Every year I go away for a weekend with a group of guys on a barge weekend. That basically amounts to sixteen or so blokes on the canals in narrow boats for three days. And yes there is some drinking involved, but less than you might think as none of us are as young as we used to be. On those weekends it always surprises me how few of my friends can name even, what I consider, common birds or trees. Basically as a scientist and now science fiction writer it worries me how little most people know of the natural world around them. And this seems to be despite the popularity of nature programs such as those produced by David Attenborough over the years. I know this is huge sweeping generalisation and that there are subjects about which I am equally ignorant. And maybe part of it in my case is that I’m a natural scientist, originally a zoologist. Also as a writer I have to place my characters in a world (or worlds) and even if it’s not this one those worlds need to make sense. However, I do believe if more people took an interest we’d be less inclined to damage our world both on a local and a global level.
What sparked this for me in terms of this blog is a short radio interview I watched (yes watched) by Professor Brian Cox. Him of the mellifluous tones that, despite his excellent programs, can send me to sleep. But back to the point. It is on the BBC site and well worth a watch (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02tv3s1 ). He uses an interesting phrase i.e. he feels that it is ‘culturally important’ that we know some basic facts about the world we live in. Now the interviewer presses him to name four things we should all know. He then mentions that we all share a common ancestor, that the universe is 13.82 billion years old, the earth is 4.54 billion years old and life on earth began about 4 billion years ago. Also that we should also all understand the nature of evolution. However what he is getting at is that it is through science that we understand the world around us. And if we all understand some basic ‘science’ we might take more interest in that world. For me that means we would be less likely to make such a mess of it.
Now my wife is the head of an infant school and it is clear to me that all young children are fascinated by the natural world. They are amazed by seeds that can grow into huge trees. They are fascinated watching eggs hatch into chicks in the classroom and frogspawn turn into tadpoles and then into frogs. They search for ‘minibeasts’ in the wild garden and are excited by what they find. And why wouldn’t they be? If you stop to think about it for a moment it is all magical. Also because they see the wonder of it all they are concerned that we are harming and destroying that world at an alarming rate. I think it is rather sad that at some point in our lives most of us stop being amazed by the world around us, or concerned that we are destroying it? Perhaps, it’s when we become consumed with the material world, cars, house, jobs and all the ‘stuff’ that goes with it.
So in the words of Brian Cox I too believe that it is worth reminding everyone of science and what that contributes to our lives. That it is ‘culturally important’ that we understand some basic science. But first perhaps we need to get back to being amazed by the magical natural world around us.
As always comments are welcome