The Scientific Disconnect

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In my family growing up, we prayed before we ate.  We thanked God for the food that he provided, and for the moment we were able to share eating as a family.  If I go to my grandma’s house for dinner, we still pray before we eat, but these days the pre-dinner prayers have found another meaning in my life.  I no longer pray to the same god that my grandma is praying to, but I nonetheless am grateful for the food that is quite literally sustaining my existence (and of course that is also playfully awakening my palette – there is nothing quite like grandma’s cooking).   However, when my grandma is not cooking for me, which is admittedly most of the time, I usually don’t think to pray before I eat.  Though I still consider myself a spiritual person, my awareness of science helped to move my beliefs away from the Christian God, and thus I decided I no longer needed to pray before eating; it was just a Christian habit, right?

The more I ponder this question, I realize that regardless of what I believe from a religious standpoint, I still need to be thankful for my food.  It is keeping me alive (and not to mention wooing my taste buds).  But if I am not praying to God to thank him for my food, then who should I be thanking for it?

I think this question could go in a number of directions, and thus we should cover the most unfortunately obvious one first: “I earned the money that paid for this food, and so I should be thanking myself”, or “My wife/husband worked hard to put this food on the table and I should be thanking them”.  I say unfortunately obvious, because the fact that this thought was one of the first that came to mind says something fundamental about the work and wealth driven world we are living in, but as that topic is not my point for today, I will move on.  Let’s think a little deeper about where the food came from; we can assume the “food” is a banana for ease of reference (or picture your fruit/vegetable of choice – we will be eating healthy today):

  1. We can assume the banana was purchased from the grocery store,
  2. Before the grocery store it was shipped from a banana grower’s farm (maybe there was a stop at a distribution plant along the way),
  3. At the farm the banana trees were grown by farmers,
  4. The farmers knew how to grow the banana trees with the help of science and the invention of agriculture,
  5. But bananas must have existed before the invention of agriculture.  The earth/nature provided the perfect circumstances for them to grow and produced the opportunity for the above steps to happen until the banana ended up in your belly.
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We have now worked our way to the root (pun intended) of where our gratefulness for our food should fall.  Feel free to connect the last point to your higher power of choice, but the point here is more than just what we need to be grateful for.   The point is that both science and nature impact our everyday lives in more ways than we can count.  Like me, they may have even pushed your belief system in a new direction, or towards a higher power different from the Christian God (no matter the circumstance this essay is a judgement free zone). 

The impacts of science and nature are monumental, to the point that we wouldn’t even be alive without them, yet we often ignore their impacts in our everyday lives.[1]  It is therefore important that we explore why this is the case; why are we so disconnected from the world that allows us not only the luxuries of our modern lives, but life itself (especially when this world is so filled with connection)?

Why are we disconnected?

  • Our lives don’t require connection. 
    • For most of us, our daily routines don’t require much thinking about the inter-workings of the world.  We (as evolved modern citizens) like to keep busy in an effort not to feel like we aren’t productive, and during all the busyness, we tend to forget about the little things [like breathing]. 
    • Along with feeling like we are too busy to spend time thinking about what science or nature may have to offer, sometimes people just don’t care.  These topics may not feel interesting, especially if they didn’t suit your fancy in school.  And the thought can arise: “If I am not learning something that I need to know to survive in the world, then why bother?” 
  • There is a mask of expertise. 
    • There is an intimidation in learning new things; in doing anything new for that matter.  We worry that we aren’t smart enough, that we will fail, that our friends will disapprove.  And even if something does spark our interest – let’s say your physicist friend mentions how enticed they are by the world of quantum mechanics; we tend to think topics like this are above our head and that we would never understand anyway.[2] 
    • Colleges and universities really haven’t been around that long in the grand scheme of things, but since they have become popularized (think 1950s), they seem to come with a certain sense of entitlement.  There is a feeling that unless you went to college to study a topic in depth, then you don’t know enough to have an opinion about it, and you better consult an expert.  These thoughts don’t come with out meaning, as we evolve into a world where we are self-diagnosing our illnesses using WebMD instead of consulting a doctor.  However, I think a logical distinction can be made between an intelligent discussion about water pollution, and when you need to call the plumber to fix the clogged pipe.
  • Segregation of subject matter has led to isolation.
    • We have segregated our worlds and education systems into neat little boxes.  The boxes are organized by topic, and the closely related topics make up categories.  The categories tend not to communicate much with one another.
  • We feel small. 
    • We feel like what one person does will never make much of a difference; the world/universe feels too big.  This can be especially true when we don’t feel connected to the earth we are living on (and the other non-human life all around us). 

How can we re-connect?

  • Think about it.
    • Make a list of every time throughout the day that you are using or doing something as a product of science or nature (or both – they really are connected anyway).  And if you want to go a step further, share your list with your family and friends and challenge them to do the same.
    •  Spend more time getting to know your world.  Research something that interests or impacts you (search online, read a book, have discussions).
  • Take off the mask of expertise.
    • Push past the feeling that you aren’t good enough. 
    • Look at some of the world’s most successful people that dropped out of college: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg. Though I’m not saying you should drop out of college, I think these people can teach us a few important lessons about the world.  Number one: never stop learning.
    • You can also take courses from America’s most prestigious universities (e.g. Harvard) for free online (check out www.edx.org).  If you don’t have a topic in mind, but know you want to learn something, they have plenty to browse from.
  • Integrate and collaborate across subject areas.
    • De-segregate.  When our ancestors were unlocking the first mysteries of the world, they were not concerned about staying within their subject area.  Galileo, “The Father of Science”, studied physics, astronomy, cosmology, mathematics, and philosophy, and he wasn’t the only one to take a fancy to more than one area like this.  And I don’t think our ancestors had the wrong idea, it seems to me that there must be some connection between these things, and that the root of it all is likely in the world [nature] around us. 
    • Though I think the process of de-segregation and re-connection should start with our education systems, it is on us to begin sharing ideas with the people we connect with.  We can spend the time to learn about our friends and family’s interests, and maybe we can even help them to see their area of expertise in a different way or ignite a new form of creative thinking.
  • Get involved. 
    • Scientists do need us.  There are projects that you can help with online where all that is required is your time and a little bit of energy (they don’t even require leaving the house). Check it out: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects

Though you have likely already made the connection yourself, the words on this page reflect deeply to our current situation in the world.  The fact that we are not connected to nature and science has driven the COVID-19 pandemic to a new height.  It is now a fight for politics against science where a matter of biology has become a matter of opinion.  It seems that it has become ok for people to think scientists are “silly” for urging the requirement of masks in public, yet the same people have relied on scientists to light their houses, flush their toilets, and feed them bananas.


[1] See website: https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/ for detail on the growing gap between the beliefs of scientists and citizens.

[2] If you pay close enough attention you may start to notice that we are taught to think like this from the media (think Big Bang Theory).   I include this as a footnote as I do not have the research to prove this theory, and the topic should be explored further separately.

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