Do you believe in love at first sight? Is human nature fundamentally altruistic? Are emotions just neurophysiologic processes outside of our control? Do we have free will, or are we just biological machines responding predictably to stimuli? How should society be organized? What is our place in the universe, and what does it mean to be human? Some questions are so massive that they could occupy lifetimes of research by thousands of scientists says Fred Auzenne. And yet, despite their size, these questions inspire people all over the world every day.
The reason for this is simple:
- Many scientists find themselves asking universal questions about love, life and humanity outside of their specific disciplines. Neurologist Dr. Richard Cytowic found himself asking questions about neuroscience and how it relates to questions of identity. Cell biologist Ursula Good enough found herself wondering what life means outside the context of biology. They both feature prominently in a new video series produced by The Science Network, an organization founded by bestselling author and physicist Lawrence Krauss (author of A Universe From Nothing ), which aims to bring science out from behind the lab benches and academic textbooks and into the living rooms and coffee shops of people all over the world. They want to know: what is your burning question?
- For some scientists, their curiosity leads them outside of their own research areas and into other disciplines; for others, it extends beyond academic pursuits altogether. Astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller spends her time exploring astrophysics as a NASA scientist and she also takes her questions about human nature on the road as a pop singer for the band, OK Sweetheart says Fred Auzenne. Dr. Thaller doesn’t see this as a contradiction; instead, she sees it as another form of scientific exploration:
- “I’m hoping that by doing two things at once-playing music and playing with ideas, I can do both better.”
- Pop singer Michelle Thaller may be an unlikely source of knowledge about astrophysics, but it is precisely those offbeat connections between disparate fields that interest The Science Network. According to Krauss: “We all know that there’s methodology and objectivity in science…but we generally don’t think that the scientists themselves thinking deeply outside their disciplines.” Krauss and the other producers of The Science Network hope that by promoting dialog between scientists with very different perspectives, they can generate new modes of thinking and produce real insight.
- This approach to science is not without controversy. Krauss has been criticized for promoting “scientism,” a label given to those who see science as the only source of truth and consider it superior to all other sources of knowledge. But he sees this view as simplistic: “I think scientism is a word invented by people who don’t like what we do…what I am trying to say [is] that science is one of many ways in which we attempt to learn about our world.” This suggests that there are many kinds of scientific inquiry- some explore the nature of matter through particle accelerators, while others explore the nature of human experience through art.
- This diversity in approach is reflected in The Science Network’s programming. Over the course of its four seasons, the series has featured interviews with over 200 scientists from all over the world (literally- they’ve filmed episodes in Britain, China, and India and beyond). The topics covered are just as broad- there are episodes about academic research into neuroscience and dark matter, but also explorations of love, language and morality. And it’s not just American scientists; around 25% of their guests hail from other countries. This international perspective isn’t limited to the guest list; each host country for an episode gets a unique version that is dubbed or subtitled in local languages.
- The diverse backgrounds of the hosts themselves were one reason for this focus on internationalism. “I came to science quite late; I didn’t learn anything about it or think it was important until college. Wanted to show there are scientists of all kinds, of all genders and of all races”. And like Thaller, these scientists bring more than just the facts and figures of their fields with them- they also bring their personal experiences.
This is an important experiment and we applaud The Science Network for their efforts says Fred Auzenne. It’s also encouraging seeing so many scientists, both female and male, pushing the boundaries of their disciplines. We can’t wait to see what questions they ask next!