In my teaching this past week, an old quote popped up. It goes something like this:
“We are the only species who asks ‘why’.”
I would go a bit further and add,
“And we are the only species that imagines.”
Now, the quantitive aspect of these bold quotes, is that if other species do indeed, ask why and imagine, we cannot measure such. And we all know that in science, it is what is measurable, observed, and can be proven that matters. As it should be. We can’t look at an animal and say conclusively, “Oh…it is sad.” We can observe and conclude, “The animal’s behavior is lethargic and without energy–this behavior is typical of an animal that is not interacting with its environment/caregivers due to a physical or mental occurrence.” Then the process begins to look at what is known, the variables, and the evidence of such can lead to a conclusion.
Perhaps we will find out, one day, that we have been wrong. Our dogs might have imagined a day when we did nothing but play fetch with them, walk them, and fed that pesky cat last. The horse might have asked why getting shod was such a big deal. Or the salmon might have asked WHY swimming upstream was mandatory for spawning. Couldn’t someone just have let the term “go with the flow” apply to them?
And here is one I have pondered: why do we call all ladybugs ‘lady’? We have some gender-confused bugs out there shouting from our overhead lights: “I am NOT a Lady bug…I am a Guy bug. Get it right!” And if a praying mantis is an atheist, he/she would not have been praying, but instead, just rubbing their legs together, just as some of us rub our hands together before diving into a steak or baked potato. It is about lunch, not religion. But let’s not fault those early Greeks who peered up at the moon and called the dark spots ‘Seas’. They knew water made dark patches on our planet, so there must be water on the moon. Still today, those regions are known as ‘Sea of Storms’ and ‘Sea of Tranquility’ and ‘Sea of Vapors’. They weren’t stupid; they just had limited access to proof.
I like asking why. And imagining. It takes us places we would never have gone without those mental springboards. The ‘why’ factor is the reason polio has been eradicated in most of the world. Once we ask ‘why’ something occurs, we can control its reason for being….thus a cure or improved quality of life. When we imagined what was over the Rocky Mountains–clear to the shores of the Pacific, we sent explorers like Lewis and Clark to see if what we thought was what existed. And in our focus to answer one ‘why’ we create countless tools to be used for civilization elsewhere. Been in a trauma room lately at your local hospital? Many of the monitors, computers, surgical tools, etc., were the result of ‘spin-offs’ from NASA’s space initiatives. We don’t waste what we discover…we imagine new applications for it. We’re a pretty cool species, huh?
You may be snoozing through this blog. It isn’t especially funny or poignant. But as I deal with youth on a daily basis….I am finding that telling them WHAT to think is, well, scary. But if I can empower them TO think….then questions will be raised, processed, and our species will be, oh so much better.
But there is a danger. What kids question and imagine can change lives. Ask Jonas Salk. Neil Armstrong. George Washington Carver. Sally Ride. Charles Drew. Harper Lee. Bill Gates. Steven Hawking. Robert Goddard. Oprah Winfrey. Benjamin Franklin. Robert Ballard. Beethoven. The Beatles. Eli Lilly. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask your own kid what they could change–and why. Then look at your grandkids and think about the potential that is perhaps, silent now—but one day soon, will have a big voice.
Why? Just imagine.