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.