Saturday, 7 March 2009
The Inner Life of the Cell
A couple of years ago my sister sent me a video called "The Inner Life of the Cell", which I've never forgotten. I'm not sure what suddenly made it spring to mind today; perhaps the haunting music drifted somehow into my mind. It's about three minutes long, about a white blood cell. Good old Wiki says it has a narrated version here at Harvard; do let me know if you find it. (It is not the clip at the top left!)
During my teacher training I sent this video to a Biology teacher, naively thinking he might like to show it to some of his classes. He conceded it was interesting, then asked me sternly: "Now, what's the problem with it?" The problem was that the pupils "wouldn't understand everything in it" and therefore it was not conducive to achieving the lesson's learning objectives, nor, apparently, to morale.
Get serious. I don't understand it. That is to say, I cannot name most objects or processes appearing. Nor, probably, do most people who have watched it and been as overwhelmed as I have with the beauty of our cells. Granted, it's fun to be able to say, "Those might be proton pumps in the cell membrane!" or "Ooooh, protein synthesis!" or "Enzymes!" (remnants of GCSE and A level biology, never followed up). But why do you have to be able to name everything in a video before you're allowed to watch it? Anyone watching this will still be inspired - and likelier to want to know what's in a cell than before. You don't need to be an expert on physics or know all the constellations to be inspired by looking up at the stars.
And if you still need a utilitarian reason to watch it before you're a biology expert, it's something to look ahead to. Why bother to be interested in a subject if you don't know where it's going to lead? If, having completed your learning objectives, you're left with the idea that you know everything now, how can you look forward to tomorrow? Shine a light on the horizon and people will head towards it.
Turn the telescopes towards our galaxies, the microscopes towards our cells. Look ahead, look up, look inwards. Look, and search for understanding. And I shouldn't think that anyone who spends a lifetime looking to understand everything ever will; there's always more to come. Those cells aren't complex to exist in a simple world.