Recently, I have been on a real Doctor Who kick. For the sadly uninitiated, it’s a sci-fi British TV show starring a time-traveling alien and his various human companions. The most recent episode, and possibly my favourite, was The Impossible Planet; in it, a crew of humans are attracted to a planet revolving in a geosynchronous orbit around a black hole. This is quite literally impossible, a fact the Doctor is quick to point out, unless there’s some power source fueling the orbit itself. It turns out later that the power source is really some sort of huge beast, claiming to be the Devil — the original Satan himself. There’s a happy ending, but that’s not what caught me — what really struck me was the sheer curiosity in the entire enterprise. The curiosity that led humans to set up base in an impossible planet, the curiosity that fueled them to keep drilling below to find the power source, to discover the Devil.
This is what science gives us: it gives us hope, the future, and a target for curiosity. It’s curiosity itself, whole, defined, except a sort of … processed curiosity. The feeling of discovery, distilled into theories and laws and hypotheses and experimentation.
When married to ethics, it is meant for development; divorced from it, science is growth for growth’s sake, the philosophy of the cancer cell, to rephrase Edward Abbey. With imagination, science is progress; without, it stagnates and becomes dogma.
That’s the point, really — striving for a better sort of future, the hope that our lives will improve, will be infinitely more enriched because we’ve discovered the next elementary particle.
Science is not, regardless of what we’ve been taught in school, what happens when we plug in equations. Those are tools. This is like equating the colors of the rainbow to the entire concept of art. It’s the intent behind it; it’s what drives science.