Even though I’ve always been addicted to words, sentences, and paragraphs, I’ve also been drawn to science and wonderful “nerdiness”. My dad worked at Bell Labs while I was growing up and came home with great adventurous tales of the evil Sputnik, the fabulous Telstar, cathode ray tubes, lasers and product testing telephone poles. Fast forward a few years, and I find myself marrying a physicist at MIT who continued my science adventures with questions from Part One of the doctoral exam (Why is the sky blue?) and a whole new world of wonders: fusion, the aurora, chaos theory, string theory (not yarn!), complex systems and more. I don’t pretend to understand all of our physics discussions and have been known to say: “Do you know how you can spot a physics joke? –It’s not funny.” I do understand these matters and anti-matters better when analogies and metaphors are used. Food analogies work best.
We have always celebrated Einstein’s birthday (March 14), and Richard Feynman is a hero to both of us. Our daughters went to the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole during the summer and learned science with a “hands on” approach. They still talk about their exciting experiences years later and want CSS t-shirts for Christmas. They use their science skills at work and keep it alive in their heads. So science has woven its way into our life.
I especially like how it has influenced my critical thinking and teaching strategies. I used the “scientific method” as a way to teach problem solving and essay writing in my college classroom. This approach demands that one looks at an abundance of evidence from multiple perspectives and not prejudge and pre-pick the easy, obvious stuff. It calls for embracing ambiguity and pushing beyond one’s comfort zone. It means having the courage to say “no” to arguments that turn out to be not worthy—and walking away from pat answers while searching for something meaningful. It means not throwing your body at the first idea that pops into your head; if I said that once, I said that a million times to my students. It means not being afraid to explore. So after all of these years, I realize that it’s the exploration that excites me; it’s whether I’m discovering meaning in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets or the new, first novel The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht or trying to figure out the unintended consequences of consumerism or what is really going on in the night sky or how to make a great chocolate cake that rises without eggs. It’s all the same process; it’s really not something different.