Science and I go way back. Take for instance my very first pick-up line.
In 5th grade, I had a crush on a boy with black hair, a widow’s peak, and freckles. I was tall for my age and he hadn’t had his growth spurt yet, but he’d thrown the ball to me in a game of classroom catch and we were friends. My limited 10-year-old understanding of romance said that this was meant to be.
I was a curious child – I asked a billion questions and knew my way around an Encyclopedia Britannica. So when my dad told me that yellow mucus indicates an infection, the information stuck. When, one day in class, the boy came to throw something out while I was blowing my nose at the trash can, I sought to dazzle him with science. I blew my nose, looked at the tissue, grinned at him and said “Look! My snot is yellow! That means I have an infection!”
(Epilogue to this story: despite his disgusted look and the fact that we never really became a couple, my approach to boys is the same as it was in 5th grade. I try to dazzle them with knowledge and then verbally push them over in sandboxes.)
Here’s the thing: most of the people I know end up choosing in life. They choose love or practicality, passion or comfort, fight or flight, the pull of one identity over another. And in most cases, they choose either science or religion.
But what if you’ve chosen not to choose? Does that make you more open-minded or less? Can one be both rational and passionate? Can one, for instance, believe in the right to gay marriage because of the very humanness of it, because of the universal social justice aspect which every major religion extols, while also having a deep and abiding faith in a religion which condemns gay people to stoning? Can one believe in a woman’s right to choose while at the same time finding abortion abhorrent except in certain circumstances?
We seem to have forgotten that some of the greatest thinkers of all time had this same dilemma. Polymaths of yore struggled with questions of faith and science while trying to reconcile the two. Galileo was accused of heresy for heliocentrism, and was forced to recant his findings (yet apparently had a bit of a rebel in him when, after recanting his theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, he muttered “And yet it moves.”). Copernicus’ theories tussled often with the Bible’s teachings. The Muslim philosopher Avicenna devoted his life to allying rational thought with Islamic doctrine, and is a Renaissance Man whose work spans all manner of subjects: from metaphysics and philosophy to medicine, psychology, and theology. And while Charles Darwin went through many changes of heart after positing his theory of evolution, from a devout Anglican who believed in the Bible’s literal truth to an agnostic, he never gave up on the existence of God. “It is absurd,” said Darwin,” to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”
I’ve thought so much about the paths I’ve chosen in life. Looking at it from a macro level, each decision, despite seeming irrational at first glance, is also steeped in the rational. While a spate of recent articles tell me that women who decide to marry later not only lose out in the relationship pool, but also apparently are contributing to older parenthood and an increase in birth defects and mental issues amongst children, I know that for me, to marry at a young age would’ve meant halving the opportunities I’ve had in life, career-wise, travel-wise, self-development-wise. My rational self believes that some level of maturity is a prerequisite to relationships and marriage, while biology soundly contradicts me. A (albeit small) case study reveals that had I chosen to focus more on my looks and appearance and less on my bookishness and dazzle-them-with-knowledge attitude, I probably would have been married by now – but would I be myself? Would I have been happy? I doubt it.
To hold contradictory thoughts in one’s head at the same time is both madness and genius. To close off one’s mind to any one view completely, and to favor a different point of view wholly and without question, is to block the mind. I’ve realized over time the painful, bittersweet loneliness of being in the middle of things, of being unable to decide between one or the other because I feel I don’t HAVE to decide between one or the other. IDEO CEO Tim Brown posits in his TED talk (below) that as we grow older, we limit the inherent creativity we’re born with as children – we over-think, over-rationalize, forget to think in free-form. What if we are born schizophrenics, and the sadness in life that I see amongst my peers as we age comes from choosing just one voice in your head? If that’s the case, then I win. SUCKERS.