Reflections on Science and Non-Science at a Science Conference

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) holds an annual meeting. This year happened to be held in Seattle, WA. The Pacific Northwest is, in my mind, famous for two things: technology and open-mindedness. Technology was on full display at the conference. Posters were presented on televisions instead of the traditional poster board, sessions focused discussions on leveraging technology to combat world problems such as climate change, and even Bill Freakin’ Gates was a keynote speaker (who’s more synonymous with modern technology than Bill Gates?). It was truly a science-driven meeting.

Interesting enough, the meeting was centered in a region of the United States that is as open-minded about alternative medicines, sciences, and thought as any other. This juxtaposition between hard science and the Laissez-faire way of living that I perceive was stark. In one five-minute walk I could listen to a talk on the necessity of standardize medicine and more thorough vetting of orphaned drugs then pass a shack selling CBD as a cure-all for everything from cancer to nightmares. This contrast may make others uncomfortable, but I see a connection that is not only harmonious, but fundamental for a high-functioning society.

The benefits of using science and the scientific method as the primary thought process are abundant. Science is systemic, being easily implemented. Science is replicable, lending credence to its use. Science is successful, working for most problems. But science can be cold, and science can fail. At the personal level where modern medicine, technology, and research cannot answer certain questions, we must keep our mind open to alternative solutions.

I spent a few days after the science conference in Portland, OR visiting my sister. She has a business through which she practices Reiki (excuse my attempt to explain what Reiki is, but it’s essentially energy transfer and healing). To the modern scientist, Reiki may seem like snake oil, and maybe it is. But I’ve seen my sister heal broken people using Reiki, including herself. I can see the power that Reiki has given her. Without this practice, a number of folks who experienced my sister’s healing presence would still be in pain, including myself. I cannot explain how it works, but the mind is powerful.

New-age practices such as Reiki and established science will undoubtedly butt heads. They are inherently contradictory. But one cannot survive without the other. Science needs alternative thinking to spur trust in its own establishment, and Reiki needs science to bridge the gap between explainable and unexplainable. We can take advantage of the benefits of both to expand our minds to the greatest potential. At the very least, we can say we’ve tried looking at problems from every perspective.

(Also, Jehovah’s witnesses were recruiting outside the convention center, and I can think of few conferences whose attendees would be less suited for conversion.)