Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The New Scientist

I was watching Suzuki Speaks on LinkTV the other morning.

If you have DISH Network you can catch it on channel 9410 twice more this week. If not, why in the hell are you handing good money over to corporatist American media???

In it, David Suzuki talks about man's relationship to his environment in ways that will profoundly impact the way you think about your life. I won't ruin his message by summary here, because you need to watch the entire program. Suffice it to say, it got me thinking.

But I digress...

Suzuki talks about how, when he was growing up in London, Ontario, he would spend summer days wallowing in the marsh behind his house. His mother never complained about dirty laundry. His father encouraged his exploration. He would bring home tadpoles and fish eggs and raise them. It's no wonder he ended up not only in biology, but in genetics research.

Which got me thinking: in this day and age of videogames and Avatar-like movies, where do our new research scientists come from? Where is the wonder of picking up a rock and finding a bunch of slugs or worms and spending day after day, picking that rock up and studying their habits? Where is the boy with his Erector set, engineering his first four story scale model building? Or the girl cracking open a hunk of shale and discovering a trilobite inside?

Sure. There will be astronomers. The stars are an awesome attraction, the moon hangs in the night sky like a lighthouse beckoning a sailor upward. And perhaps oceanographers and marine biologists, as children go down to the sea with their parents and build sand castles, discovering clams and crabs as they dig.

But who's going to dig in the muck of an old dump and discover that, indeed, worms aerate our kitchen waste and create compost, and who knows what can come out of some boy or girl discovering a new way of recycling? Who's going to splash around in a marsh and uncover a new beetle that could potentially cure a disease?

Have we so removed ourselves from nature that we will be unable to see the forest for the trees? Have we lost the wonder of being children in our sophistication and technological savvy?

I guess this is why I enjoy scuba diving so much: it's a new environment and I'm immediately drawn into playing in it...as little as possible. It's important not to damage an ecosystem as fragile as a reef. But to pick up a rock and look at it, and then notice that it lay next to a tiny fish that you would have missed if you had just swum by, or to examine a gorgonian, a soft coral swaying in the current and to see a flamingo tongue nudibranch ("slug", if you will), bright and pink and orange and just sitting there, slowly crawling up the trunk, is to remember why we were kids in the first place: to uncover the world around us.

Sure, there's a place for technocrats and technological discoveries. Math and physics will always be important in understanding the universe around us.

But there's also a universe in a single drop of pond water.

And we've lost that urge.