Figment: Boy, I wish I could be an astronaut! I bet I can use imagination to discover all kinds of new things.
Dreamfinder: Of course! It's your key to unlock the hidden wonders of our world.
I know it's been a while since I wrote last. It's been the normal mix of things that has kept me from writing, but this time seemingly taken up to eleven.
There have been changes at work, leading to a major shift in responsibilities. The holidays are an extra busy time for me because they are closely followed by both of my kids' birthdays. The family had some health issues to take care of, which are still sorting themselves out. Honestly, there also is a big lack of enthusiasm on my part that I hope to address in a post soon, as I feel it is worth investigating a bit.
What gets me writing again however has quite a bit to do with the health issues. Partially because spending a stretch of time in the hospital gave me a little time to sit back and think, but that's not the entire reason. Sure, it helped to have days on end with nothing but a good book and a lot of bad television. But that's only a small portion of it. The big piece can be summed up in a whole lot of wonder that there is to be found in modern medicine. Consider the fact that it's a relatively simple procedure to identify, measure, and correct a blockage in an artery of the heart. Something that was done quickly, simply, and without digging through the bones in my chest. Something that left nothing but a small scab on my wrist. Something that had me up and walking around soon after it was completed. It is something treated almost casually by the medical professionals I interacted with that it might be tough to forget that had I been born a generation or two before, I might have just kind of ignorantly ignored, had a heart attack, and died. But since medical science is always advancing, I was back to work the day after I was released from the hospital. That is all possible because of science. Because of the scientific method. Because we continue to push to understand ourselves, our place in the universe, and our interaction with the laws of nature. Without scientific exploration, I'd be dead a few times over, and we'd all be proverbial cave-people with no methods of controling the any parts of world which we live in.
I'm going to do my abject best to keep this post free from politics, or at least politics specific to a person or party. Still, it's going to be something unavoidable given the topics I intend on discussing. Feel free to disagree and/or discuss, but also realize that I am opposed to any person or party that does the kinds of things I disagree with, and there are examples on both sides of the aisle.
Let's talk about science, what it is, what it isn't, and how we exist at a pivotal point in our history, and of course, let's relate that to Epcot.
I find it easy to make the connection between science and Epcot. I mean, 1/2 of the park was devoted to it, wasn't it? The entire front portion of the park no less. It was our entry, the first act to our experience in this theme park that had much deeper meaning. It was at the core of what Walt had discussed in his introduction to the concept of E.P.C.O.T.
The quote above was taken (obviously) from Journey into Imagination. As a child, I enjoyed the science section of the ride, but didn't put too much thought into its inclusion in the pavilion. As a teenager, I wondered why something like science, which seemed like the opposite of imagination in some respects, was taken here. Scientists were not making anything up, they were discovering things. Why was this section here? Science was real, not imaginary. Of course, that thought was fleeting, as I probably saw a pretty girl in Imageworks and spent the rest of the time thinking about ways I could (but never would) approach her. I knew my nerdy limitations.
As I started to think about Epcot more in the last decade or so, it all snapped into place. I knew why Journey into Imagination contained a section on science. It made sense, imagination can help drive science forward. Whoever thought of the idea of building little metal "scaffolding" that would help hold open arteries that have been blocked, that involved imagination. It involved taking a concept that might apply in other areas of the physical world and applying it to our bodies. Imagination is a massive part of scientific discovery. That is now easy to see.
That makes sense. It also was evident in all of the other pavilions in Epcot Center's Future World. I've spoken as Journey into Imagination as a kind of a linchpin to the entire park, and I believe that wholeheartedly. Imagination played a part in each and every pavilion, it was evident. It was the mechanism that made all of the future technology possible.
Imagination isn't the only important thing in science however. This is something that I feel is somehow getting lost in the past few years in the US / World culture. There seems to be an idea building in the population that scientists just imagine things and claim it as fact. That science is just imagination wrapped up in a snobby elitist package. Scientists are bought and paid for, serving the will of those who want to drive a specific narrative.
Are there examples of this happening? Of course there are. Scientists are human, and some succumb to the same kinds of fallibilities that we all can. It may be easy to look through an ocean of positives and see the small population of negatives that stand out. In an entire ocean of blue, a bright orange raft can stand out. That doesn't mean that the ocean is made up of nothing but orange life rafts.
But true science is adherence to the scientific method. Shown here in handy dandy image form I stole from the internet.
Science is the exploration of our world and the natural laws that govern it through very specific experimentation. A hypothesis is created, an experiment is designed very carefully, controlling for biases and other factors that could impact the experiment, then the experiment is run, the hypothesis is tested and based on the facts observed, the hypothesis is proven or disproven. Then, once the experiment is complete, it is very carefully documented and submitted for peer review in legitimate publications, so the rest of the scientific world can look for problems in the experiment that might contradict the findings, or can repeat the experiment to ensure its findings are correct.
Again, are there ways to game this system of checks and balances? Of course. Negative results can be ignored and only positive results can be reported. Hypothesis can be modified to fit the results observed. P-value hacking can be done by scientists looking to design their experiment in a way that proves their result (even if that result is just chance). Can nefarious people do nefarious things? As in every aspect of society, yes.
What I do know based on the scientists that I've worked with is that is not how a true scientist's brain works. They are driven to produce correct results. They design and control their experiments so that the result observed truly reflects the nature of the world. Even when under enormous pressure to produce a given result they refuse and drive for truth. This is backed up by the scientific method, which codifies what true science entails.
This last point I speak with experience in the business world, with data scientists, where business partners want to be able to prove their idea is a good one and can cherry pick data or results that match their goal. The scientists I work with will not alter the data, alter their results, or produce an experiment that can be hacked to make look like something that isn't true. They'll fight back, hard, at any misrepresentation of their findings.
These folks have devoted a large portion of their life to investigating truth, and are unwilling to sacrifice their personal pride and/or reputation to produce false results. They also revel in the idea of identifying holes in other colleagues' findings. They might not admit this, and they do not intend it in a harmful way, but they do their best to ensure that a result is really correct, and nothing has been overlooked and no bias introduced or overlooked.
This is backed up by the scientific method, which codifies what true science entails. Hypothesize, test, observe, review. The people who developed the little stent that went into my artery didn't just snip some chicken wire and market it off to people. Numerous trials happened. Rigorous testing took place, designed specifically to show that the stent itself worked (that any improvement was not just due to chance) and that it was safe. Surgical methodologies were created, tested, and proved better/worse until the process became what it is today. Issues with each generation of stent have been iteratively improved, tested, reviewed, and moved forward. This cycle of imagination, exploration, discovery, and validation is increasingly important in the world around us.
I think that this aspect of science is something that should be celebrated. I think that Epcot should do it's best to show science in it's most exciting form, but also one grounded in scientific truth. I also think that Epcot should not shy away from any topic because it has been politicized. Science is not political. Science can however become politicized when taken up by non-scientists. Disney has too large an opportunity and in my opinion responsibility to present science as it is, truth.
This means that things like the Energy pavilion waving its hands at the concept of climate change is almost more harmful than not presenting it. The research into climate change is likely THE topic of our time. The energy pavilion needs to exist to educate, inform, entertain, inspire, but most importantly, state the facts. Non-politicized, objective truth. If there is peer-reviewed, scientific consensus, then it is important to be shared.
The same should be done for The Land. You might be aware that I'm not a big fan of Soarin' in it's current location. I've talked about it before. I've given reasons. I've given suggestions for fixing it. What would I do in it's place? Well, I'm still not sure of how it needs to be approached, but I think that an honest, scientific exploration of GMOs would be a phenomenal way to bring that pavilion back to it's agricultural roots. Separate fact from fiction, truth from hysteria. Explain the concept. Explore the research. Educate. One of these days I'm going to stumble on how to turn it into a fun attraction instead of something that sounds like a science museum exhibit. One of these days...
In fact, speaking of things that I want to get around to brainstorming about, I have the beginnings of an idea that I'm very hopeful I can expand on. I have thought it might be a good idea for an entire pavilion dedicated to the scientific method. Or at least one half of Innoventions. It is an idea that comes and goes. Sometimes I think it's a good idea, sometimes I think it's too "museum". Who knows. One of these days I may take some time to explore it in a post, and come to whatever conclusion my rambling leads me to.
I think that understanding science, at least what real science entails, might help some people embrace and not fear it. The lack of scientific understanding is something terrifying. The immediate rejection of facts that do not support a pre-existing world view scares me. Disdain for experts, who have spent years doing careful scientific exploration, confounds me.
Epcot is a place that by its very existence should help dispel some of this in the visiting population. Epcot has a long tradition of taking important topics and presenting them in a fun and inspiring way. It is why the place exists in the first place. I love science, and Epcot nurtured that in me from an early age. I think that it should again, so that we can break through this increasingly worrisome time where experts are shunned and science is muffled.
Epcot should wear its love of science like a badge of honor and scream it from the rooftops loud enough for all to hear. Even if they think that they do not want to.