Science for all of us

Pemikiran ini disampaikan sebagai pengantar pada Seminar tentang Teaching the History of Nature as an Integrated Science Curriculum oleh Billie Grassie dari Metanexus Institute di Institut Teknologi Bandung, 19 Desember 2006.

A Short Note on Identifying the Need of Science in Society and Its Relevant Objective of Science Teaching

 Premana W. Premadi
Chair of the Bandung Society for Cosmology and Religion

There were times when science was regarded as the play ground of only a peculiar few, and thereby it was almost entirely detached from the real (read: daily) world. Whereas some narrow description of science and scientists remain perhaps true even today, science and its products have been taking part in the progress of the real world and culture, realised or not. Guided public exposure to scientific discoveries and frente a frente contact between scientists and public, which on world average still minimal, might be the cause of this lack of awareness of science in society.

Within science itself progress has been significant, if not fundamental. What started as separate fields, have been gradually identified as different circumstantial phenomena of the fundamental laws of nature at work seen through various scopes in a larger yet convergent scheme of nature. Although, it might be interesting to note,  rather ironically, this relation among the fields of sciences as having common foundation was identified by diligent works in sharply specified fields, seemingly strangers even within one general field. Biology, chemistry, physics, and even cosmology, ceased to be disjoint stories now; they are but pieces of mosaic of a grand picture of our existence. The chemical elements which our bodies are made of could trace their path way back to the belly of some unassuming stars in a distant past  of our cosmic history, where the stars themselves contained direct product of the intricate quantum processes took place not long after the beginning of the universe. That is, only time separates human physical entity from the formation of myriad of galaxies in the universe; to those galaxies, we are connected through the chain of uninterrupted astrophysical processes.

Structured science education such as those offered by institutionalised education system like our universities should be able to recognise the drive of scientific development, which is an intrinsic property of science itself, as well as to perceive the need and the level of acceptance of science in society. That is, the modern teaching of science must include the fundamentals of science, its current state of progress, and also some intelligent method to anticipate its long term importance and implication in humanity. The purpose of such content is at least twofold. First, it prepares the future generation of competent scientists to conduct scientific works and ideas in a most responsible manner for the science itself, in its spirit of seeking the truth. Second, it motivates them to participate as trained and ethical science advocates in the maturing society, wherein the acquired scientific knowledge will play so important a role as to be considered in the decision making, from matters of grave consequence nationwide or even worldwide, all the way to daily matters discussed at family breakfast table. Neither to make moral judgment nor to impose values pretentiously, (presumeably other faculties of society carry the burden of that assignment), but to provide the society with clear understanding of the causal relation of any physical condition and action, and to equip with rational basis to embark on just about any thought exercise.

It must be further emphasized, however, that science as it is, and by itself, does not claim to have a complete understanding of our existence nor to offer solutions to all problems in the world. Nonetheless, science will be the thing to look at, when one looks for some measure of truth of nature with general validity, for in the work of science, all human factors must be shaken off before one arrives at a solid scientific conclusion.

In the course of science education, it must also be shown the boundary of scientific domain at which scientific description ceases to be valid and becomes ambiguous or even meaningless. Human mind and soul reach much farther beyond this scientific domain, and their guidance in this limitless journey is more of spiritual or similar nature.

A science curriculum that allows the building of connecting doors to these other realms, is not only  recognising and respecting their role and importance in understanding and valuing human existence, but more importantly accommodating a healthy and constructive communication among all of them in creating a wholesome human civilization. This will not be taken as a gesture only, but as a positive and serious action, subject to evaluation and assessment, as any curriculum should be. It took a considerable fraction of universe age to form physical beings, yet history shows that it took only thousands of years for human to refine their mind, awareness, and compassion. We are still in that process, we will always be, but this time we need to get our act together wisely and fast. With the human population still growing, the already depleted terrestrial resources will have to be distributed even more thinly in the near future, and the whole civilisation on earth will be at serious stake. Yet, on more local scales, human-caused catastrophes might precede it, and with the current global networking, the disturbed balance will wave its way all around the globe, accelerating us all towards a worldwide calamity. We still have a good deal of chance to prevent this grim picture from materialising, or even to make the world better than it is today, where human of all kinds, live well side by side in peace, and in healthy environment, with a good understanding of one another, and of the universe in which they are important parts.

The ideal is a long term target, but between now and then there are infinitely many feasible mini projects which, if achieved, will give a great reassurance that the ultimate goal is not utopic.

At the end of the day, a good and sound science curriculum should present to the society not only good science, but more importantly, good scientist, the person.

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