The Top 40 – Sounds of Science

By Sean Crawley

Look around2: the world is fucked and will soon end. Depending on which blog you read there are 5, 7, 11, 20, maybe even 50 ways3 this could happen. They include a super-bug epidemic, global famine, being slow-cooked on planet Earth4, war5, financial collapse or maybe even an artificial intelligence uprising.

Notice how these are all our own fault? We deserve this ugly end, we are flawed and Mother Earth will reap her revenge.

This point hasn’t been lost on some thinkers who have given up on trying to save us and who are debating the best ways for us to enjoy the ride6 to extinction. Look up NTHE (aka Near-Term Human Extinction) – it’s a whole heap of fun, that’s why they gave it an acronym. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine7.

Then there are the deniers out there operating as though unlimited growth is somehow exempt from the laws of the universe. Many of those peeps quell the cognitive dissonance that nags them at night by appealing to their God(s) or other similarly dogmatic ideology8. Whatever way you can justify amassing as much personal wealth as possible is fine – because that is your God damn capitalistic right! Ironically, those adults want more kids to do science at school so they can discover a new energy source that will power us on indefinitely, or at least build a space program that will take the chosen few to a crispy clean new planet somewhere over the rainbow9. Yeah, we gotta get out of this place10. Ground control to major Tom11.

Then there’s a whole lot of us stuck in the middle12, who seemingly don’t know much biology13, racing around frantically, just to make it through the night14, with time tick-tick-ticking15 in our heads. No time to think, no time to deny, just time enough to get on with it and run with the pack, lest we fall and get trampled by our fellow humans. Taking refuge in front of the Television, the drug of the nation16 watching a cooking show or some sport – because all the world is biscuit-shaped or football-shaped17.

Have you heard the term “paradigm shift”? Does it make you cringe? Or, does it inspire you to hang in there and live long enough to witness the next great leap forward18? The fatalists, the ones that see only the inevitable demise of Homo sapiens, the ones out there who have co-opted Darwin’s theory of natural selection to justify their Hobbesian world view, you may as well leave me now, you take away the very heart of me19. And those of you that believe that the next paradigm shift will be some magical mystery tour20 involving a miraculous evolution of human consciousness that will usher in an age of peace, light and love, you may as well rack off21 as well – that sort of thinking reminds me of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their leaflets with pictures of humans and tigers hanging out as best buddies. May as well invite the green alligators and the unicorn22.

The type of paradigm shift that I’m talking here is of the ilk of the one kicked off by Copernicus and Galileo23 a few centuries ago.

Now, I am starting to feel some bile from the audience already with this confession. I’m sure there’s many out there in SHIFT land who lament that those two Europeans were ever born. Aren’t they the fathers of modern science? White, male, wealthy, heterosexual, western and worst of all, scientists! Isn’t science to blame to for all our woes? Those two buggers, and let’s throw in that pesky pea-growing funky monk24, Gregor (Monsanto) Mendel, and that hip to be square25 nerd, Albert (atomic26) Einstein, and the very first steam punk, James (CO2) Watt, surely those curious tinkers are responsible for our predicament.

The list goes on. With every scientific breakthrough comes more technology to stuff up everything. Though many of us alive today have Alexander27 (big-pharma) Fleming to thank for saving us from death by bacteria, should we really be thanking him? What sort of dystopia has he created with a disease-surviving exponentially expanding humanity having no option but to fight each other to the death for the consequently rapidly diminishing resources? Seriously, you science dudes have really got a lot of explaining to do. Sure you may be reading this on the internet, thanks Leonard (dotcom) Kleinrock, but you hardcore science/civilisation critics would give that up in a nano-second for campfire and the drumming song28 – wouldn’t you?

Homo sapiens appeared via the processes of evolution already equipped with curiosity and technology. Science is in our DNA, so let’s come to terms with that. When the world falls apart some things stay the same29. If you survive the apocalypso30 will you not watch the sky and the plants and the animals to see how things work? Will you not apply your understanding and test out your ideas to serve your needs? Face it, you are a scientist or you have a latent scientist in you—you’re Homosapien too31. It’s not all lab coats and rats in cages. And it’s certainly not all about big money finding ever more ways to enslave the masses. Sure you can probably give me a dozen or more examples of scientific endeavours planned and executed that have done no good for humanity or the planet – I’m thinking of the US Forces32 drone weaponry for a start. But how many crap silly love songs33 have you heard in your life? Are you giving up on music?

If anything science is simply a mind-set. The scientific method, if you think about it, is in action everywhere; a child solving a block puzzle, a teenager working out how to get the car on Saturday night34, a parent trying to get that same car to start on another grey morning35, the cook inventing dinner without the full complement of ingredients, the gardener in that tricky corner out the back trying to deliver the unpromised rose garden36. Seriously the scientific method is going on everywhere. We observe, we question, we do a bit of research, we propose ideas and give them a shot; if they work we tell others about it and they have a go, if they don’t work we ditch ’em, and start again. That’s it – that’s science.

Ok here’s my go at some science.

Observation: The world is going down the tube.

Question: Why is it so? (Thanks Julius Sumner Miller)

Research: Read a shit load of stuff.

Idea: The current paradigm of capitalism – I want money37 – is the root cause, so we need a new paradigm of how we do business with each other. How about if we write a song that highlights the stupidity of competition and hoarding juxtaposed with the joy of co-operation and sharing, to trigger a grassroots people movement that will sweep across the globe and save the world from itself?

Experiment: Write and sing a song38 to the people I know.

Results: Some positive encouragement, though world is not saved.

Conclusion: This particular song, sung by me, did not save the world.

Ideas to Start Again: Write new song, get better singer, sing song to more people, support other songwriters to write ‘save the world’ songs. Consider that a song will never change the world so do further observation, question, research and come up with new ideas.

Most important of all: Don’t keep singing the same song to the same people and expect the world to change. I know it’s sad that it didn’t work but I must let it go, that’s science! Psuedo-science and religion and conservatism and fanaticism and dogmatism have no place in the scientist’s mind. Letting go of bad and out-dated ideas is at the core of science.

Personally I am grateful to all the scientists that have come before me. I don’t blame them at all for their ideas proving to be correct. The fact that some of these ideas have been exploited by non-scientists to the detriment of life on earth is just another reality that in itself requires observation, research, new ideas and experimentation. Somewhere, somehow, someone is going to propose a verifiable idea about something39 that will be as revolutionary as the heliocentric model of the universe or the theory of evolution of life. That idea will end up like those ideas permeating the realms of art, ethics, technology, politics and spirituality. My bet, and I unashamedly confess to optimism, is that the next paradigm shift will change the trajectory of human existence on this planet for the better. Howzat40?


  1. Sounds of Science – The Beastie Boys, 1989
  2. Look Around – Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2011
  3. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon, 1975
  4. Planet Earth – Duran Duran, 1981
  5. War – Edwin Star, 1970
  6. Ride My See Saw – The Moody Blues, 1968
  7. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M., 1987
  8. Ideology – Billy Bragg, 1986
  9. Over the rainbow – Judy Garland, 1939
  10. We gotta get out of this place – The Animals, 1965
  11. Space Oddity – David Bowie, 1969
  12. Stuck in the Middle – Stealers Wheel,1972
  13. Wonderful World – Sam Cooke, 1960
  14. Help Me Make It Through the Night – Kris Kristofferson, 1970
  15. Got the Time – Joe Jackson, 1979
  16. Television, The Drug Of The Nation – Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy, 1992
  17. Senses Working Overtime Lyrics – XTC, 1982
  18. Waiting for the Great Leap Forward – Billy Bragg, 1988
  19. If You Leave Me Now – Chicago, 1976
  20. Magical Mystery Tour – Beatles, 1967
  21. Rak Off Normie – Maureen Elkner, 1975
  22. The Unicorn – The Irish Rovers, 1968
  23. Galileo – Indigo Girls, 1992
  24. Funky Monks – Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991
  25. Hip to Be Square – Huey Lewis and the News, 1986
  26. Atomic – Blondie, 1979
  27. Alexander Beetle – Melanie, 1970
  28. Drumming Song – Florence and the Machine, 2009
  29. Levi Stubbs’ Tears – Billy Bragg, 1986
  30. Apocalypso – Mental As Anything, 1986
  31. Homo sapien – Pete Shelley, 1981
  32. US Forces – Midnight Oil, 1982
  33. Silly Love Songs – Wings, 1976
  34. Saturday Night – Cold Chisel, 1984
  35. Another Grey Morning – James Taylor, 1977
  36. Rose Garden – Lynn Anderson, 1970
  37. I Want Money – The Flying Lizards, 1979
  38. Sing A Song – The Carpenters, 1973
  39. Something – George Harrison, 1969
  40. Howzat – Sherbet, 1976



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