Neev Times Blog

The value of safe environments for scientific thinking

By Kabir Basu, Grade 9

The golden age of humanity began when we began thinking. Not simply processing knowledge, but thinking - questioning the world around us, asking “why”. One can keep asking “why” forever, for there is no end to the knowledge that can be gained. And that is why science's fundamental purpose, to make sense of the ‘unknown’, is centered around questioning. Asking again and again, repeatedly, relentlessly, resolutely – “why”.

Unfortunately, questioning has not been looked upon kindly, though it is the most critical reason why humanity is where it is today. Throughout history, scientists have been persecuted as heretics (a person persecuted for performing beliefs contrary to orthodox Christian values) for questioning the norms and doctrines of the time. Religion has been its biggest enemy, its primary premise being faith, while science has always been regarded as the dissenter, the contrarian.

Let us go to the very beginning. A man of times, long past looked upon a field of lush, green pasture and asked “why” and agriculture was born. With agri

culture came irrigation, as more people began to ask “why” and found the answers they desired. Humble settlements grew into massive empires, as “why” echoed in the heads of the scientifically minded. The wheels of progress turned, fueled by a melody of questions. But with knowledge comes power, and with power comes fear. People began to fear the power gained by questioning, and shunned scientists, turning to religion for guidance. The earliest herbalists were burnt as witches; the earliest physicists were exploited as alchemists who could produce gold out of base metals. Copernicus was called a madman for first proposing the heliocentric theory, and later Galileo, who proved it, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Roman Catholic Church.

Over time, the situation greatly improved. The power th

at came with knowledge was embraced, from the steam engine to the nuclear bomb. Today, Newton, Einstein, Hawking, and thousands of other scientists across ages are hailed as legends. So what is a haven for

science? I think it must meet three critical requirements. The first is that it must encourage questioning, as you might have guessed. The second is that all observations must be judged objectively. As long as it has been scientifically proved, the judgment should be absolved of prejudice. The third and final requirement is that scientists must be prepared to question other scientists on their theories, engaging in healthy debate to further science as a whole. As human society has progressed, we have come closer to meeting these three requirements.

This brings me to schools. “Good question” is now a staple in our classrooms. Questioning in schools allows students to make their own meaning of the world around them, leading to an acquisition of knowledge. Questioning allows for the gaps in knowledge to be filled, and for students to empathize with the world around them. It is difficult to create such an ideal environment for science, for it is human nature to see one’s own perspective as absolute, and that is not likely to change unless you make it possible.