When it comes to beginnings, no clue

I have no idea why something begins. If you think about it, which I try not to do because I don’t know how to get started, there is always something that happened before whatever is beginning that started the thing that is being begun. Like, what prompted me to begin writing about beginnings? 

Here is another example. Do I awake each morning because the alarm goes off or because I set the alarm the night before? Why do I set the alarm the night before? 

So what begins a beginning? Beginnings are especially important in science. Why does a person make the seemingly illogical decision to become a scientist?  Do they think they are going to get rich or earn a Nobel Prize?

To become a scientist, you know, with the union card that says Ph.D., a person has to subject themselves to years and years of mastering arcane, complex, often-non-intuitive, almost-always-mathematical, obscure concepts about a smaller and smaller piece of our world. There are psychological theories about why someone would do this, although I don’t know how those theories got started either. I wonder if there are theories about why a psychologist decides to become a psychologist. 

This conundrum has practical implications for even those who aren’t scientists because of all the fascinating things in the world there are to see, do, and be interested in, the question becomes “Why do people begin to do the things they begin to do?” I mean, some people like to sit around in the sun and fish. Other people just like to sit around in the sun. Today people have even become interested in cooking. My mother tried to get out of cooking whenever she could. 

So, how did the guy who didn’t take a math class until he was in his third year of college decide to become a scientist? What was I thinking? My Dad used to ask me that a lot. I wonder what made him start doing that. 

Why did I study parasites? Armadillos are interesting, too, but I didn’t feel compelled to study them. I did get a little interested in them later when I found out they are the only animals besides humans that get leprosy.

I don’t know why some ideas grab my attention and others don’t. I remember my major professor handing me several articles to read over the weekend to be discussed with him later. He asked me which ones I found interesting and why. One article had an almost “throwaway line” about how the nematode parasite in one trial stopped producing viable eggs after a certain treatment. It wasn’t even the point of the article, but I thought it was an interesting occurrence.  Why? That very experiment took me into parasites.

Of course, I had just spent two years in the U.S. Army, which, in all its wisdom, had made an English Literature major into a medical corpsman. Being a medical corpsman got me interested in science. I was in the Army after being drafted during the Vietnam War era. So this “Simply Science” column is all the fault of President Lyndon Johnson. He meant well, I suppose.

Just to confuse things a little more, the end of something is always the beginning of something else. We’ve heard of the “beginning of the end.” Have you ever heard of the “end of the beginning”? 

Like, why did you start reading this column? Did you really think you were going to learn some science? My wife asks me the same question all the time. “Who reads this stuff?”

I guess this is an unfortunate ending for a science column. How did I get started on this topic anyway? 

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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