The shells of crabs found around a particular coastal location in Japan seem mostly to resemble the legendary face of a Samurai. Given below are two explanations of this observed fact. Which of these strikes you as a scientific explanation?
(a) A tragic sea accident several centuries ago drowned a young Samurai. As a tribute to his bravery, nature through its inscrutable ways immortalised his face by imprinting it on the crab shells in that area.
(b) After the sea tragedy, fishermen in that area, in a gesture of honour to their dead hero, let free any crab shell caught by them which accidentally had a shape resembling the face of a Samurai. Consequently, the particular shape of the crab shell survived longer and therefore in course of time the shape was genetically propagated. This is an example of evolution by artificial selection.
[Note: This interesting illustration is taken from Carl Sagan’s ‘The Cosmos’ highlights the fact that often strange and inexplicable facts which on the first sight appear ‘supernatural’ actually turn out to have simple scientific explanations. Try to think out other examples of this kind].
“It is more important to have beauty in the equations of Physics than to have them agree with experiments”. The great British physicist P. A. M. Dirac held this view. Criticize this statement. Look out for some equations and results in this book which strike you as beautiful.
Though the law gives women equal status in India, many people hold unscientific views on a woman’s innate nature, capacity and intelligence, and in practice give them a secondary status and role. Demolish this view using scientific arguments, and by quoting examples of great women in science and other spheres; and persuade yourself and others that, given equal opportunity, women are on par with men.
India has had a long and unbroken tradition of great scholarship — in mathematics, astronomy, linguistics, logic and ethics. Yet, in parallel with this, several superstitious and obscurantist attitudes and practices flourished in our society and unfortunately continue even today — among many educated people too. How will you use your knowledge of science to develop strategies to counter these attitudes?
Science, like any knowledge, can be put to good or bad use, depending on the user. Given below are some of the applications of science. Formulate your views on whether the particular application is good, bad or something that cannot be so clearly categorised :
(a) Mass vaccination against smallpox to curb and finally eradicate this disease from the population.
(This has already been successfully done in India).
(b) Television for the eradication of illiteracy and for mass communication of news and ideas.
(c) Prenatal sex determination
(d) Computers for the increase in work efficiency
(e) Putting artificial satellites into orbits around the Earth
(f) Development of nuclear weapons
(g) Development of new and powerful techniques of chemical and biological warfare).
(h) Purification of water for drinking
(i) Plastic surgery
Attempt to formulate your ‘moral’ views on the practice of Science. Imagine yourself stumbling upon a discovery, which has great academic interest but is certain to have nothing but dangerous consequences for human society. How, if at all, will you resolve your dilemma?