Here’s something that gets to me. (Don’t worry, you’re not a captive audience. Not until I find a way of making your mouse and keyboard dispense glue on command, anyway.) Let’s talk science. No, really, let’s. Because that’s something that there really should be no problem with and yet that is almost invariably messed up.
Here’s the Big Secret. Here’s how it all works, here is, at its core, the be-all and end-all of what science is and what it is about. What, how, why, when, where. You know, the kind of standard questions you need to answer to have, say, a plot. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s not some kind of esoteric magic, it’s humanity’s most basic tool in the DIY box. Actually, it is the DIY box.
A surprising number of people have the misconception that in some way, SCIENCE is a kind of religious belief system, vaguely along the lines of CHRISTIANITY or BUDDHISM or whatever. (Insert your favourite religion here. I’m lazy.) Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s nothing more than asking questions and finding out the answers. Call it a murder mystery with the universe as the culprit. “My water leaked away! Whodunnit?” “This tree is glowing red and yellow and hurt me! Whodunnit?”
Some of the answers are complicated, and we aren’t all Sherlock Holmes. I know I’m not. But it doesn’t matter: you’ve just gotta keep on going, sifting through all the evidence you can get your hands on. You figure out if X, then Y, and if it turns out that if Y, Z must follow, and you can’t find Z anywhere, then you can be pretty sure you don’t have any Y either. So if you then proceed to go and discover X, one of the things you worked out must be wrong, and you need to go back and fix that and figure out a better guess at what’s really true. (Truth in this sense is an ideal absolute: truth is the universe, as it were. If you can accurately reflect the universe from the most basic principles, including neither more nor less than the contents of said universe, what you have is either true or very close to it.) And so human knowledge crawls along, one crabwise step at a time, because us inconvenient people keep on asking questions. There’s always another “Why?”, always another “How?”, because the world is a complicated place and easy answers don’t seem to grow on trees. (Which are far too complicated, anyway.)
Many good stories rely on something weird or unpredicted happening, and much of the interest can be in people’s attempts to cope with it. But one major, major stumbling block that puts me right off is the reactions ascribed to “scientists” and “sensible people”. Yes, we want evidence. You’d probably want evidence too if I told you that I’d spoken to Tinkerbell just yesterday and she told me it was very important that you wear a green shirt today. But if Peter Pan literally started flying through every city in England tossing fairy dust everywhere and making random people fly, real scientists don’t spend the next six months insisting the fact that they’re levitating is totally impossible despite being ten metres off the ground. They go “oh my goodness this is amazing HOW IS THIS HAPPENING I WANT TO DO THAT”, float over to the nearest piece of kit they can think of that might be useful to determine the exact powers of fairy dust, and once they’ve eliminated any competing possibilities, discard all the theories previously in existence that don’t account for said properties of fairy dust. Yes, there’s a large component of “Are we all hallucinating?! Pinch me!”, as is only sensible when anything psychedelic happens, but once that’s out of the way, it’s all whoa cool let’s ride.
And what’s more, fundamentally, we’re all programmed to do this. Badly, but we are. Nobody likes a story that makes no logical sense, because, well, it makes no sense. One day Tiddles saw the moon rise and the moon rose twice though in the ocean a giant tiger and a shark ate my 1740s sports car. While I brushed my hair I saw I had three ears but one was a kangaroo and it dived into the lightning it became. We make sense of things, it’s what we do. It’s why we’re not all still sitting in caves with no clothes.
It’s being human taken to the nth degree.
To reiterate: here is all you need to know! The world is in front of you. When you poke it with a stick, what does it do, and why? When you think you have the why, test the why! Poke the why with a stick! What does it do? Does it do what you expected? If not, why? How does this happen? Think you’ve figured it out? Poke the how! Are you sure? What if it was under different conditions? Would they change how it worked if your idea was right? Do they in the real world? It’s not about having the answers — it’s about asking all the questions.