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“It (science) is a mixture of creative thought and detailed, often tedious, work. The best scientists are sloppy enough to allow for unexpected outcomes, but organised enough that they can find out what happened.”

This is a quote from “Travels in Time and Space” an essay written by Sir Paul Callaghan and included in the book “The Transit of Venus” which was given to me in November last year. I have just gotten around to reading it and this essay by Sir Paul is a stunner. His eloquence and ability to communicate science shines through. It is a challenge to review such a piece of writing so instead of doing so I have just included some quotes from his essay below:

“There is something extraordinary about science that explains why it’s very discovery was, in Einstein’s words, ‘astonishing’. It is an aspect that is central to those of us who both practice science and teach it. And it is this: science is a system of discovering knowledge that defies common science. It is, after all, common sense that the sun goes around the Earth. It is common sense to say that objects need forces in order to move. It is common sense to say that continents don’t move and that animal species are immutable. It is common sense to say if I throw a coin four times it is more likely I will get heads, tails, heads, tails than heads, heads, heads, heads. Yet all these common sense ideas are wrong.”

“The utility, however, is not the reason for the voyage of science. We have undertaken the journey because one of our deepest human yearnings is to know, understand and reach out to the universe around us, and to place ourselves in its context.

“As we peel back each layer of understanding, science appears to draw us on in ever-expanding complexity, new measurement tools driven by new technologies driven by new science, in an unpredictable, endless cycle.”

“The human race has no divine right to continue to survive. But I want us to live in a world where we are optimistic enough to believe we will survive, that life will continue and we will hold fast to our humanity in the process. Science gives us no moral insight and advances no ethical principles; there are truths other than scientific truths, and in matters of ethics or human values the scientist’s opinion holds no higher status. But I believe science presents an abiding and self-consistent way of looking at the world, something solid, real and truly universal. That, in itself, is of inestimable value.”

If you can get hold of this essay it is certainly worth a read.