The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

When I graduated from high school, there was one complaint I thought I would never have to hear from my classmates again: “When am I ever going to use this in real life?” I am sure everyone has heard it, and maybe they have said it themselves during some particularly obtuse lecture or another. Surely UNC is a place where we can all pick a major and then only study exactly what we are going to use in our future careers — nothing more, nothing less.

If that were the case, the most popular major at UNC would probably be Paperwork and Cubicle Studies.

Unfortunately, it is usually science and math classes (especially introductory physics) which receive a bad rap for being impractical wastes of time we will never need. Frankly, on a superficial level, I agree. I think it is safe to say not a single one of us will ever need to make sure a catapult is the correct height in order to hit a target a certain distance away, or we will ever have to calculate the centripetal acceleration of a fighter jet. If you ever do, congratulations on landing a job with MythBusters.

But, those things are not what makes science interesting. Similarly, no one becomes a historian because they love to memorize dates.

I could give all kinds of examples of how a little bit of physics knowledge is useful if you are fixing things around the house, but the real power of science and math education consists of the abstract reasoning skills you pick up along the way. Being able to visualize things which are not sitting in front of you and making predictions using pure deductive reasoning is an incredibly powerful tool. Given a set of numbers that describe the way things are now, you can predict the future by making use of a few laws of physics.

Predicting the future is useful in all areas of life, whether you are wondering if you will have enough money to retire in 40 years or if it will rain tomorrow. Science is all about examining empirical evidence and making hypotheses based on that evidence. The scientific method is such a beautiful technique because it is incredibly far-reaching. Most of the time we do not even realize we are following the steps outlined by the scientific method.

Another reason why we should aspire to obtain some level of scientific literacy is the same reason why we should learn anything — for learning’s sake. While many of you are wondering how Chemistry 101 lab will help you become a better journalist, many of my peers in the physics department are lamenting the supposed uselessness of the performing arts.

But the pursuit of knowledge is not useless. I am not saying everyone should try to become enlightened and be comically eager to soak up every last ounce of knowledge. For example, I personally find the prospect of studying history absolutely abhorrent. But if we neglect the opportunity to learn, as intelligent as we might be, we have no advantage over our Paleolithic ancestors.

Though we might not immediately realize it, all knowledge is power, even knowledge gained from the most tedious of physics lectures.

As for when you will have to use it in real life?

This is real life!

Nick Mykins is a senior physics major from Raleigh. E-mail him

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