“The Pursuit Of Ignorance”

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 1 2013 @ 5:24pm

That’s how neuroscientist Steven Firestein describes the meaning of science in the above TED talk, rejecting, as Ayun Halliday puts it, “any metaphor that likens the goal of science to completing a puzzle, peeling an onion, or peeking beneath the surface to view an iceberg in its entirety.” Halliday continues:

Such comparisons suggest a future in which all of our questions will be answered. In Dr. Firestein’s view, every answer can and should create a whole new set of questions, an opinion previously voiced by playwright George Bernard Shaw and philosopher Immanuel Kant. A more apt metaphor might be an endless cycle of chickens and eggs. Or, as Dr. Firestein posits in his highly entertaining, 18-minute TED talk above, a challenge on par with finding a black cat in a dark room that may contain no cats whatsoever.

According to Firestein, by the time we reach adulthood, 90% of us will have lost our interest in science. Young children are likely to experience the subject as something jolly, hands-on, and adventurous. As we grow older, a deluge of facts often ends up trumping the fun. Principles of Neural Science, a required text for Firestein’s undergraduate Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience course weighs twice as much as the average human brain. The majority of the general public may feel science is best left to the experts, but Firestein is quick to point out that when he and his colleagues are relaxing with post-work beers, the conversation is fueled by the stuff that they don’t know.