• Question: Has your view of people changed since you became a scientist?

    Asked by ilovespacemonkeys to Mariam, Leo, Jo, Iain, Gioia on 23 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Joanna Watson

      Joanna Watson answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      I’ve become a lot more tolerant of other people as I’ve got older, and I put more effort into trying to be nice to the people around me. I’m not sure that it is because I’ve become a scientist though.

    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      Not really. My view of people has changed a bit as I’ve got older – I’ve become more tolerant and chilled out, I suppose! But I don’t thing those changes have anything to do with being a scientist.

    • Photo: Leo Garcia

      Leo Garcia answered on 22 Jun 2010:

      Great question! Since I started working in cancer research, I see people who are obviously undergoing chemotherapy differently – but this is primarily because I work in a hospital, and encounter them more regularly. I think that familiarity with this situation is very useful.

      I have become frustrated with the general public’s misunderstanding of many basic science findings, and am surprised by how gullible people can be with regards to claims that are not backed up by science – for instance, homeopathy, astrology, mediums etc. But I don’t think that working as a scientist has affected this – I would hope I would have come to the same conclusions either way.

      However, by doing science talks in schools, I have seen just how incredible some young people’s attitude towards science can be – and I can already see their name written on scientific papers in the future! This is really encouraging, and it spurs me on to continue to do science communication.

    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 23 Jun 2010:

      Yes it has, a lot. My view about others and myself has changed dramatically since developing a scientific view of the world. For instance, it took an awful lot of getting used to thinking about people as physical objects. Not just their bodies, but actually them.

      As I read more about how pesonality, desires, memories, thoughts and mood depended on the brain, it began to dawn on me that perhaps people weren’t really responsible for their actions. If someone becomes violent or sexually inappropriate because they develop a personality-altering tumour in their brain (and this can and has happened), then we treat them as people who are ill, not in control of their actions. We say that its not the ‘real’ them, they didn’t choose to be that way and the ‘real’ person was the person before the tumout. But then, what if someone is like that because of inheritance, and have always been that way. Surely the person shouldn’t be treated as responsible for their actions either, because they didn’t choose to be that way any more than the person who developed a brain tumour. What about people who take antidepressents in order to get on with their life. Who is the ‘real’ them, the depressed personality, or the happy drugged personality? It soon dawned on me that there is no evidence for a ‘real’ me, that is seperate from the biochemistry of my brain. I am a machine, my mood, loves, hates and aspirations are all down to the chemical and electrical properties of my brain. There is no ‘me’ pulling the levers, there are only levers, and the same is true for everyone else.

      It was difficult enough to entertain the possiblity that everyone else was a robot, but to realise that I was one myself was hard to get my head around. Its all too easy to a imagine a little ‘you’ homunculus, sitting behind a screen, seeing all that comes in from you senses and giving commands to your muscles, in complete control of you outer behavoir and inner mental life. It was a shock to realise that there is no-one behind the screen but a nerual computer, a product of evolution.