The Meditations
28 October 2015 • 4 min read

Becoming Scientifically Literate

Study an aspect of an entity independently in isolation with complete disregard to everything else. Repeat the above process for all the aspects of an entity and then when you have studied everything independently marvel at how they fit together. This seems to be the most effective and proper way of studying things

– Inspired from the remarkable paper, On Scientific Thought by Edgar W. Dijkstra

The human race has changed significantly from its previous form mostly because of science, so we can stand to gain much by looking at how science does its magic. The state of mathematics and science teaching on all levels of education is paltry, we cannot have future engineers brought up in the fear of mathematics or sciences. Why does it happen that students end up discarding mathematics as too boring?. I am myself a product of this bad system and I used to hate mathematics for some time. When we’ve become so much different from our past and when the problems of climate change are upon our heels can we afford to have future generations not initiated in the method of science?. I believe not.

Given that the ratio of bad to good teachers will always be huge, how do we ensure that everyone gets enough teachers?. Well, I don’t think we can. One solution can be found in the form of online video courses, maybe, but I don’t know. I don’t think online education would revolutionize the education itself (Veritassium did a very good video on this topic) and I am a skeptic of revolutionary things in general. I don’t know the solution, but I know what works for me. I enjoy reading authors from scientific background, sure they are hard to grasp but given sufficient thought I can comprehend the material, and anyway they don’t write too much about things we understand so the quantity of material available itself is quite scarce. You have to understand that I am not talking about pseudo scientists or philosophers, I am taking about hard core scientists like Stephen Hawking, Erwin Schrödinger, Richard Feynman etc. You should also try some mathematicians. I’ve read the promenades written by Grothendieck that are particularly interesting. I am currently reading a book by Polya called How To Solve It. One good thing about such material is that it will most likely be available for free. Reading such stuff does nothing more than give you an insight into how the minds of scientists work which you should mimic. Another more accessible way other than reading would be following good science channels on YouTube like Periodic Videos, all of the channels by Nottingham University are awesome. Once you have a basic understanding of how a scientist operates and of the way of empirical evidence you are ready to go to the next level. Now you start reading papers. Scientific papers are of all kinds, from the ones stating seminal discoveries to more modest and accessible ones, you should find the ones you can understand and make use of. Scientific papers do have a very formal and strict tone to them which can be formidable, I myself haven’t read more than a very few general papers, but I am happy that I’ve atleast started. So that’s it, once you start reading papers you might have your original research which you can publish as a paper in some journal or post it on your blog, the important thing is that you share your research for your peers to validate and review it. The sharing is very important, your peers must acknowledge and attest your work. This is precisely what makes science so successful, there is an exact way of knowing if some theory is right or wrong. There is a process of making statements and proving or disproving them, it is methodical and systematic, exactly how we should be.

I am a child saved by science, the quote by Dijkstra is a very abstract piece of insight that can be applied anywhere. There are many more pearls of wisdom hidden in the treasure trove of scientific literature accessible only to those who have conquered the artificial fear of science and mathematics.

Here are some books that I’ve enjoyed.

  1. What is life?
  2. How to Solve It?
  3. Promenades by Grothendiek
Post by: Ajinkya Tejankar