June 14th, 2009 at 8:35 pm (raven)
Every child is naturally curious about the world. Children explore, chase insects, and question the whys of Nature. Upon growing up, this innate wonder can dull. Be it through weighty responsibilities, boredom, or changes in priorities, adults can forget the joy possible from observing Nature and grappling with its puzzles.
I propose an annual holiday that encourages us to remember and nurture our curiosity about the world and to appreciate what a mystifyingly wonderful thing it is to be alive on an Earth full of beautiful, strange, and diverse life in a Universe of laws and incomprehension.
Summer solstice is the perfect date for such a holiday because it has physical meaning to Nature. It isn’t an arbitrary date; it is the day of the most northern sunrise, the longest day of the year. Not only does this remind us that we live on a planet, but it gives us plenty of daylight to enjoy and explore.
Some Science Solstice celebration suggestions:
- take a nature walk, bring plant and animal identification guides
- have a sciency song sing-along, like Monte Python’s “Galaxy” and They Might Be Giant’s sun song
- spend a least an hour staring at the clouds
- bake bread, thank the yeast
- mixology experiment: layer drinks of different densities
- pull out the binoculars, pull out the telescope
- watch ants
- be thankful we live on a planet with a tilt and this seasons
- contemplate the molten magma beneath your feet
- eat foods that are grown locally and in season
- swap fun science factinis with friends
I believe a holiday encouragng the observance and contemplation of nature encourages spiritual growth as much as (well, OK - I think prbably more than) the traditional religious holidays. What an amazingly magical Universe we live in!
February 10th, 2009 at 8:47 pm (raven)
For a few years I’ve intermittently campaigned for the renaming of Valentines Day to Dopamine Day. After all, that’s what it’s really about. The thrill of romantic love is largely the handiwork of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
We would celebrate Dopamine Day by engaging in activities that increase dopamine, like savoring chocolates, giving and receiving gifts, enjoying a nice meal, catching a show, and being close to your lover. Sound familiar? That’s probably because Valentines Day already is Dopamine Day but under a less specific, or at least less alliterative, name.
Dopamine Day encompasses so much more, though. It doesn’t leave single people out in the cold, like Valentines Day does. Don’t have a lover? That’s not a problem for Dopamine Day! Your potential for enjoying dopamine isn’t dependent on your relationship status. The trick for releasing dopamine is to try something novel and thrilling, like exploring a new city or skydiving or rafting. Not very adventurous? Then engaging in fantasy, like a movie or a book may be more your style. The addition of chocolate never hurts.
It seems appropriate to interject here with a pertinent factini. The brains of people who are in the crazy-in-love stage of love look like the brains of people who are high on cocaine. Now, I’m not suggesting you celebrate Dopamine Day by snorting coke; that’s too easy - and therefore dangerous. (In fact one could argue whether or not celebrating Dopamine Day with someone you are madly in love with “too easy.” I’ll let that debate slide for now.)
To really give dopamine its awe-inspiring due, it’s important to note that cocaine and other drugs are addictive because they hijack the dopamine pleasure/reward system. Dopamine feels *that good* and its pull is *that irresistible*.
So, let’s celebrate the goodness and irresistibly of dopamine, without which we would lose our zest for much of life. In fact, without dopamine to pull us in the direction of maintaining our necessary life functions, I doubt we could exist. We would certainly not be human.
I plan to celebrate Dopamine Day with a wander in the redwoods, an indulgence in a novel, and plenty of chocolate & zinfandel. Maybe I’ll surprise people with little Dopamine Day cards, too. That will help spread the love!
Hooray for dopamine!
January 3rd, 2009 at 10:48 pm (raven)
The Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) has named 2009 the Year of Science. They have given each month of 2009 a theme - we will have to wait for November to celebrate chemistry. January’s theme is “the process and nature of science.”
I don’t really have much to say about this first theme. While it is certainly important for people to understand that science proposes testable theories, tests them, and revises its story in iterative fashion, I’d hate to think that focus on the process part might get in the way of sharing the wonderment-inspiring results part. I remember (without nostalgia) having to memorize the discrete steps of the scientific process in grade school. Did I follow these to the letter in my own research? Uh, of course not. So why make our third graders think science is about memorizing rather than exploring? I would have preferred the extra time to inoculate a few more petri dishes. Now *that* makes me nostalgic.
I noticed that the Year of Science agenda doesn’t include much science art, yet. I hope we can change that…
COPUS is a grassroots network of a variety of science research and education entities. Its mission is to increase public understanding of science. You can see all the monthly themes and a calendar of events on their website: http://www.yearofscience2009.org/