Never before has the gap between the educated and the uneducated been so far apart. Our society has become dependent on symbols for its very survival. Those who do not understand the power of symbols are being left behind, for we employ precision mathematical symbols to imagine new possibilities in our abstract worlds and then to return to the real to predict new phenomena in nature.
Such powerful symbolic systems drive our modern economy; new ideas lead to new technologies and inventions which impact all our lives, both for better and for worse. These technologies also drive our culture, reinforcing the curious phenomena of our children embracing the ideas and technologies far more quickly than their parents do.
Today’s world is built upon objects which cannot be seen. Scientists are like alchemists from days of old, mysteriously manipulating invisible forces to manifest new forms. So much of our modern world is built upon entities invisible to the naked eye that without mastery of these highly abstract models, it is difficult to feel comfortable with these objects. This failure to understand alienates us and not only shuts us out of higher paying jobs but also deprives us of cultural and democratic participation.
The widespread failure of the populus to understand science has serious social consequences. Those many scientifically illiterate who cannot understand the model of CO2 molecules are also the same people who cannot perceive them as a threat and who are the very same people who will vote for representatives who also do not perceive them as a threat. What is invisible is no threat to us.
Human beings experience a common reality. When I say “it was a sunny day with a clear blue sky” you understand what I mean because we are able to have common experiences that we can share through language. Science is nothing more than an extension of this basic human trait; it is a field which allows us to look at nature in many different ways, using instruments to allow us to extend our powers of observation and allows us to share all those experiences using a very detailed language consisting of highly accurate terms, numerical measurements and general laws.
Science is able to collect enormous numbers of individual observations and organize them into patterns called scientific laws. These laws allow us to extrapolate or generalize an observation made at one place and time, to many places and times. For instance, a scientist may observe a phenomena in New York city but extrapolate the finding to be true not just in New York city, but everywhere on the planet.
Most people who are not scientists have not made these direct observations themselves, nor have they formulated the scientific laws that generalize these observations to be universally applicable.
Unlike everyday conversation, science has little room for assumptions and unsubstantiated arguments. Without strict ability to prove and back up each finding with accurate experimental results and offering up a recipe for duplicating the results, science would lose its high degree of certainty.
In many ways, the climate change and global warming crisis is a dramatic examples of the impact of failed science education.
With extreme weather becoming a norm rather than a rarity, perhaps more of the scientifically illiterate voting public may be convinced in the reality of climate change. In order to mobilize the public, it is necessary to educate the public on the fundamental nature of science.
Dealing effectively with climate change requires participation from all sectors of all societies. In democratic societies, people hold the power to determine policies. However, if the voting public are scientifically illiterate, then they have no trust in the results produced by scientists. In a field such as climate change, where startling and very unobvious predictions are the result of complex science, an illiterate voting public is one distrusting of complex scientific results and especially ones that threaten people’s current livelihood or creature comforts. This sets up an atmosphere of a voting public that is easily manipulated by equally uneducated and biased politicians.
Climate Change Science is a major influence on modern society yet significant numbers of citizens of the world are still alienated from it. They may have heard of science in the media or as part of a school curriculum but there is an intrinsic lack a fundamental appreciation and awareness of the power of science or that science is an extension of their own natural thinking process.
The citizen of modern society is fundamentally different from the citizen of our ancestors. They were producers of multiple goods and services which made life possible. Today, we play the role of consumers who blindly exchange money for products produced by manufacturing systems which we have absolutely no knowledge about.
We don’t know where they get their raw feedstock from, how they dealt with the people who supplied them, whether it was gotten ethically, whether it harmed the environment or not, etc…We also do not know how much energy they used to produce their product and how much they polluted the environment in creating it. We are completely uninformed.
Most importantly, many do not care. Most people live with blinders on, concerned only in meeting their own immediate and short term needs. The health of the environment and other people is not a concern. Those centralized producers who have the most to gain from this naturally encourage a system in which consumers are indifferent because it allows them to continually maximize their profits.
It is more critical than ever that there be an effective mass education of the fundamental essence of science so that the voting public entrusts the work of scientists and are not so easily manipulated by special interests which place profit above the health of the planet.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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