“Yes dear, what is it?”
“The sky, it’s so clear today. Mummy, why is the sky blue? “
Let us imagine for a second, the above conversation took place here, in our dear country Nigeria, and the little child’s question there is posed to a typical Nigerian mother. The most likely response (or should I say retort) would be something in the form of : “Ehn, see stop disturbing me with your questions. ” or words to that effect. Or, if she is in a good mood, “It is God. God created the sky’s like that my dear.” The likelihood of her explaining the real reasons, (the interaction of Atmospheric Nitrogen with ultraviolent rays from the Sun) even perfunctorily or cursorily well let’s just say it’s safer to place a bet on one dollar equaling one naira. Ah well, this is Nigeria
It is no exaggeration to claim that scientific curiousity is the driving force behind the rapid development of the human race over the past few centuries. The bulk of humanity concerns and aims in most of the last millennias was centered on just finding enough food to last the day, the week, the month. No one really concerned themselves then with questions of an inquisitive nature, scientific curiousity. Strange and unnatural occurrences was ascribed to the God(s) worshipped in each respective lands and the normal everyday wonders (sunrise, rainbows, the mist in the morning ) were deemed too mundane to concern themselves with. All in all, humanity progressed at a snails pace. But sometimes in the 1600’s, individuals in the European society started getting interested in the workings of nature, the reason why things happen instead of just shrugging it off or ascribing it to God and full stop, not wanting to know further more. They began to investigate the workings of their environment, the earth around them and the world in general, and they found out that the previously mysterious unfathomable mysteries of nature can be explained in simple terms, that the world is not a tangled heap of wires, rather a beautiful maze that could be solved if one could just employ the right tools of logic, deductions and experimentations. They would go further to formalize this process and call it “philosophy of Natural things”, a term that would later transmogrify to “scientia”, Latin for “knowledge”. And even though centuries has passed and new modifications and the subject has been modified and added to extensively over the years, the core, the heart of this tool, the driving force of this particular logic system that is science remains the same: a huge dose of curiousity and creativity.
What is curiosity? What is creativity? A quick glance at the Oxford Learners dictionary defines curiosity as “a strong desire to know about something” and creativity “the use of skill and imagination to produce something new”. Morphing all this definitions together, we can define Scientific curiosity and creativity as “a strong desire to know about things and the use of skill and imagination to produce something new using scientific methods.” Simply speaking, it’s the act (or should I say art) of wanting to know how things work, and if you can find a better and easier way for that particular process, all the while using the tools prescribed by science: hypothesis, experiments and of course theories. And of course, the rewards for this cannot be overemphasized, it is no exaggeration to say modern science has transformed our lives greatly to where we are today. And all of it could not have been possible without support from society.
Let me ask you something, when you saw something beautiful or unexplainable as a child, where did you run to for answers? Our parents of course, the first frontiers of society. Their reactions and explainations at the time usually greatly determins our prejudices in future, how they reacts inadvertently affects us, a huge part of our psyche. Then come our teachers, friends, media and a dozen other agents of society. By the time one reaches the age to reason things well, interest in the sciences is either a blazing fire, or grey ash. Most Nigerians are of the later kind.
Science itself, it’s a social subject. You discuss problems with others, share the results of experiments with your peers, cowrite theories with colleagues… No man is simply an island in the subject. Hence it’s of great import the society promotes the cause of science and creativity, because without it’s support, scientific progess will be move at a speed even a snail can match.
Take for example, Nigeria, our country. This is a country with millions of graduates in the sciences, and professors of every sort percolating the academic strata of the country. I dare you to find me a course in the sciences without a Nigerian professor. Yet, for all this, the country remains deeply anti-scientific and conservative to a riddiculous degree. The general feeling amongst the populace, common or elite, is “Oya science, who e epp? “. What could be responsible for this? Different factors ranging from extreme religious devotion : “God did this and that’s all I want to know”, to survivalist mentality : “will all this thing feed me? What’s my business with this? “, to apathy from the scientists themselves! Sometimes Nigerian science educators behave like Cargo cult scientist , a sect Dr Richard Feynman describes below :
“In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.”
What a scenario wonderfully analogous to Nigeria’s science sector today! We are being sucessfully educated on how not to be educated, being tutored on science using dogmatic principles. Here is the premise. Here it is. 2 + 2 = 5. That’s it. Now swallow it. Don’t ask me any foolish questions about why. Don’t question my knowledge. Just take it like that. “Young man, I’ve been teaching since before you were born”. “I know these books like the back of my hands”. “How dare you question me when I tell you science is about asking questions”. We circumanbulate the whole concept without ever hitting the nail on the head and the result : graduates of an acerbate view of science and ready to take it out on his unfortunate underlings, a prime vector spreading the rot on the naturally inquisitive nature of us humans, Nigerians.
It is not hyperbolic to claim Nigerians are one of the most creative and scientifically curious folks on earth. Every day, our news media outlets and blogs carry news of people “inventing” things and it ends there? Why?? The society has to realize that the only way it can ever hope to attain a decent standard of living is by giving science adequate encouragement and nourishment.
Because without society, no science. And without science, no progress. I end this piece by contrasting two nations : India and Singapore together.
India has existed for over thousands of years now while Singapore is not even a century old. Yet Singapore aggressively financed science and technology, while India focused it’s energies elsewhere. The result, after 35 years? Singapore in the top ten countries with the most prosperous economies and their standard of living the best in the whole Asia. India on the other hand, is very much engaged in fighting for the poverty capital of the world with another “superpower”, our dear Nigeria.
I leave you to draw the conclusions.