Tag Archives: knowledge

Critical Thinking for Young Adults And Children

Years ago, long before Twitter and Facebook, my teachers would ask me and my classmates to sit in a line.  And in a game then called ‘Chinese Whispers*’ we would pass a secret message down the line, mouth to ear. And by the end of the line, the story would likely be very different from what began.

Although this childhood game is just a bit of fun, it has real-life implications. They say that information is power, but the truth is that it is not the information, but whoever controls it and how it is told that holds all the cards.

And today this could not be more important. As the world grows so does our circle of friends and strangers. Some of you will have social media accounts, that over the next few years, will connect you with thousands of people. And you will come to rely on them not just for friendship, but for learning about the world.

And this is where misconceptions, prejudice and being controlled can begin.

The Social Mesh

News articles, blogs, and opinions will filter through this mesh of people in ways similar to the old game of ‘Chinese whispers’, and by the end, it is hard to know what the real story is. And even worse, someone may change the story deliberately to mislead you, or just make one up for some personal reason.

You may have heard US President Donald Trump talk about ‘Fake News‘ (where the stories are untrue, or only parts are told,) or his opponents call him a liar. But when you don’t know the real truth, how can you decide? Is Trump a liar, or are the press spinning tall tales?

Well thankfully there is an answer, and its called ‘Critical thinking.

And in a world where the control of stories is power, it prepares you to decide for yourself what is true, and what is a lie. It helps you decide who to vote for, which issues will affect your life and what you need to do about them. Today I will teach you an introduction into how to think about stories and some questions you might ask.

Critical Thinking and Critical Appraisal.

Critical thinking is a process by which you can approach information. It allows you to ask the right questions about stories to figure out what is real, and what is not. It helps you to spot patterns, tricks and tells that reveal whether the speaker or writer is telling the truth.

Alongside it is something called ‘Critical appraisal’, where you learn how to break apart scientific studies and important papers that often provide the basis for these stories. Today we will focus on critical thinking in general, as critical appraisal requires its own time and a basic understanding of scientific theory and study.

This may already sound difficult, but it’s not. Science may seem difficult, but it’s all about practice. One hour spent learning something makes you one hour better, and it’s true for critical thinking as much as maths homework.

So the concepts I will introduce you to here are just part one of something much bigger, that I will leave to you to investigate the rest.  It’s probably better that way.

Tricks and Tails

First, let us imagine a story. Imagine, for a moment, that your pet dog has chewed up your parent’s favorite plant. It was your job to make sure the dog was looked after, but you left the front door open. Your parents are angry, and asking you what happened.

Dependent on what you want to happen, you will tell a different story. Perhaps you will say that ‘the wind opened the door,’ or perhaps that ‘the dog was asleep.’ Much like the game of Chinese whispers, you are changing the story to suit a particular purpose.

Your parents probably won’t believe you, but you have learned something: that lies can be useful. This is even more true for what you read on newspapers, television and online. If you can spin the facts to tell your story, you can make people do what you want.

But, you know this is wrong. Lies are generally a bad idea.

Unfortunately, ‘fake news’ is just that, lies. It may not be changing the facts ‘the dog ate the plant’, but it will change something about the story. Perhaps the dog ate the plant because ‘your parents weren’t feeding it’, (which may or may not be true,) but suddenly the dead plant is your parent’s fault. Not the dogs or yours.

This is called ‘spin’, a way of communicating information toward a certain story. Or another way of saying ‘bending the truth.’ But in the case of the dog, you are saying something believable, even if a lie. This happens all the time in the adult world, whether it be about Brexit (ask your parents,) or the reasons countries may fight each other.

It is saying something that’s believable, or perhaps even likely, without proof and letting people connect the dots.

Asking Questions

So your parents may ask you a few questions. They may look around the room and notice that the dog’s food bowl is half eaten. They may notice that the television is on with your favorite show playing. Eventually, they will figure out the truth. The facts around them cut through your story.

You have learned something new: ‘lies can be spotted.’

For the dog and the dead plant, this is easy. Your parents know you, your habits and probably when you are lying. They spot patterns in your voice or inconsistencies in your story. It’s just time and practice.

But as the stories become more complicated, and more people are involved, it gets harder. What if the dog was in the next house, and you couldn’t check the food bowl? What if you had to ask your neighbor about the food, and they could lie. Welcome to reading news stories, lots of people, half the information and much more power.

The more uncertainty there is around a story, the harder it is to spot what is added or taken away. Just as further down the chain of ‘Chinese whispers’ the words change, the further through social media or a newspaper from the original source the story travels, the less it can be trusted.

Thankfully for all of us, if we learn to spot common ways in which the news and others will trick us, we can apply our thinking to new information. In the case of the dog and the plant, your parents could just check for bite marks on the plant.

Three simple questions

So instead of spending a long time going through all the tricks, I am going to give you three questions to ask whenever you hear or read a new story. And for each one, a little explanation of why it’s so important.

By the end of the questions, you may have noticed that the story doesn’t quite add up. Or perhaps that something is missing, and you are being forced to believe something false:

Do you feel strongly about what you read or hear (sad, happy, angry?)

Emotions are very useful things. But for a news company, making someone angry with a headline is a good way to sell a paper. But we know that when you are angry,  you pay less attention to the facts.  So if a headline is angry, or uses overly comforting words, it is there to make you concentrate not on the story, but your emotions.

The paper wants you to react to the story in a certain way. A good example would be whenever some British papers talk about people from abroad, they always use angry words. This is because they want you to be angry with those people, even if those people aren’t doing anything wrong. They don’t want you to think about the facts.

So if you read a news story and feel very strongly, take a moment to remind yourself that this could be the purpose of the writer. And that purpose may be to distract you from actually thinking about what the story truly means. So take a moment, forget the feeling, and read again.

If the story seems odd once you read it again without the anger, then you may have spotted something. Remember that a story built on emotion may lack truth.

Can you trust the ‘facts’?

Often a news story will contain a lot of numbers. They may say ‘40%’ of people think this or that, or that ‘10% of people’ did this or that. These numbers may not be trustworthy, or part of a bigger picture that the paper is choosing to hide. This is to trick you into thinking something is accurate or ‘backed up.’ It may not be.

For example ‘100% of people think that hunting foxes is okay ‘ may sound quite a little odd to you, especially when you realize that the group of people asked were all ‘Fox Hunters (this is called bias, and once you learn to spot it the news becomes very different.) If you were to ask 100 people from school, the answer would be very different.

You may also see newspapers refer to ‘studies’ or ‘one study’ done by a scientist. The problem is that not all studies are good, or even true. If you wanted to sell a medicine, and 3 studies had shown it a bad drug, and one showed it to beuseful, which would you talk about? Newspapers will often pick the studies that suit their story, without talking about the other ones.

This also happens in which stories some newspapers or social media stars will report on. For example, one particular youtuber tends to only report on crimes committed by a specific racial group, whilst ignoring those committed by others. There is a purpose to this, to make you hate a specific group by making it seem like they are all bad.

So when it comes to numbers and studies. it’s always worth finding out more. Who was actually asked? Where there other studies? What did they say, and did the newspaper mention them? Why not? Are these ‘facts’ really true, or are bits missing? If you notice something is missing, then treat the story as misleading.

And when a newspaper seems to only focus on one ethnic or religious group, be all the wiser. There is always more to the story than the color of a man’s face.

Who is telling the story?

You may notice that your parents buy the same newspaper every day, or watch the same news channel. But you may also notice that one newspaper will report on something in a very different way to another. For example, some British newspapers will always attack those from other countries, whilst others will always defend them.

Ask your parents about ‘The Sun’ newspaper, or if in America, ‘Fox News’. Ask them what these two groups say about people from other countries. Then compare it with what ‘The Guardian’ says in the UK, or CNN in America. The answers may surprise you.

This is called an agenda, which is the ‘purpose’ of the newspaper. Not all agendas are the ‘right’ one, and which you agree with is up to you. But if you can look at who is telling the story, you might be able to spot an early clue about whether you are being lied to.

Think of a friend at school who lies a lot. They may sometimes tell the truth, but if you hear a story from them you are much more likely to ignore it. But if you hear a story from someone you trust (or should trust,) you may believe it, even if its a lie.

Newspapers and broadcasters are meant to be trustworthy, but not all of them are. Adults have agendas, and it’s up to you to figure them out. One way is to look at who is telling the story. What have they said before? Do they like the person that they are talking about? Is it possible that they are changing the story because of their beliefs?

Or do they want you to believe what they do?

Bringing it together

So these are just three questions, and there are a lot more of them. It is important to know that each question isn’t meant to tell you ‘Yes or No’ about whether you can trust a story, but help you to spot the tricks.

It is then up to you to use your brain to work out what you can trust. This will only get better as you ask more questions and practice. Much like your parents are an expert in you, you can become an expert in spotting lies by others.

Asking questions, like about whether the plant has nite marks, or whether your neighbor likes dogs, helps you to approach a story prepared. It helps you to spot the lies and prevents you from being forced to believe something false.

Elections are won with lies, wars begun with fake news and truly terrible things spread by rumour. Its up to us to stop it.

The reason this is so important is that the world, especially the rich and powerful, rely on controlling information to control people. When a newspaper is caught lying, it used to be a big deal, but now it is not.  The same is true of politicians and presidents. It’s up to you to spot the tricks.

And the younger you can start, the better decisions you can make. And as a final task, to you, I will leave you with one last question:

‘If this is so important, then why isn’t it all over the news?’

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

*Apologies for the term used here. I feel it fair to acknowledge the relative cultural insensitivities of the past in order to learn from them. You can read an interesting take on the subject here. 

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5 Quotes that make Carl Sagan Unforgettable

sagan love quote universe

If you haven’t heard of Carl Sagan then you are missing out. Not only was the renowned astrophysicist a pioneering scientist, but a leader in the field of public science communication. And personally, one of the greatest people to have ever lived.

Without him, it is unlikely that many of us would know much about the universe beyond basic education. And without his television show Cosmosa generation of scientists may have never come to be.  But Carl’s greatest contribution to humanity was his unending patience, empathy and personal charge toward empowering people with knowledge.

sagan top 5

On his ‘ship of the imagination’, Sagan traversed the stars. Image courtesy of Flickr

Even now, his profound insights into human life ring true in arenas ranging from politics to social reform. So let’s count down our top list of his most enduring quotes, perhaps you will find something that you love.

1. On understanding and knowledge.

People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. The last way for skeptics to get the attention of bright, curious, intelligent people is to belittle or condescend or to show arrogance toward their beliefs.

Throughout his career, Carl was persistent in his pursuit of public empowerment. By treating us all as friends, capable of the greatest feats, he established a paradigm of education by right.

sagan carl quote top 5 universe

Carl Sagan’s Universe was one we could all explore, and he tried to be the greatest guide. Image courtesy of Flickr.

But with some controversy, he took what was privy only to a select few in academia and made it not just palatable, but wondrous to the rest of us. For Carl, you were not just deserving of the universe but enriched for understanding it.

And as an avowed skeptic of common wisdom and conspiracy, he approached each subject with evidence, understanding, and compassion. Simply, he forgave people human mistakes, where others would simply dismiss them.

We should do the same.

2. On the transience of human life and the immortality of words.

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.

During one episode of his poetic homage to humanity, Cosmos, Sagan visited the ancient library of Alexandria. It was here, for a short while, that the world’s greatest minds came together in a shared mission of understanding.

sagan quote books

Books are nothing less than a voyage of discovery, be they history. science or fiction. Our words stay behind when we leave. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And although much of Alexandria’s history was lost, small amounts remain in collected writings. An enduring legacy of another time. But for Carl words were more than just communication between friends and colleagues, but a version of immortality.

Through the written word we learned to overcome death, share the wisdom of our time with those who would come after. The ‘information-organism’ of humanity finds feet in ink over millennia.

3. On the fragility of understanding and the wonder of creation

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

In this short epithet, Sagan reflects on the vast gulf between human knowledge and the nature of the universe. And depending on your interpretation, he is either jocularly revealing a comedy of nature, or providing a deep insight into the linearity of thought.

supernova sagan star

All that we are was formed in ancient furnaces. Including apple pie. Image courtesy of Flickr.

To make an apple pie requires the ingredients created from the formation of our universe. All that is once was in the bellies of ancient stars, cast into our universe and eventually mealtimes by cosmic forces and eons of time.

But to understand the world we must first invent a way of understanding, and for that the best we have is science. It is through a skeptic and imaginative mind that we may create our universe.

4. On the humility of human life in an infinite universe (see video.)

In his famous soliloquy, Sagan reduces human accomplishment, greatness, cruelty and misunderstanding to the tiny significance it has in the greater universe.

Within his poetic testament he not only shows us just how small we are, but hints at how pointless our self destruction is.

And at the same time he conveys a message of hope disguised in a eulogy. He warns us that our future is down to us, and that hopefully by realising what we have, as tiny as it is, that we may create a better future.

Earth is our only home.

5. On the saving grace of companionship.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

For all his poetry, lessons and foretelling, Sagan hits on something truly profound. Upon recognising the inescapable truths that are our mortality and ineffectual existence beyond a pale blue dot, he returns to what unites us all.

love sagan universe

In the infinite abyss of a dark universe hides rare moments of light and love. Image courtesy of Flickr.

By embracing love we can overcome any distance. And in that the paucity of meaning is rendered mute, bearable and even empowering, as through love we can find meaning in an ocean of irrelevance. Where science can bring humility, love can bring back purpose.

Throughout his career it appears to me that Sagan’s underlying driving force must have been a deep and powerful love for the universe and his fellow man. To continuously fight for public empowerment, against governments, critics and even himself, Sagan had a heart much greater than even his ‘ship of the imagination’ could explore

But to encapsulate Sagan in five quotes is impossible, so we encourage you to explore his work further.

So which was your favourite? What have we missed and what did you take away? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found yourself touched, please help us reach out  by sharing.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

R.I.P Carl.

Ten Incredible Pearls of Wisdom From Great Minds

ten wisdom dawkins

The world can be a confusing place, but academics, authors, artists, poets and philosophers are just some of the many who have tried to explain things. In my wanderings through scientific texts, popular non-fiction and and documentaries, there have been a few stand out comments.

Whether it be Malcolm Gladwell’s keen insight into human nature, or Carl Sagan’s prophetic view of the world, all have resonated in some way beyond comprehension. They seem intrinsically correct, and universally true.

So here are ten incredible pearls of wisdom from the great minds.

1. On The Origins And Nature Of Human Behaviour

‘Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.’ – Richard Dawkins, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular-science writer.

As the current face of evolutionary theory, Dawkins’ is no stranger to controversy. And although his work has revolutionised our understanding of the natural world, his opinions about how we must overcome our nature have caused the most conversation.

ten wisdom dawkins

The nature of life is conservative, selfish and driven by unconscious forces. Dawkins’ understands that to ‘be good’ you must understand our basic urges. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Dawkins’ is very aware how our evolutionary history, and how the selective pressures of the environment and each other, have shaped our behaviour. And in his book ‘The Selfish Gene‘, gives us to pause to consider the true morality of nature.

What is ‘natural’ isn’t inherently ‘moral’, and what we consider ‘moral’ is not inherently survival.  So Dawkins’ asks us to understand our primal natures if we are to best them.

2. On The Power Of Words

‘To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy. ‘ – Bertrand Russell, Philosopher, Logician and Nobel Prize winner.

Although Russell is best known as a philosopher, his life of work reached deeper into the shared mind of society than we realise. By studying and writing on the academic disciplines of logic, mathematics and epistemology (the study of knowledge,) he became a strong advocate for peaceful societal reform.

A man’s words may make beautiful the macabre. Russell relied on logic to unify humanity toward a common good. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And most noteworthy are his observations of how people can be manipulated by words. The use of eloquent language, a flowery vocabulary or poetic arrangement can make the terrible seem empowering.  You need only read the words of Nazi spokesperson Joseph Goebbels to see how language can betray human decency.

We must understand a man’s motivation, and place it in the context of the sociopolitical climate, to truly understand what may be hiding behind the words.

3. On The Risks Of Virtue

‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosopher, Author and culture commentator.

As the central reference to ‘Nihilism‘, Nietzsche examined the purpose of life without purpose. His infamous quote ‘God is dead‘ instilled the idea that the concept and role of any God is limited, and that through pain and suffering we may choose a virtuous path.

wisdom nietzsche

Nietzsche warned us not to become monsters in the pursuit of greatness. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Whilst an avid skeptic of religion in general, his infamous parable ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra‘ presented, in humbling terms, the true insanity of zealotry. He warns us not to lose ourselves in purpose, and to recognise how a belief in achieving ‘the good’ can lead to evil.

And in a world where popular influencers claim a moral authority, his words could not carry greater weight.

4. On The Importance Of Responsibility

‘Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.’ – Jean Paul Satre, Philosopher.

Regarded by many as the father of ‘Existentialism‘, Satre believed that existence precedes essence, and that we must find our own way in a meaningless universe. But in accepting this freedom in action, we cannot ignore our role in what comes next.

wisdom star ten star

Satre  believed that with action comes responsibility, and with freedom comes the same. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Many existentialists reject the concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour being an inherent natural motivation, and instead suggest that we make our decisions based on complex (although often incorrect,) contextual interpretations.

Not only does this mean we must be aware of our own limits, but take responsibility when they are exposed.

5. On The Stoicism Of Knowledge

The older I get, the more I understand that the only way to say valuable things is to lose your fear of being correct. – Malcolm Gladwell, Author and Journalist.

Famed author of ‘David And Goliath’, ‘Outliers‘ and ‘The Tipping Point‘, Gladwell explores the interconnectedness of humanity with the world around it. In his poignant prose he unravels what may seem miraculous, often challenging widely held beliefs.

wisdom pearls gladwell quote

Gladwell has exposed and explained the hidden reasons behind cultural success and individual power. To question convention is as useful as it is risky. Image courtesy of Flickr.

His work tells us not only to dig deeper to explain the world, but that explanations may exist beyond the obvious. He also extols the value of expressing new ideas, fearlessly with no regard for your own ego.

We must challenge convention to find the truth, even if it risks our reputations.

6. On The Insights Given By Friendship

‘You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps.’ – Sam Harris, Philosopher and Neuroscientist.

Although more likely to be a figure of repute for his views on religion, Harris is a distinguished author and surveyor of the interface between neuroscience, morality and the world at large.

A fierce critic of authoritarian dogma, Harris asks us to take responsibility for building our knowledge toward creating a better world.

wisdom harris quote ten

Sam Harris is a vocal critic of authoritarian regimes and their numerous abuses. Image courtesy of Flickr.

He also asserts that morality itself exists independently of religious doctrine, and empowers a human approach toward a coalescence of society. And as a neuroscientist, he is all to aware of how our behaviour may make us, or betray our intentions.

So if  you want the measure of a man, consider who they value as friends.

7. On The Illusion Of Simplicity.

‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.’ – Ben Goldacre, Physician and Author.

The namesake of his popular book tells us a lot about Ben Goldacre. An academic and scourge of pseudoscience and ‘folk wisdom’, Ben uses evidence to expose the lies many are sold by the few to the many. He also tells that what is made simple, or appears so, may not be.

wisdom goldacre bad science

Ben Goldcare makes it his mission to challenge misleading beliefs, expose bad science and explain the misunderstood. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What is claimed to simple may be complex, and what lies between may be inaccurate, underhanded and deliberate.

And with that, we should try to understand the motives behind simplification, and why it is so easy for us to be sold a lie. Amongst his many targets is Homeopathy and the risks involved in being misled.

8. On the Arrogance Of The Human Mind.

‘See that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.’ – Richard Feynman, Theoretical Physicist, Nobel Prize winner and  Science Communicator.

Whilst it may seem odd that a theoretical physicist is so humble about uncertainty, Feynman shows us just how wonderful the universe is.

Although a pioneer in our understanding of the nature of our reality, he recognises that there is simply more we don’t know.

feynman physics quote wisdom

Feynman studied and revealed some of the most hidden secrets of our universe, but in doing so realised that was is unknown is our greatest teacher. Image courtesy of Flickr.

The intricacies of our reality, currently hazy between the infinitesimally small and unimaginably large, appear to us through rigorous questioning and often teach us that our presuppositions are not just wrong,  revealing a drastic flaw in human understanding.

We claim to be intelligent, and yet this intelligence often blinds us to our own folly. We must revel in the wonder of whats left to wonder about, and not be afraid to look stupid doing so.

9. On The Value Of Choice And Humility

‘I was never born to write. I was taught to write. And I am still being taught to write.’ – Atul Gawande, Surgeon, Research and Author.

If you are a doctor, you no doubt are aware of Gawande. Whilst a strong advocate of evidence and comprehensive approaches, Gawande has also ventured into a philosophical musing of the human condition.

gawande life wisdom

As a surgeon, Gawande not only saves lives, but has taken it upon himself to understand what the true value of life is. Image courtesy of Flickr.

In his best-selling book, ‘Being Mortal’, Gawande examines the true value of human life, and what we lose and gain as we age. And true to his nature, he treats himself with a level of skepticism coherent with his humble world view.

We are born with a choice in a difficult world, expertise is only a measure of dedication tempered by self criticism, and arrogance undermines greatness.

10. On The Size Of Our Influence

‘The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.’ – Carl Sagan,  Astronomer, Astrophycist and Pulitzer Prize winner.

To reduce the works of Sagan to one sentence would vastly sell him short. Not only did he lead the way in popularising science, but housed a mind so in tune with the human condition that his loss is truly universal.

Having inspired legions of scientists, including protege Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sagan’s holistic approach to science and its delicate implications toward society rings as true today as it did years ago.

sagan quote wisdom science

Carl Sagan was not just a pioneer of knowledge, but arguably one of humanity’s greatest teachers. Image courtesy of Flickr.

He was exceptionally kind, humble and patient, expressing the very tenets he postulated as a universal ideal.

Sagan reminds us that the true beauty of the universe is not just in its nature, or its creation, but in our pursuit of explanation and the inherent ability to use this knowledge to better ourselves and future generations.

And that perspective matters, for the universe is much greater than such complex molecular machines as we. We are so very small, but in that there is much to be learned, gained and valued.

So Much Left To Learn

Ten quotes simply isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of the grand insights accumulated in the wealth of human knowledge, or beyond it. And with each quote, you may have taken your own interpretation of meaning and purpose.

Perhaps you disagree with some, or worry that they are incongruent with each other. But I am willing to contend the opposite, that each shares a unity in placing the pursuit of knowledge through humility, truth and beneficence as a true virtue.

So what are your favourite quotes? What and who has changed your life? Let us know in the comments. And if you believe, like I do, that knowledge is best shared, then help us by sharing this article with your friends and family.

What’s Next?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

Note from the Author: Upon writing this article I became very aware of just how much I don’t know, and how much I can learn. I feel it only right to follow up on this article with more information about the works and lessons of the persons featured. There are many greats not featured on this list, but don’t worry, I will find ways to include them. I do not value my opinion of what is great  above any others, I only wish to signpost what is already there.

Do You Want To Understand The Universe? It Can Be As Simple As This. Inside; Become An Internet Explorer

The twilight hours are a funny place. Roald Dahl referred to them in his classic novel ‘The BFG’ as ‘The Witching Hours.’ And when the shadows grow long, and the night sky becomes lost to the horizon, the world can seem just that, bewitching. And at these times of magic I often find myself amongst the stars, or deep in our past, or between the very particles that made us. I am talking of learning, using the internet to discover the universe.

And it is the best decision that I have ever made. Becoming an #internetexplorer

Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe which dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.” – Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist and Science Communicator

Committing to the Universe

As I write this blog I am also watching ‘Vsauce‘, a Youtube channel dedicated to educating on subjects ranging from physics to psychology. The host Michael Stevens is an enigma, seemingly a deft hand with everything and yet almost always entranced. Mathematics, physics, the human mind, he can dance between them seamlessly. And its with that dance that I find a clue to our universe, it is all interlinked.

‘Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known’ – Carl Sagan, Astronomer and Science Communicator*

As I sit here writing, Stevens is discussing his desk and how it reflects the inner workings of his mind. It is a mess. I can relate. But on it is a globe, little puzzles, endless notes and most importantly, a computer. Information, unrestricted and potentially near infinite. And though his channel Collins is able to inspire me.  By committing to learning, you begin to know the universe and your place in it.

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Science Communicator

Our pale blue dot as a bridge

Humans, as hailed as polymath Carl Sagan says, are ‘Johnny come-latelys’ to the universe. On our ‘pale blue dot‘, as he put its, we have acted out every good, bad and in-between of our history. And yet, this is a small time, a tiny snippet of the cosmic calendar. But, even in this sliver, we have learned more about our universe than anyone could have possibly imagined just 100 years ago.

The true virtue of human existence has always been wonder. When our distant ancestors glanced upward at the stars they saw great hunters, prey and predators cast amongst them. Little did they know that they were giving our meaning on giant balls of nuclear fusion so far away that the very light was older than they. They used tools, sharp stones, that would one day become surgical knives and the precursors to lasers that could split subatomic particles.

We tell stories of the universe, but the universe has infinitely more to tell us.

Our questions have always moved us forward. And our little blue dot, lost in a tiny corner of the cosmos, is our bridge to the universe. And you can cross it any time, all you need do is ask. And the solution is on Michaels desk, and yours, or in your hands, a computer (big or small.)

Become an explorer

Your brain, the centre of your universe, floats in a body of fluid called ‘Cerebrospinal Fluid.’ It is full of nutrients, and protects the brain from impacts as we go about our day to day. Without it, we would be in big trouble. But exploring is important, life is a necessity once born, but adventure a calling. It is using this brain we can truly venture forth.

If you want to truly know the universe it has never been easier. Simply by opening up a search bar,  you can learn about anything. But I am going to suggest another way. Begin an adventure. After spending a year travelling, I learned to follow my passions, and the path becomes unpredictable.

Chaos theory, the science of unpredictability, helps to model the interactions of the many on their outcome. When it comes to adventure this means that you may never know where you end up. So start here, and type in any word you want. I suggest ‘String Theory’. Then watch the first thing, then click on the next, follow your mind and keep going.

You have now become an #explorer of knowledge, and with it, the universe.

What’s next?

  • Read Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Sam Harris
  • Share YouTube videos that interest you and tell others why
  • Keep a ‘Learning Diary’ by noting new fascinating things

Image courtesy of Pixabay

*To label Carl Sagan, or his protégé Neil deGrasse Tyson, with such restrictive terms is somewhat painful. Both are more than scientists, storytellers or artists. They are something else, pioneers. In fact, Carls messages may be the first to be read in deep space by another species… but that’s for another day.

The views above represent those of Dr Ben Janaway and none of his affiliates. Please subscribe and follow him at @drjanawayHe is happy to discuss any work or commissions.