Scientists and nonscientists enjoy science in many ways, for many reasons.
Some of these ways and reasons are in this page, and others are in other pages.
Science can help us fulfill a
deep human need, because it is one way to search for answers when, inspired
by our curiosity,
we ask questions about what, how, and why. Most of us want to know the
truth, so an intrinsically appealing goal is the design of scientific theories
that are true because they correctly describe
what is happening now and what has happened in the past.
The history of quantum ideas began in
1900 when, in an effort to explain the observations of light emitted from
glowing objects, Max Planck proposed a new idea. He found that the
observations could be explained if emitted light has quantized energies,
if the energy can have some values but not others. This quantization of energy is analogous to the quantization of height when you walk up stairsteps,
in contrast with the continuously variable heights on a smooth ramp.
You can see the joy of scientific discovery in letters between two scientists who played key roles at the beginning and end of this grand adventure. Max Planck, who found the first piece of the puzzle, writes to Erwin Schrodinger and describes his pleasure in seeing the elegantly simple wave equation: "I am reading your paper in the way a curious child eagerly listens to the solution of a riddle with which he has struggled for a long time, and I rejoice over the beauties that my eye discovers." Erwin Schrodinger replies by agreeing that "everything resolves itself with unbelievable simplicity and unbelievable beauty, everything turns out exactly as one would wish, in a perfectly straightforward manner, all by itself and without forcing." They struggled with a problem, solved it, and were thrilled. It's fun to think and learn!
But this is not the end of the story. There were more puzzles to solve, and scientists — including those in the outline above, plus Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and others — had a powerful new tool they could use in many ways. They soon discovered, for example, that wave equations could explain the structure of the periodic table. This was exciting because scientists now had two independent confirmations for periodic patterns, with support for the same theory coming from two very different directions, from experimental observations of chemistry (in the 1880s) and from theoretical mathematics of waves (in the 1920s) that explained the periodic patterns. Today, scientists are still exploring the mysteries and applications of quantum mechanics, which has served as a powerful unifying theory for a wide range of domains.
Are the joys of science only for
the special few, for geniuses like Planck and Einstein, de Broglie and Schrodinger? No,
you can also understand and enjoy science, because the thinking used in science
is not strange and mysterious, it's the same thinking you use in daily life. A
companion page about The
Logic of Scientific Method explains how — in scientific logic, as
in daily life — you use reality checks to
decide whether "the way you think the world is" matches "the
way the way the world really is."
The Joy of Science
a comment for the reader: Later, I'll write an introduction for this page, about the contrast between recognizing that scientists might enjoy things that YOU would find interesting (and there will be links to pages with stories about these things) versus the "mystery story" in this page, which is about ideas that THEY found interesting. Hopefully, you can see why they found it interesting, whether or not it has the same effect on you. :<)
And there is more about the joy of science, especially the pleasure of appreciating the magnificent beauties of nature — in sky and sea, rivers and mountains, forests and meadows, plants and animals — in Motivations for Education (Making it Fun and Useful) and (by other authors) in Stories of Science.
Here are some related pages:
This page is http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/think/science-joy.htm
Copyright © 2004 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved