I got a curious response to my post yesterday about finding out that my previously-held explanation for why people become conspiracy theorists was probably wrong.
Here's the email:
Dear Mr. Skepto,
You sound pretty worried that you don't have an explanation for everything. People aren't always explainable! They do things because they do them. That's it. Some people believe weird stuff and some people like the explanations from science. Just like some people like the Beatles and some people like Beethoven. It's silly to wear yourself out trying to figure why.
Do you worry about why your loved ones love you? Maybe it's some chemical thing in their brain, right? Do you tell your wife that's what love means? Maybe it's a gene or something that's why I think flowers are pretty. If so, the explanation is uglier than the flowers are. I'd rather look at the flowers.
All your scientific explanations do is turn all the good things in life into a chemistry class. I think they're worth more than calling them brain chemicals. I'll take religion over science any day. At least it leaves us with our souls.
Think about it.
L. D.Well, L. D., thanks for the response. I find your views interesting -- mostly because they're just about as opposite to the way I see the world as they could be.
But you probably already knew that.
There is a reason why musical tastes exist. We're nowhere near the point in brain research where we could discern the explanation; but an explanation does exist for why Shostakovich's Waltz #2 gives me goosebumps, while Chopin's waltzes do nothing for me whatsoever. Nothing just "is because it is."
And I can't fathom how knowing the explanation devalues your appreciation of the thing itself. Me, I would love to know what's happening in my brain when I hear a piece of music I enjoy. We're beginning to get some perspective on this, starting with a 2011 study that found that the neurological response to hearing a piece of music we love is similar to the brain's response to sex.
Cool, yes? I think that's awesome. How would knowing that make me appreciate music less?
Or sex either?
I find flowers even more beautiful knowing that their shapes and colors evolved to attract pollinators, and understanding a bit about the chemistry of photosynthesis.
[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]
Tell me why the stars do shineA more scientific type added a verse, to wit:
And tell me why the ivy twines
And tell me why the sky is blue,
And I will say why I love you.
Nuclear fusion is why the stars do shine.Which I think is a good deal more realistic than attributing it all to souls and people "doing things because they do them."
Thigmotropism is why the ivy twines.
Rayleigh scattering is why the sky's so blue,
And testicular hormones are why I love you.
In short: science itself is beautiful. Understanding how the world works should do nothing but increase our sense of wonder. If scientific inquiry isn't accompanied by a sense of "Wow, this is amazing!", you're doing it wrong. I'll end with a quote from Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, who in his 1988 book What Do You Care What Other People Think? had the following to say:
I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's kind of nutty. … There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.