Sunday, September 14, 2014

The "Type B" Scientist - an Introduction

Where science was concerned, my seven-year-old self was a master of Doublethink.  I maintained two radically different ideas of how "science" was done — and somehow I managed to keep these definitions totally separate until the peak of my elementary school school career.

The water cycle, photosynthesis, volcanoes, vertebrates and invertebrates...
These were mere morsels to whet the appetite, I thought. Actual science, as conducted by actual scientists, had to fit one of my two preconceived models. For convenience, I'll call them Type A and Type B:

Type A was very much inspired by television — by Dexter's Laboratory, giant cartoon robots, and flashy advertisements for electronic junk. In shiny metal laboratories, Type A scientists stood around enormous computer screens that revealed the secrets of the world to them. They wore immaculate white lab coats, rubber gloves, and indestructible safety glasses. They talked in jargon so dense that it became a language unto itself, known only to the truly enlightened. Through the simple-yet-sophisticated process of placing a petri dish under a laser scanner, these machine-people could understand everything in the known universe.

Type A. You get the idea, yes?
By contrast, Type B is best represented by an old British colonel in a pith helmet, tramping through the wilderness with his machete and his magnifying glass. Type B Science required that its practitioners be more than mere scholars; they had to be explorers and gentlemen and poets and...

They needed to clutch things in their hands, examine them with their eyes. They could read the secrets of the world simply by looking around them. Type B scientists were to nature what Sherlock Holmes was to crime. They did more than mine for data; they produced something beautiful and valuable from that data.

If this gentleman had acted a little less destructively,
he would have been an excellent "Type B scientist."

Anyway...

As time passed, Type A eventually overtook Type B in my mind. Outlandish as it is, the image of Dexter's Laboratory remains more relevant to today's practical science. The old British colonels are irrelevant and unscientific — and not only that, they were filthy Imperialists! Bent on the subjugation of foreign peoples! Glutted by the wealth of foreign lands! Enemies to every rare and beautiful species on this planet!

Who am I to argue with these accusations? According to the perspective foisted upon me by years of schooling — and well, to actual history — most of these old white men fall short of my childhood imagination. If they weren't ethnocentric twits who saw only monetary value in things, they were quack hobbyists whose essays and poems have little to no scientific merit.

Skip now to the present day, two weeks into BIO 1164. Dr. Atkins has been singing the praises of old-style naturalists — the very sort of people who inspired me to shove semi-organic matter under my toy microscope. Moreover, he has shown us that people within the scientific community still value the old "Renaissance Man" approach to nature. What a wonderful feeling! It's validating — and not in the "You were right all along!" sense, but the "Hey, your interests aren't completely worthless!" sense.

In short, I'm very pleased and hopeful.
My dreams of being an old British colonel are still alive and well.

I am, at the time of writing this, sitting on my backyard deck. The air is cool, the trees are glowing green in the early evening sun, and the crickets are chirping all around me. Hopefully this observation fits my blog's quota of actual nature content. Hopefully I'll be able to say more about these things in the future, now that this introductory post is finished and published.

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To close, I'd like to recommend a short piece of literature that relates, if only slightly, to nature or naturalism. This is a trend that I want to continue throughout my keeping of this blog. It may be a short story, a poem, or an excerpt of a larger work; if I can find a link to the text online, I'll post it.

This week's piece is a short story by Roald Dahl, titled "The Sound Machine."
To those who are familiar only with Dahl's children's stories, its style and tone may come as a bit of a surprise. Or it may not. The story can be found on page 33 of this .PDF file. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Your quota is met for one week! Very nice post, Joey! I look forward to seeing what types of things interest you in relation to this class, and in what ways you develop as a "Type B" scientist!

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