UnknowingPosted: April 16, 2010
I’ll get right into this with an example: why do we need oxygen to breathe? If it is so important for life, why is air only approximately 21% oxygen? Do you know the answer? Do your parents who have been on this planet for approximately half a century (maybe more) know the answer? Most people don’t. Oxygen is a terminal electron acceptor in a process called oxidative phosphorylation. This process happens in your tissues, which contain cells, which contain organelles. There is an organelle called a mitochondria, which has this ‘electron transport chain’ system embedded in its inner membrane. What happens? These electrons get pulled through this ‘system,’ similar to water flowing down Niagara Falls, creating a force, a force which can be used to transform kinetic energy into electrical energy. Instead of water being pushed off a cliff by gravity (and harnessed by turbines for power), electrons are being pulled through a network, in order to reach the oxygen atoms at the end. Net result: your cells use this force of electrons being pulled towards oxygen to make energy (in the form of ATP), sustaining life.
That’s why you need oxygen (obviously this is the most simplistic explanation possible), yet I would say the vast majority of the human race does not understand why they die as soon as they are cut off from this valuable molecule. This obviously leads to the next question of: well, what are electrons? What’s “phosphorylation”? etc. The questions are so simplistic, yet to many, seem so advanced. Yet the answers are NOT hard to come by or comprehend, as long as you start from the ground up, built knowledge, expand it, share it. You don’t need to be a physics major to understand why your cars paint is red. Plain and simple, a red object absorbs all the colours from the visible white light spectrum and REFLECTS the light at the 620–750 nm frequency (which happens to be the colour red). Do I know why our visual cortex interprets visible electromagnetic radiation at that frequency as the colour ‘red’? No I do not, but I bet it would not be hard to find out.
At the same time, a strong argument could be made that you do not need to understand even the most basic and common scientific phenomena to live a happy or fulfilling life. I would say that is definitely true as well, as people will live their lives and never know the answers. They will take their last breath not knowing why they took a million plus breaths throughout their life in the first place. Does that mean they’re stupid? No, not at all, but it may show a lack of appreciation for the wicked shit that makes the world around us exist.
What’s the point of this discussion? Basically, just ask why, and use the vast amount of resources we have at our disposal to answer these questions (Wiki takes what a bunch of over-analytical scientists publish in research papers and distills it to something most people can understand – use it). Being a senior science student in university (just finishing my third year in Biomedical Sciences), the theme of this blog will kind of set the stage for my content to come, so if anyone has any suggestions for future topics, comments or rebuttals, post up.