A recent trip to my local book store turned out to be an incredibly exasperating experience. It had started off well enough. I was looking forward to seeing if there were any new additions in the science section and I enjoy stretching my legs while taking in the bustle of the town on my walk through it.
The first thing that caught my eye was a small billboard at the entrance of a supermarket promising redemption through Jesus via free pamphlets and glossy New Testaments (don’t want people reading that OLD Testament, that stuffs just embarrassing). No big deal, the fact that they’re having to advertise shows that the complacency of the various denominations has disappeared due to the falling number of adherents.
But then things started to go downhill fast, real fast.
A chiropractors office, very few claims made on the outer fascia (hooray for advertising legislation!), but who knows what shtick they’re peddling behind the exam room door. An ‘all natural’ health store next. No medicine on sale of course, just a hell of a lot of ‘supplements’ and ‘natural remedies’ (advertising standards again).
Oh look, this new age store offers free psychic readings, an assortment of Tarot cards and ‘energy’ balancing crystals, how lovely. Of course, we can’t forget the three churches (Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian) which, although not as busy as they used to be, still do a fair trade each Sunday.
Well, I finally reach my destination and head into the bookstore. On my way to the back I pass shelf after shelf of ghost written celebrity autobiographies. An entire section devoted to thinking yourself thinner, happier, healthier or richer. Volume after volume telling potential readers how they can get in touch with their angel guides (who also, oddly enough, seem to be equally obsessed with making you thinner, healthier and richer).
Finally I get to the science section. At least I got to where it used to be. It was gone, all of it. No ‘Brief History of Time’, no ‘Origin of Species’ and no ‘Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman.” Were once they rested now lies a collection of pop-psychology, self-help books. An odd category given that if one of them actually worked the author would never need to write any more, as opposed to the 4 additional volumes they have, in fact, penned.
When did it become so unfashionable to think? To muse on ideas? To be curious about the workings of the world around you and to attempt to sate that curiosity through discovery? How is that so many people lose their wish to ask ‘WHY?’ after childhood? The great thing about science books is that they don’t just feed you information, they inspire contemplation. No one who picks up Carl Sagan’s Cosmos can finish that book without having some part of their perceptions of this world altered or challenged.
I discovered that children were the only demographic still being catered to on these subjects. Books on space and dinosaurs aimed at under-10s were still in abundance, but none for their parents.
Has the abundance of woo distracted people from the incredible insights science has gained or has the lack of scientific literacy made people vulnerable to the easy answer philosophies of this world’s snake-oil salesmen? I’m currently leaning towards the latter. That’s why, when my daughter starts asking ‘why?’, I’m gonna do my damnedest to give her good answers, show her how to figure out some of the answers for herself and always, ALWAYS encourage more questions.