Patience and the Sciences

Over the last few months I have been binging on all things Neil deGrasse Tyson and let me tell you, that man is an insanely good speaker. I have always had an interest in the physical sciences and engineering, so his shows like Cosmos and the Inexplicable Universe are incredible insights into the world of practical science. Modern astrophysicists and theoretical physicists are the great explorers of our time. They are pioneers out there on the edge of human knowledge and understanding. I think it’s a wonder that more people aren’t interested in these people and their research. In many of Tyson’s lectures he refers to the short sightedness of the government and even the public. One of his examples is the time delay between Faraday’s original electromagnetic experiments and the first uses of generators in industry. The gap is about 30 years and the principles of Faraday’s experiments are still the basics of how all of our electricity is created today.

I think the real reason that there is not more interest in these pioneer sciences is that most people (including myself) are geared by our current culture for instant gratification. Think about it, how long would you wait for a computer program to boot up before you think there is a problem? How long do you want to wait for a product to be delivered to you from across the world? I admit that I suffer this type of bias in my work all the time. My software testing has me working on a combination of software and hardware that is not your standard PC. One of our consoles (they are pretty much panels with screens and small pseudo computers) takes up to three minutes to boot up. When was the last time your computer took three minutes to boot? (If your computer always takes 3 minutes… well you should get that looked at) Patience is just not in our cultures vocabulary these days. With our hectic lives we don’t want to wait for results. We want the tree and not the seed. The problem with this attitude is that there are many worthwhile things that take time. Improving skills and paying off mortgages are just a couple of examples.

I think that this impatience is not new. If humans as a species where not impatient, then faster means of travel would only have been a novelty, faster way of cooking food would not exist. We see other people who can improve faster than us and we are impatient about our own progress. Ultimately though, I believe that this impatience stems from our own memory and its perception of time. Based solely off of my own experiences, I can never truly recall how long events took place. Usually I have to go off of specific events that I remember actual times for and do the math. This type of remembering gets even harder when the timescale increases to beyond a couple of weeks. When was the last wedding you attended? How long did the ceremony last? If you can answer these, good for you, you have an excellent memory.

We don’t realize how long things take and get impatient for results. While sometimes this is a good thing, we need to be able to recognize when waiting is called for. Not everything is fast, so next time you find yourself asking “are we there yet?” Take a second look. Maybe patience is called for.

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