Here’s a TED talk from renowned biologist E.O. Wilson in which he shares some thoughts from a book he has written called ‘Letters to a Young Scientist’. It’s pretty static as far as TED talks go, with Wilson standing at a lectern and reading from some prepared notes, but he speaks wonderfully and the advice he gives has the weight of his long career behind him.
He starts off by explaining how import science and technology are to the current development of society. Science is in everything, and growing tremendously fast in scope and power.
“Humanity is now fully in the techno-scientific age. There is going to be no turning back… The revolution will continue for at least several more decades and will render the human condition radically different from what it is today.”
He recommends that scientists acquire breath in fields both near and distant from their own.
“In time all of science will come to be a continuum of description and explanation of networks of principles and laws”
And he has some words on mathematical literacy:
“If you are a bit short in mathematical skills, don’t worry. Many of the most successful scientists at work today are mathematically semi-literate.”
“Understand that mathematics is a language, ruled like verbal language generally by its own grammar and system of logic. Any person with average quantitative intelligence who learns to read and write mathematics at an elementary level, will, as in verbal languages, have little difficulty picking up most of the fundamentals if they choose to master the math-speak of most disciplines of science.”
On this last point, he speaks from experience. He learned calculus as a 32 year old tenured professor, sitting in classes with undergraduate students.
His talk can generally be summed up in two points. One, that humanity will need science and technology in the coming decades to address the multitude of problems that exist now and are likely to arise in the coming years. And two, anyone seeking to contribute to this undertaking should not be discouraged by their perceived lack of knowledge or skills, but should instead tackle whatever problems they find themselves best suited to handle.