Tag: curiosity

Discussing the Darwinian Revolution

By publishing one single book, Charles Darwin started a revolution, the one named after him. Even though he might not be the one who originally thought of this particular concept, however, by accumulating his thoughts and results in that book, he challenged the basic stereotype of the human origin. In doing so, he was also challenging very widely held beliefs in religion, science and other aspects of society.

Such has been the impact of the Darwinian Revolution that if you now ask somebody to think of evolution, that person might think of many things But definitely, one would be the very famous image depicting how man slowly and gradually evolved. The historical book was published in 1859, yet its impact can still be seen in 2016. This shows that all revolutions are not sudden. They take their own time to develop and integrate themselves within the society.

Another aspect which perhaps needs rethinking is that if Charles Darwin was not the first to think of ‘The Theory of Natural Selection’, should the revolution be named after him? There have been strong speculations that even 150 years before Charles Darwin, a lot of intellectual thought and debate had gone into The Theory of Natural Selection, including that of his own grandfather. Furthermore, many people claim that Alfred Russell Wallace is the forgotten hero behind the evolution of principle, further stressing that Darwin relied on Wallace for many of his findings. However, this revolution is Darwinian for a host of reasons. Firstly, he was one of the first to stand up against the Church and other religious authorities and claim that they are wrong. Moreover, if you look at the structure of the argument presented in ‘Origin of Species’, it is near flawless. Darwin brilliantly highlights the key principles and findings from his observations and acutely presents them in a systematic manner. One can wonder, had the book been structured differently, it might not have the same historical impact which it did.

Even though the Darwinian Revolution might not seem relevant as other revolutions, what perhaps makes him so popular is the fact that his subject arouses curiosity. It allows people to imagine what they might have been in the past, and what they imagine, fascinates them.

Revolutionising climate science

Humans have always been a curious species. If they observe something, they desperately seek answers to the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Study of climate was also born this way. On October 11, Kerry Emanuel spoke to us about the various revolutions in the field of climate study, and how how these revolutions have shaped climate science as we know it. These revolutions include various feats by mankind like the discovery of the greenhouse effect to the determination of the causes of the ice ages.

Some people might be wondering that amidst some revolutions capable of overthrowing governments and changing major political landscapes, do revolutions in climate science actually have any major significance? Well, the answer is yes. For it will be a revolution in climate science itself which finally finds solution to the externalities of global warming. This brings me to my next point, the motivation to address these particular externalities. There has been ample evidence throughout history which suggests that the field of climate science has not always been given its due respect by people. The classic example would be the greenhouse effect. This particular phenomena appears to be something which was recently discovered. However, some argue that this effect was actually known since around 200 years, but nobody just cared about it. When it finally got to the point where the living conditions were in possibility of grave jeopardy, only then did the people wake from their slumber.

Yet, it is believed that the best of climate revolution is still to come. Analysts argue that series of technological developments would play a crucial role in the future. Chris Goodall, an expert in New Energy Technologies, in his book ‘The Switch’ touches upon various aspects of future climate revolutions. Now, the question arises, will we let that future in climate revolution happen? There are dangerous indications which might lead us to conclude with a ‘no’. For all his business acumen, it is widely known that President Elect Donald Trump has not always believed in the idea of climate change. His cabinet selections further seem to indicate that he might not bother about it during his tenure.

This is what needs to be different about a future climate revolution. It has to global. Not China’s, where living conditions are insufferable due to vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Not India’s, where smog envelopes even the capital city, Delhi. And not USA’s. The global community needs to come together and support the climate science community so that the revolution can happen. Otherwise, we are done for.

Curiosity Killed the Cat

But satisfaction brought him back.


Kerry Emanuel explored the history of climate science and listed many contributors to the development of this discipline. Throughout his talk, what really stood out to me was that curiosity is a driving principle for the advancement of climate science. I venture far as to say that curiosity is a driving principle for ANY science. Curiosity opens up the conceptual space for exploring new ideas not available before, and allows for experimentation, both theoretical and practical.

According to Emanuel, curiosity about why the Earth’s temperature was what it was, why the old ice sheets behaved the way they behaved, and what determines the nature of the surface of the Earth is what guided many scientist’s experiments in climate science. This desire to know guides not only climate science, but also any other scientific endeavors; it reflects an awareness, want, and need to fill in a knowledge gap. It is also a source of personal satisfaction and of aliveness: according to Ian McEwan, “the standard measure of how alive you are is your curiosity.”

Taking curiosity as a guiding principle in science leads to many paths that are not necessarily useful at first glance. Endeavors led by curiosity are often thought of as useless because they do not have any immediate practical applications, and are waved off as daydreams or delusions. Those who follow their scientific curiosity, and dare to ask the “what if…” question (or any other questions), are often the ones that make significant contributions. In these types of experiments, utility is not the primary purpose, the motivation to realize them is not utilitarian.

This does not mean, however, that any inquiry based on curiosity will result in something useful. “Fooling around” with an idea does not make it automatically better, but it does offer conceptual freedom and “shackles off the human mind” (Flexner, 546) and sets it free for adventure. According to Flexner, curiosity is the “outstanding characteristic of modern thinking. It is not new. It goes back to Galileo, Bacon, and to Sir Isaac Newton, and it must be absolutely unhampered” (Flexner, 545).

Emanuel made it clear that the revolution in climate science, just like any revolution, has a long and intricate history. Each scientist finds bits and pieces of a theory and then the pieces are organized in a systematic way to make a real contribution to science. All of these experiments enrich our world view and aid in the pursuit of science and truth.  “The mere fact that [experiments] bring satisfaction to an individual soul-bent upon its own purification and elevation is all the justification that they need” (Flexner, 549).

References:

Flexner, Abraham. “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.” Harpers, vol. 179, 1939, pp. 544-552, https://library.ias.edu/files/UsefulnessHarpers.pdf.

Curiosity: The Driving Force for Revolutions?

Professor Kerry Emanuel discussed the history of climate science’s revolutionizers and the path taken that has led climate science to be what it is today. Some of the major themes Emanuel emphasized include the duration of this path, its dependence on technological advancements, and the vastness of knowledge that has yet to be learned. However, during this discussion, one driving force was subtly spreadheading every part of the process: People’s curiosity in climate science. This leads one to wonder: Is curiosity the driving force for revolutions, and, or are other factors in play?

 

The origin of revolutions is a complex matter. Every revolution is unique, context-specific, and requires different resources to guarantee its success. Could curiosity be the sole driving force? Looking at the climate change revolution, specifically, Emanuel pointed to several early researchers. Each one of them was genuinely curious in how the world functioned. Whenever a finding arose, their curiosity only grew and prompted additional exploration, like the geologists noticing scratch marks on arctic rocks. Other major scientific revolutions originate from the power of curiosity, like the concept of evolution and even the expansion of technology.

 

However, did curiosity drive other revolutions’ success? One could argue curiosity for a better life and society drove the French Revolution, or curiosity of complete independence drove the American Revolution; but did other factors dominate these revolutions? I would argue for societal-changing revolutions, there are other overarching factors, such as anger, passion, and dissatisfaction. General curiosity is not bound to push for grand changes like these revolutions achieved; stronger, more pressing feelings and emotions seem to push these revolutions over the edge.

 

Albeit curiosity may not be the significant contributor to every revolution, it seems to be important in exploratory-revolutions, whether that be improving science and/or technology. This is intriguing, and makes one wonder about whether these fields of work foster this likely necessary curiosity.