intertwined with religion and language of a place. Mixing of culture, by force or otherwise, did not happen without distress.
But unlike culture and language, science is universal. The results of experiments performed by one person on one side of the earth will be the same as that if somebody else did the same experiment somewhere else. For example, the Greek mathematician Erastosthenes was the first to measure the circumference of the earth scientifically. The circumference of the earth he calculated was very accurate. Remember he did this from a very small place on the surface of the earth. The same experiment can be performed on another part of the earth producing the same result. You can even try it yourself.
What we just understood is an important feature of science, namely universality. Let us now see what is the definition of science. The English word science means “knowledge”. Knowledge is what removes the darkness of unknowns. Ignorance is darkness. Knowledge of the unknown eliminates that ignorance. This is what science is all about.
Science is the sum of the knowledge gained by humans through observations and experiments, the scientific conclusions, the laws, the mathematical equations and the frameworks; the best picture of nature we have. If science is knowledge, then Scientific Method is the means of gaining that knowledge. Scientific method is something you can use anywhere. It can help you find the best solution to any problem. Being scientifically minded means understanding what science and scientificity are like and putting it into practice. Scientifically educated people are the greatest asset of a country – that is where the best society comes from.
Free thought is needed to overcome the influence of religion and culture on a person. The real aim of education is to develop critical thinking and scientific awareness. Unfortunately our education system is far from achieving that. To develop a sense of science, a child has to read many books in addition to the textbooks. This means that even children who scores high in academic tests, do not tend to have a scientific understanding or free thought. This is the reason why they are not rationally intelligent despite having education.
The definition of science can be complete only when we can list out its other features.
- Aggregation of Knowledge : Science is the accumulation of knowledge gained through scientific means. That is, there will always be unknowns. The goal of science is to know the remaining unknowns too.
- Observation : Observation is actually the process of measuring. Any observation can only be mathematically deviced if the measurements are accurate. The future course of a process can only be determined by its mathematical form. For example, we can calculate velocity and acceleration using two measurements, length and time. If both are known, the velocity and acceleration can be found using mathematical equations. This is possible because we know how the quantities are related.
- Experimentation : An observation does not have to be natural always. Or there may not be a process or a phenomenon at the time we decide to observe. For example, a coconut falling from the tree is a natural process caused by gravity. But should we wait for a coconut to fall so that we can conduct a study? No. Then we have to do an experiment to study how objects fall to the ground. In this, we can decide the weight, shape and size of the falling object. From such an experiment, one can observe the relationship between the measurements and formulate equations for it. This simply means that an experiment is a very controlled observation.
- Logic : Analyzing experimental and observational results through the lens of logic is a crucial step. Mathematics is the most unique form of logic. It is the language of the laws of nature.
- Universality : Universality is the use of experiments and observations made in a very small space of the universe to explain phenomena occurring elsewhere in the universe. For example, we can use the equation of gravity (Cavendish Experiment) to determine the gravitational pull between two objects sitting on the Earth’s surface, between the Earth and the Moon, between the Sun and other planets, and between galaxies. The more universal a law is, the better. Universality can sometimes be confusing. For example, one of the basic forces in the universe is the Strong Nuclear Force. This force between protons is 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 (10 ^ 32) times the force of gravity. Then why do we not experience this in everyday life? This is because strong nuclear force acts only on unthinkably small distances between protons. All the protons in every atom of your body are held together by this force, even if you are never aware of it.
- Self-updating : Many people think that science is something that is established and fixed. That is not true. Science is self-updating. If we ever make an observation that cannot be explained by existing scientific laws or mathematical equations, it means that the laws of science must be reformed. This will require more experiments and observations to be conducted. For example, when Newton’s laws of motion were unable to explain the relative variations in motion, Einstein came up with new laws. This does not mean that Newton’s laws were wrong; its practicality was limited. Newton’s laws are simpler forms of Einstein’s laws of motion. You owe Einstein for getting accurate position on Google Maps.
- Simplification : Science has always demanded that complex observations and processes be made into simple rules and equations. Have you ever wondered how to explain the shape of clouds for example? It is a very complicated one to think about. But the equations for the motion of gases (Fluid Dynamics) can explain the shape of any cloud.
- Testability : Scientists put forward various hypotheses to explain a new phenomenon or observation time to time. These may not all be right. Such hypotheses should be able to test whether they are right/wrong. Otherwise they are of no use. Experiments are always conducted to find out if the hypotheses are wrong; not to prove it right. This is because the logic is that the probability of a hypothesis being correct is much less than the probability of it being incorrect. The theory is a hypothesis that has been proven experimentally. Such a theory can make observable predictions.
- Limitation of the observer : It is a great limitation that humans who seek to study the laws of nature is a part of that very nature. We observe through our senses. We can not explain things we can not naturally observe. This is where technology helps us. The microscope for seeing ultra small things, and the telescope for looking at distant objects are contributions of technology. Technology is a meticulous fusion of creativity and scientific knowledge. That process is called engineering. What we are saying is that we overcome our limitations of senses with tools that technology provides. You can see the infrared light with an infrared camera. Similarly, you can see viruses with an electron microscope. Science will continue to grow until our ability to make observations reaches its limits.
Let’s talk about COVID-19. Viruses are microscopic objects (viruses are not living things) that cannot be seen with the naked eye. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has a layer of protein and fat. Inside it is a genome called RNA. Soap contains substances that can interact with water molecules as well as fat molecules. Soap molecules destroy the membranes of the viruses and wash them off with water.
This is all scientific knowledge. We came to these conclusions based on the same methods mentioned earlier. That is, science is not limited to textbooks. We should all strive to make science a way of life. There is no need to grasp all the scientific knowledge. All you need to have is the sense of science and its limits. Take what scientists say seriously and at the same time question anything that is unscientific. Being skeptical or critical is a method of science.
Scientists are working hard to study the new virus and find a drug and vaccine against it. They use the scientific method for that. The drug may also benefit patients who do not know how the vaccine works. All you can do is become a scientifically conscious citizen. Based on that you can take precautions in the time of a pandemic.
Those who think they are too old to study science can try to make their children science-conscious. Teach them to ask questions. Even if you can’t answer, you should ask them to find the answer. We have books that can answer children’s questions. The internet can help them find the answers. Reading is the best exercise for the brain. Encourage it. Do not try to impose your thoughts or beliefs on them. Free their minds. One who is properly educated in science will be someone who upholds human values as well. A generation that grows up like this can face any crisis with great might.
But do not always think that we can win; because there will always be something that is not known. But our goal is to know that too. Science can help you with that. When science wins, so do humans. The current crisis is no different. Not all humans are going to die because of COVID-19. Most will survive it. Science will continue to progress through them.
Wear your masks, maintain individual distancing, wash or sanitize your hands often and get vaccinated as soon as you can.