Every 3 Year Old is a Scientist – Science rEvolution

Every three year old is a scientist. This is the age we ask “why” about nearly everything around us. And even after hearing the answer, we often do not believe. We have to experiment and see the results for ourselves. This is the age of reaching new and sometimes painful conclusions. I think people who become scientists, like I did, may continue to ask “why” longer, but not in a way very different from a young persons’. Why is it science becomes so distant from many of us when we grow up?

When I was young, I had the idea that I could see through things. I thought my parents should know, and told them about it. Mom’s advice was not to talk about it. Dad looked at me for a while, then asked what exactly it was that I thought I could see through.

Laying on my side with a pillow close to my face, I could see my hand on the other side. The vision of my hand was off and on, depending on whether I was relaxed or trying too hard to see it. Then it disappeared. So, I concluded that I could see through things if I was relaxed enough.

The new experiment: Dad asked me to repeat this, but closing one eye, then the other. Trying this made it clear that one eye had a view of my hand, the other eye a view of the pillow. The discovery of the “why” behind my strange thought delighted me. For the first time, I started to get the idea of perspective and what having 2 eyes meant, how it affected my view of the world around me.

A few years later I learned to sew at home, and had a similar experience. When I held my fingers up to the very intense lightbulb on the sewing machine, I could see through them a bit. The skin became transparent, and the nail and bone darker. It was a little creepy, but this is how I came to understand the idea of X-rays. Light and other kinds of rays can pass through skin more easily than through bone.

When do we stop asking “why”?

For me, a change came in high school. Science in high school was unpleasant for me. Lab was sterile. It smelled bad. Things stored in large crusty bottles could burn me. Other things could blow up. All that glassware to try not to drop. I had to figure out the goggles, which also smelled bad.

But worst of all, I was never, ever allowed to do what I wanted in the lab in high school. I couldn’t play. I couldn’t experiment. Even the word, experiment, took on a new meaning. Something like: Follow directions. Don’t spill things. Don’t blow things up. Write down what happens. Write it legibly.

I rediscovered how much fun it is to ask “why” in college in the lab. I started working in and experimental research lab when I was 19, and didn’t get out of lab work until 20 years later. It was in molecular biology, and I was running DNA through little gels to separate one strand of the double helix from the other. I had fun. Yes, then I loved science again.

I’ve started a new science blog this year, Science rEvolution [Big ideas, little words] to share new science reports using normal words, with less jargon. The focus is on health, enviroment, engineering and research studies. Blog posts are from scientists, healthcare professionals and engineers. If you think you might love science too, I hope you will come visit me there.

About the picture: Does anyone know why birds do this, fly together so perfectly? I took the photo in Rome in the evening during blackbird migration.

6 thoughts on “Every 3 Year Old is a Scientist – Science rEvolution

  1. Great post, I liked Science in high school better than English and Math anyway, but my favorite will always be History. I’ll be catching up on your science blog tomorrow, it will be great to have all those articles in one place. 🙂

  2. I think many people cease asking why when they become caught up in their busy everyday survival and ambitions. But there are still plenty, like yourself, who continue asking why. They grow up to make marvelous documentaries on the strange creatures that live at the deepest depts of the ocean, or what it’s like to climb Mt. Everest, what it may be like at the farthest edges of the universe, and how those crop circles appear.

    I do love having someone who has investigated some marvel reveal it’s mystery to me.

    Your post makes me think of Maslow’s paramid; those who are struggling with everyday survival don’t have the luxury to examine the head of a sunflower and question why the spirals always keep the same ratio, and what that might mean.

    It is hard to fathom the conciousness of someone who doesn’t marvel at the physical world, and all that goes unseen beneath its processes…the mystery and the beauty and the perfectness of it. Maybe they get cutoff, living as we do in houses and car and offices.

  3. I think I’m one of those people that never stopped asking why. Whether it’s about the humanities, the beta sciences, history, other people or even about my breakfast, I’m always curious. I think curiosity is one of the most valuable assets human beings have and it’s what makes us learn. For me, learning is a drug. I always want to know more.
    But indeed, during my school years, my curiosity got put aside a bit. It didn’t fit the scheme, apart from with two or three teachers that were really into challenging us.
    A few years ago, in university, I found my old lust for life again. The never ending wondering. And I enjoy every moment of it, even when it turns my brains to mush.

  4. I believe when we stop asking why and the world no longer arouses our curiosity, we’ve come to the end of our lives. The world and all it inhabits holds so many mysteries we couldn’t possibly unravel them all in a lifetime. For me, that’s the beauty of life.

    As for why birds fly in large masses the way they do, there have been several theories: Socializing, protection from predators, and aerodynamic & energy conservation are a few. There has even been an assumption they have a telepathic link and group mind. In the end, I think scientist are just as awestruck by the mystery as we are. (Hugs)Indigo

  5. I love this post! I love how you describe your childhood memories and discoveries with such affection and understanding. It takes that appreciation of our youthful curiosity and energy to pursue our interests, passions, and projects as we get older. In many people this is lost. It makes me feel happy to read of how you’re still connected to that energy and curiosity.

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