- Feb 9, 2010
Yet one of her most profound post-toad moments came not in the presence of a great teacher, or upon discovering that pond leeches had made her part of the aquatic food chain. Flopped across her bed reading her biochemistry textbook, her hair stood on end when a microscopic view of her body suddenly flashed through her mind. She saw protein machines in each of her cells toiling away, sending messengers to keep in touch with other cell factories, which all possessed the same set of blueprints, but communicated with each other to select a subset of the blueprints to work from, so each factory became a specialized bit of the whole that was her. The flash of insight told her all she was.
Then pesky questions crowded out the feeling of omniscience. Cell factories working in harmony did not explain why she cried over Old Yeller or loathed laugh tracks. Wondering what made each of us tick led her to neuroscience research. But one researcher can only focus on the tiniest piece of a great puzzle, and when she had committed all of her energy to the mystery of why one single nerve consistently makes one single turn in each segment of a fruit fly maggot, she realized that she had made a wrong turn.
Ultimately, that brought her full circle. It took her back to the toad, or at least back to wondering why we all have funny ideas about the world, like that warts come from toads. She began to study how people learn science. When she saw a video of Harvard professors and graduates confidently giving utterly incorrect explanations of why we have seasons and how plants grow, she realized that school science can fail even those who loved science, not to mention those who were turned off by an emphasis on memorization and recitation.
Some people go so far as to claim they don't like science, but they mean they didn't like science class. Science is the stars in the sky, the universe beyond, and the chance we may not be alone. Science is prune fingers and dandruff, the dang flu bug that's got us down, and the odd behavior of our pets and fellow humans. Science is the pigments in a famous painting, the delicate patterns of frost on a window pane, and the deftness of a hummingbird in flight.
People wonder about these things everyday. Curious folks ask.
And toad girl? She's still looking for answers. There is always more to learn.