Thursday, June 30, 2005

In Defence Of Nerds,Geeks and Science

Warning: This is a largely unfunny blog (of course, the question of whether my other blogs are funny or not is an open one). Occasionally, I may punctuate my writings with blogs like these. Please bear with me, Gentle Reader.

A friend of mine from college told me about this conversation he had with a girl (not an engineer) he had just met,which set me thinking (no,there's nothing wrong with your vision; engineers occasionally make contact with non-engineer members of the opposite sex too). It went something like this:

Girl: So what are you into, other than your work?
Friend: Well, I like to read, play badminton and I listen to lots of music....
Girl:That's nice. Anything else?
Friend: Weeelllll, I like physics too....
Girl (shocked): EWWWWW!!!Don't say that in public!
Friend (more than a little disconcerted): Oh,where you come from, is physics the word for, ummm,you know,the F word?
Girl: Oh no,it's worse than that. It means you're a nerd (pronounced with extreme distaste).
Friend: But I like physics!!!
Girl: Maybe, but don't tell anyone until you know them well. You see, it makes for a bad first impression.

There you go,people. I was disturbed when I heard this, for I have had similar experiences too. For example, when I tell people I like reading Carl Sagan's books, the immediate reaction is: you read books on science for entertainment?
What is it about science that makes most non-scientific (I know that's a bad adjective,but if you think it's easy coming up with adjectives,let's see you do it) people cringe? Of course, the obvious answer is that this is precisely why they are non-scientific. But I don't buy that; we don't think art,or accounts,or history are swear words. Of course, the above mentioned girl may just be a brainless delinquent (point to ponder: aren't delinquents already brainless?), but this is not an isolated case. And why is anyone who happens to like his/her work and spend a lot of time on it branded a nerd/geek?I believe this is prevalent in non-technical fields too. Why are they dismissed as not having 'lives'? Let me try to answer the questions I have raised.
First,let me deal with the question of science. Why do people in general dislike science so much? I believe this may be because they don't understand science. I'm sure that when you go into the intricacies of other fields, there maybe many things that we may not understand easily;things that may require an aptitude for that particular subject. But in the case of science (especially maths,since I believe we don't encounter actual science until after 10th standard), this dislike is developed in many people right from school.To a large extent, this may be because the right teachers,who know exactly what science is about, are not present. In general, we dislike (and fear,to some extent) things we don't understand. Think about it, and you shall see that this is true to a large extent. Why do we dislike some people? Because we do not understand the their actions; their motivations to do some of the things they do. Similarly, I believe science is disliked because people do not, in a fundamental way, understand what science is really about. Most people look upon science as a subject they didn't like in school; a subject they're glad to have left behind. Therefore, inevitably, the question arises: what is science really about? Science strives to understand Nature, to unravel the workings of the universe we live in. Sounds huge? Yes, it is. It is a quest that will never end, but it is a quest that is worth undertaking not just for the goal alone,but for the sheer thrill of the quest itself. Isn't it an absolutely wonderful idea that three simple laws govern the motion of any object in the universe (until convincingly proved otherwise, of course)? Isn't trying to understand such principles a worthy task? Let me tell you, I feel absolutely privileged that I understand, however rudimentarily, these all-encompassing laws of Nature. It fills me with an almost religious awe; of reverence for the universe; that it is described by laws so simple and yet so elegant. Carl Sagan has given this feeling a name in his book 'Contact' (yes, the movie is based on this book), he calls it the feeling of the numinous. The closest I have felt to nature was not when I went to Ooty or Goa; but when I first understood Einstein's principle of equivalence. Why? Because it describes the very fabric of the universe. When I first had that insight, when I had that 'moment of clarity', as scientists often refer to it, I was so excited I had to get up and walk around the room a few times before I could calm down. Truly, there is real joy in understanding.
But is this joy privy only to scientifically minded people? Of course not. Any person, with a little effort and the right books and/or teacher, can easily grasp the basics. But before that, he/she must first dismiss any pre-conceived notions about science and approach the subject, in the true scientific spirit, with an open mind. It is only then that the dislike will fade.
Now, on nerds and geeks. I understand that the so-called nerd/geek is one who is totally absorbed in his work and has no time/inclination for anything much else. But why does he spend so much time on it? the answer is easy, because he likes, nay, loves his work. Isn't he lucky, the nerd, that he derives so much joy from his work? The immediate reply to that would be that he misses out on so many other things in life. But look at it from his point of view. He doesn't need the so-called 'other things' in life. He is happy with it. Of course, he may have little social skills, or lack the ability to make small talk, but these are minor things when compared to the pleasure that he gets from his work. How many of us can really claim to love our work, to love it with a passion that is all-consuming?
In physics, there is something called a frame of reference, which is basically an obsevation point. Why limit ourselves to only our frame of reference? Why don't we understand that there are frames of reference other than ours? So, people, before we dismiss a person as a nerd/geek, I think it would be wise to consider the situation from his/her point of view. If that person is more or less happy, then what right do we have to judge them, to look down upon them? As Christ said (atleast, I think it was Christ), let him without sin be the first to cast the stone.
All things considered, there is a much more fundamental and profound reason why I am such a die-hard 'nerd/geek' supporter. It is this: come exam time, without them, what would we do? :)

14 Comments:

At 11:52 PM, Blogger tybx96xpno said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger Phoenix Rises said...

Hmmm... You do make a good case for the so-called 'nerds/geeks'.
And you are right, I came to the same concluison a while ago that people dislike or are scared of others people or things that they do not understand. It's the same in my case too; I couldn't for the life of me understand most of the principles of Physics when I was in school, and I still have a strong dislike for the subject even after 6-7 years!

 
At 6:09 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

I don't want people to dislike science, or to hate the subjects...Let them be indifferent to it,let them regard it as they might regard art or history or whatever...This will happen only if they understand what it is about...The same goes for the nerds/geeks...I would like people to understand their motivations...and that they might live very rewarding lives...

 
At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Tara Nambiar said...

Take it from me:

I was a Science student to the core.did chemistry, biology, physics, further mathematics. was an above average student in class. scored a string of A's in all examinations. was even offered a scholarship to do a science course. but i declined. it wasn't because i DIDNT understand what the entire science-y thing was all about. i JUST didn't like it. i agree with you that one must not label a person (or anyone for that matter) as a geek or a nerd just because he or she is science-inclined. the thing that made me switch streams to humanities was passion. it was where i belonged. science was just to satisfy my parents (i am sure you are well aware of the "either u are a doctor, lawyer, or an engineer or plain loser" typical-indian-career-advice). we understand the basics darling. but then, it stops there.

and as for the nerd thing, i think everyone has their own misconceptions and stereotypes when it comes to polarization of things. honestly speaking, being a nerd or a geek is not a bad thing at all, and if people have problem with that, then what the heck?
you can't please everyone...:)

nice blogs...love your style...will drop by again...

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

Whoa...I totally agree with you...If you aren't passionate about the field you're in, there's no use stayin in it...but that doesn't mean you should hate it...as I said, dislike it, be indifferent to it...but don't hate it, for Chrissake...

 
At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Tara Nambiar said...

but then...isn't up to a person to dislike something?.....disliking stems up from bad experience, childhood trauma, bullying, jibes, anything....you can dislike something darling...because that's individual opinion...what you cant do is to impose that on others...these are just my thoughts..no offence meant..;)

 
At 6:22 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

Hey, that's exactly what i'm sayin...no probs if u dislike it...all i'm tryin to do is make people understand...and you're the never the worse for it when u understand somethin...what i DISLIKE ;) is when people look down and make snap judgements on 'nerds/geeks'...all i'm tryin to do here is clear up some misconceptions...and no offence at all taken,i'm enjoyin the discussion...

 
At 4:58 AM, Blogger Camphor said...

go Monk!
I notice you referred to us as 'them'. (last line). Are you sure that's correct? Or was that phrasing just to preserve a ... modesty?

By the way - people can hate whatever they want to - right to opinion blah blah. I wish they wouldn't, there is nothing to it, really, but in the end ...Thier choice. Why should the nerds be .. disturbed by it? Asocial I might be, but the advantage of that is an ability to not feel hurt by just abotu anything.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

the last line was a desperate (and ineffective, I suppose) attempt to inject some humor into the post...why are WE disturbed by it?because we have passion for what we do, we love it...and that means the ability to become emotional about our work...i agree with you, people will hate things, it is ultimately their choice...but if they understand what they hate, know the nature of what they hate; and especially when there is no evil in the object of their hatred, don't you think hate might lessen a little?and although this is such an oft-repeated cliche i'm almost embarrassed to say it, the world could do with a little less hate, don't you think?

 
At 11:35 AM, Blogger nandini said...

While its true that those outside the science fields dont seem to understsnd the thrill we get reading science for fun... the same I think could be said of the attitudes of many engineers towards say... history( that's probably the most reviled of the humanities). To each his own I guess...

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger the Monk said...

as far as i know,hardly anybody seems to think like that here...generally ppl here have a healthy respect for other streams...

 
At 8:23 PM, Blogger Beth said...

A fine defense. Nerds, geeks, whatever you want to call them (us?) - they are wonderful. Without them we'd have no strides of any kind - social, scientific, political, cultural.... Plus they are eminently lovable.

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger tangled said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Dee said...

Good, someone agrees with me...I'm never allowed to do anything seriously without someone going - 'Hey! Look at her! She's actually interested in doing it!! '

I mean, if you're not interested, just clear out..nobody wanted your comments..sometimes I'm scared to do something in earnest..scared I'll be libelled you know..quite tired of it...if I'm 'actually' interested in doing my BCM sheet, why the hell do you care???

Point is, people don't respect other's interests...

You've done this well :)

Man! The last line literally shook me ! I had to laugh :D

 

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