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Unique Lives - Dr. Mae Jemison - Mar. 11, 2002

"When God made the color purple, God was just showing off." - The Color Purple.

Dr. Jemison started off with that quote to explain the color of the outfit she was wearing. I immediately thought of the picture I had of the purple flower you see. I have a vision of starting off my summary with it and so I shall.

Dr. Jemison has a medical degree, was the first woman of color to go into space, and is now starting her own businesses. All of this while, I suspect, being younger than I am. Reminds me of a Tom Lehrer quote, "When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years." I apparently have not accomplished all that I could.

This talk set a record for pages of notes taken at nine. Mae had a lot to say. At the top of each page I would write a variation of her name. I tried to write Dr. J's name differently on each page. Had I known that MJ had so much to say I might not have been so ambitious. Dr. Mae had so much to say, she may have had too much to say. There were jokes, quotes, insights, ideas, and a variety of main points. I think I will summarize from the main point and then add the snippets at the end. If you want to skip ahead you can go from here to the: Quotes Jokes

The message I got was that we need a more scientifically literate society. We need "100 million people who can read an article and figure out which way to vote." She estimated that 60-70% of our problems have science based solutions and the rest are pure chance or luck. This requires that everybody be science literate in order to participate in the solution process. Of course we all tend to perceive science as:

The derivative of the photostatic process needs to be integrated with the thermonuclear substrate so that the cellular mitososis does not impinge on the metastatic processes whose quantum synthesis must procede unmitigated towards genetic resolution.

Or something like that. Dr. Jemison argues otherwise. Science is simply the following:
  • I think...
  • I wonder...
  • I understand...
In this world of sounds bites, too-short TV news segments, and couch potatoes we have lost the ability to try to understand the world around us. Science is understanding. It allows us to shape our tools, our approaches, and the questions we ask. It allows us to be informed enough to make the right choices about how to use the resources around us and within us.

A person learns something carrying a cat by the tail that they can learn in no other way. - Mark Twain.

We all need to support the return of science to our educational systems and to our society. There are many forces guiding the science efforts today. Money, committees, departments, uiniversities. Dr. Jemison mentioned a group that had assembled a list of issues relating to science. These are issues we can think about and support to get science back into our society.
  • Do the benefits of a project fully offset its cost? (That includes opportunity costs (projects not done instead), financial costs, time costs, etc. All aspects of the public benefits need to be considered as well.
  • Are we spending the money to improve the science infrstructure. Consider the state of the facilities in our universities, community colleges, and public schools.
  • Are we supporting efforts to improve K-12 science and understanding?
  • Are we supporting getting more women into science. See the Question and Answer section next for a great answer on this topic.
  • Are we promoting the vitality of science? Are we encouraging new ideas, learning, exploration, and progress?
How do we encourage more minorities to get into science?
The answer here also applies to women as well. Do not discourage them. Children have a natural curiosity. Ask any mother. A rocket scientist I knew mentioned that what allowed her to get into science was the "removal of impossibility." Nobody ever told her she could not do it. Dr. Jemison talked about going to Stanford at age 16. She started eagerly sitting in the front row. She was treated as though people did not believe in her intelligence. She drifted towards the back rows of classes. Fortunately her 16 year-old arrogance allowed her not to internalize it.

What can women contribute to male-dominated science fields?
Dr. Jemison mentioned her experience on the floors as a med student. They were still doing radical mastectomies for women with breast cancer. However the same doctors would do anything to save a testicle for a man with cancer. Women brought the perspective that encouraged the use of lumpectomies for breast cancer instead of the harsher alternative.

How do you integrate your spiritual and scientific sides?
Most people think this is one issue to be debated. Instead it is two distinct questions.
Science asks: How does the world work?
Religion asks: Why are we here?

Each quote had a context. Some were part of the story. Some just showed up. I put them here because I think some of them are cool, especially the last one.
  • It is always important to distinguish chastity from impotence. - Dr. S. Brenner
  • A woman who strives to be like a man lacks ambition. - Someone once said.
  • An entrepreneur is a person not so broke that they have to get a real job. - Someone.
  • Each generation, out of obscurity, must discsover its mission and fulfill it or betray it. - Someone.
  • Ferengui 97th Rule of Acquisition - Enough is never enough. - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. - Marianne Williamson, from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Priniciples of A Course in Miracles. Copied from an interesting website with more quotes like this. Spirituality and Alternative Healing
  • The Widow Brown goes down to her local newspaper office with her husbandís obituary. It is five pages, single space, neatly typed. It is an eloquent story of her husbandís life and virtues. The Editor reads it over. "I must congratulate you. This is a excellent obituary. However I must also caution you that we charge 25 cents per word. Mrs. Brown retrieves the stack of papers, muses, scratches out something and writes something else. She hands it back to the editor who reads, "John Brown Died." "I must also tell you that we have a seven word minimum," the editor says. The Widow Brown makes another change and hands it back. "John Brown died. Red Ford for sale."
  • A man goes in to the store looking for a brain. (Yes, it was a brain store.) The salesperson notes that they have a fine assortment of menís brains at full price and womenís brains at half price. "Why are womenís brains half price," he inquires. The salesperson replies, "Because womenís brains have been used."