Is science just a western cultural practice?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the West. More specifically, the dominance of western culture. I used to get jealous when I hear my western friends from various countries talk about the things they did as children, the places they’ve been, their hobbies, their ice skating, hiking, camping, water sports, and all sorts. Things that I have never done or thought of doing. I would feel ashamed and jealous as if I’ve missed out on life somehow. In reality, I have done things but not the same things my western friends have. Media also played a major role in how I thought life should be lived –  and it is governed by the West. So, to my younger self, western culture became the trademark culture and anything short of that was not living.

This train of thought on the West and its dominance has transported me to the field of science, as all things tend to do these days. A couple of weeks ago, I read in an article on SciTech Africa that Africans tend to see science as ‘white people’ thing. If this is true, if this is the way we really think, this would explain a lot of the apathy that I observe in Nigeria towards exciting scientific discoveries. As ice skating is a western thing, so is science. Of course, this is preposterous. Science has nothing to do with race… Or does it? Maybe not race but culture… Is science just another western cultural practice?

A lot of the time, the science that is taught in school is so obscure. I remember struggling with all the foreign, difficult names of scientists like Einstein, Pythagoras and van der Waals. Then there was all the Latin we had to learn and the binomial names we memorised while still grappling with purging Nigerian English from our systems with the Queen’s English. We had to understand the mechanisms behind the four temperate seasons and the scientific anecdotes like Newton’s apple falling from the tree –  I had never seen an apple tree in my life until I came to the UK.  I couldn’t relate to any of these things until I was shipped off to a western country and culture.

To be fair, the scientific method was refined in the West (though it may have Middle Eastern origins) so it is understandable that it has elements of ‘white’ life and culture. But what if this is the western scientific method and science exists – or once existed – in different modes elsewhere? At least, from southern Nigeria, the physics and engineering behind the walls of Benin and our precolonial mud houses, the medicine inspiring our traditional herbal remedies, the understanding of agriculture in relation to the movement of the moon, it would be unfair to say that all these are not science. Albeit in a different style to what’s seen in the West but it still shows the fundamental understanding of nature and the use of its laws for our livelihood. Could it be that the British colonials didn’t value any of this because it wasn’t what they were used to, so they termed it all as primitive?

Do you get my drift? Take the field of medicine for example. Over the past decades, Chinese medicine and other forms of ‘alternative’ medicine are gaining recognition. What we previously deemed as universal medicine is now seen as western.

Could it be that science is really, well and truly, too white for Africans to relate to and that’s why scientists and enthusiasts are so rare on the continent (well, at least in Nigeria)? The number one challenge I am facing now is how to make science appealing to the African mind. So much has been invested in my education that I want people back home to understand what exactly I am doing. That is why this issue is so important for me to address. How does one make science relatable?

Anyways, this is just me rambling at 22:49 after a week of running into mental brick walls.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s