They Might Be Giants "Science is Real" song is a bit sad

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Here's a video for a song from a new children's album by They Might Be Giants that I find to be a bit more sad than anything:



It's a bit sad because of the current state of affairs that leads to songs like this being created. Personally, I'm very glad that I never had to be convinced that science was real while growing up; it was simply something that was there. The first thing I wanted to be while growing up was a paleontologist (and astronomer), and at the same time our house was full of religious and mythological books, from the Bible (including apocryphal books) to the Book of the Dead to Arthurian legends, etc., and it wasn't until the advent of the internet that I realized that there were people out there that actually pitted the two against each other. The idea of children being brought up trained to see religion and science in political terms from a very young age is what makes this video a bit sad.

I've often noted that perhaps one reason why science has become so politicized is due to the fact that Latin isn't taught as much as it was a century ago, and few know that it simply comes from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge. Many other languages reflect this too, such as:

German: Wissenschaft (wissen = know)
Norwegian: Vitenskap (vite = know)
Turkish: Bilim (bilmek = know)
Estonian: Teadus (teadma = know)

One interesting proposal for a word to use in place of science (it'll never happen, but still interesting) is the word lore. It's hard to argue against a word like that, and all of a sudden some of the more eccentric sounding branches of scientific knowledge become that much clearer to the average person - aerology becomes skylore, biology becomes lifelore, economics is wealthlore, eschatology is endtimelore, geology is stonelore, neurology is brainlore, and dendrology becomes treelore. Not all the terms on that list are that clear (and some are weird) but overall it's a list of terms that hits much closer to home for the average English speaker in the 21st century.

German is one of the best examples of why science doesn't really need fanciful terminology - we have hydrogen in English, but Einstein did just fine calling hydrogen Wasserstoff (waterstuff). I don't know if there are any studies out there that prove this, but my hunch is that a terminology that is more comprehensible to the average person is also likely to create a more scientifically literate community, while more obscure terminology is likely to make science seem like an ivory tower type of subject when it's really just a method for testing and proving hypotheses, and gradually increasing one's understanding of the universe.

Bill Watterson explained this best.

6 comments:

Nikki said...

I also had the same reaction when I heard this song. I almost feel it belittles science to have to repeat over and over, "Science is real" like there was ever a question. So sad that apparently, it IS questioned now.

ChristShrugged said...

Yes, the reality of Science IS questioned now. Almost half of Americans do not believe that evolution is real.

Biblical literalists are rising up against the scientific community - against schools, simply because the reality science has uncovered inconveniently conflicts with the "reality" in the Holy Bible. This is much like the days of Galileo, but people nowadays forget that the bible says the sun orbits the earth. Evolution is the hot topic.

I am extremely pleased to see TMBG stand up and assert that angels, unicorns, and elves are all on the same level. The symbolism of the child eating the apple and planting its seeds clearly represents the positive influence on humanity that science offers.

This is in stark contrast to the demonization that religion places on it. Don't forget that the "original sin" was supposedly Adam and Eve eating of the fruit that granted them knowledge of good and evil.

When you look at it this way, which is the perspective of the Christian majority, I don't think there's a terminology problem here. Biblical literalism is clearly against knowledge. Period.

Anonymous said...

As a father raising two skeptics (a six year old and a three year old) I am pleased at TMBG for being brave enough to author and produce this album. It maybe sad that we need it, but at least we have it. Even before 9/11, rationality was under pressure, (remember Intelligent Design,) after 9/11 our own politics made such views almost anti-patriotic. It's good to see the first public indications of a rebound in Rational Thought.

Let it continue!

Anonymous said...

They Might Be Giants Rocks! The song is a cry out for people to understand that science uses the tools of experiment to find out what works. Science works. To fix the problems in the world we need the tools of science and to get kids interested in science will only help the world get better. Science is not just real. It rocks!

Anonymous said...

I also think the song is sad, because it seems to suggest that science is all we need.

It's as if there were two kinds of things in this world, real and fake, and science is to be identified with the real. But what about the "supra-real"? What about the things that are so real that science is simply not the appropriate tool for explaining them?

This is where spirituality, religion, story, etc. all come in. Even fictional stories can sometimes speak a truer truth than scientific facts.

I think the song's biggest offense is equating "fact" with "truth." These are not necessarily the same thing.

Anonymous said...

They Might Be Giants Rocks! The song is a cry out for people to understand that science uses the tools of experiment to find out what works. Science works. To fix the problems in the world we need the tools of science and to get kids interested in science will only help the world get better. Science is not just real. It rocks!

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