A guest blogger at Pharyngula invited regulars to answer the question, "Why do you like science?" What follows is a slightly modified version of my answering comment.


I have always experienced what Carl Sagan called "the romance of science"; it was only when he expressed the phrase that I knew that to be what it was.

I am especially awed by natural sciences and the phenomena they encompass (as opposed to the breathtaking accomplishments such as have been done with applied sciences in space exploration, medicine, and so on -- even as cool and wondrous as those, too, are, and even though they often make it possible to experience these natural wonders). Some of this is because of their implications; sometimes, though, it's as much because of inimitable aesthetics.

I marvel at the planets, soaking up the sight of weather patterns on Jupiter and trying to make sense of them, including a hurricane twice the size of Earth that has been in existence for centuries at least. Speaking of storms, I get goosebumps in a powerful electrical storm here on Earth -- watching the lightning flash, hearing and feeling the sound waves of the thunder, smelling the rain and ozone in the atmosphere. In a cave, looking at the delicate "soda straw" stalactites and more massive flowstone formations, all of which take centuries to form bit by bit, eventually forming chambers that can look and feel like cathedral sanctuaries, I often feel the sort of reverence for nature that I'm sure compares with the sort of ecstasy that overcomes many religious people in an artfully built church.

I also just love learning how the universe works -- how the continents once fit together and have drifted apart (as seemed obvious to me by 5th grade from looking at a world globe, just as the theory of continental drift was being introduced and disputed in geology conventions!); how the various forces of selection and other factors shaped, and continue to shape, the development of life forms, many of them in stupendously fascinating ways; how gravity can cause gas and dust to become stars and planets and moons, can turn some of those moons to dust again, force atoms to fuse and turn stars from hydrogen into helium, then later carbon, and eventually into iron, and then explode those elements back out into the cosmos to be regathered again -- into us.

Think about it: On the atomic-particle level, we ourselves have been around since the Big Bang. Our atoms have been processed in, very probably, multiple stars over billions of years. And now we, the animate descendants of stars, can contemplate the process that made us possible. Harboring that thought gives me one of the most spine-tingling feelings imaginable; it is the closest thing to spirituality that I ever experience.

Douglas Adams' character Slartibartfast once said, "I'm a great fan of science, you know." That goes for me, too. I don't know of anything that can blow my mind anywhere near as well.

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