Of all the beautiful and engaging facets of biology like molecular biology, embryology, microbiology, ecology, etc. cellular biology has been fascinating for me all these years.
Until intermediate, however, there wasn’t much that I can claim to have learnt in biology. The conscious learning started only when I entered college. This is where I tried to understand what science actually is, with questions relating to the philosophy and the processes going on in the living world being raised in my mind. So I have asked myself many times: What happened in the college which brought me close to the living world and intrigued me to understand it. It was the visualization that started in my mind – of the written word or text – that kept me going in the college days.
When I think back to my school days and when I think about the visualizations made in my mind, I realize they were incomplete, very rudimentary and unidirectional. During the school days, I depended on broken images which couldn’t have possibly made a complete picture of what I was trying to understand – be it cell, its components like mitochondria, nucleus, chloroplast, ribosome, cytoskeleton, ER, Golgi etc.
I think cell biology for me was like directing a film for myself, for which I was given a script (sometimes incomplete, sometimes full of information and for me to complete) and I was solely responsible for the way I created images for the written word, how I visualised the text. So, I had to make a full-length film for myself and screen that film to myself; on the basis of the film that I made up from the script provided to me I had to raise a very difficult question for myself: Did I understand the film I had just made? If not, then where did I understand the script wrongly? Where did my visualisation go wrong?
Going back to the school days, I think the script (books) provided to me didn’t help me visualise the written text, I couldn’t join the dots provided in the script. I couldn’t visualise in my mind the relation between a DNA and a chromosome, how one gets converted into the other. The script provided to me didn’t help me in making a motion picture of the events during a cell division or what happened differently in meiosis and mitosis (types of cell division).
I think the information provided wasn’t enough for me and the interpreter (teacher) of the script/textbook didn’t deconstruct it successfully making the script easier for me. No wonder the film made in my mind seemed far from real, full of loopholes, devoid of clear visuals and images clearly indicating a lack of understanding of the script or the crux of cell biology in this case.
What changed in the college days? How I visualised cell biology (or at least can claim it) fully depending on the text? How the concepts, the basic life processes occurring in an invisible cell or its nucleus were visible to me a thousand times magnified? How can I now claim that the images made in my mind were near to what the script (textbook) wanted me to make? Did I succeed in visualising the complex world of cellular biology? Far too many questions but the answer is simple when I think of it.
In college I stumbled upon multiple scripts (books) for a simple event like cell division or replication (duplication of DNA) – if I didn’t understand one I could have easily understood the same event from another source. The in-depth textualisation of the processes in these books (absent/unavailable in school days) of the cell informed me of the minute details of the process and never left my questions unanswered. When the doubts were answered the film or visualisation in my head was more detailed and less doubtful. Now the film was chronological and could not be challenged on the fundamentals (in class 12th the case was totally opposite). More the factual information I got from these books by renowned writers, the more different perspectives I read, the more clear the visuals/images became and the more clarity my film got.
It is not as if my film is complete. Every time I read a new writer or come across a new piece of information (new protein, alternate pathway for a process) the film adds up on the existing film, the cellular processes and the cellular world making more sense and bringing a whole lot of new visuals and images for my mind. Many a times a new perspective fundamentally challenged my entire understanding of cellular biology but now it is getting rarer. I think it indicates that the visualisation is going in the right path and will one day hopefully complete the film.
It is the visualisation in the biological world that makes me engaged with it, I hope to visualise all the other sciences in the same manner as cellular biology – be it the physical or philosophical world – so I get a wholesome picture of how the natural world speaks. For now, cellular biology for me is a life-long film which will be made bit by bit.
Mahendra Singh Rawat is a Volunteer and Science communicator at a socio-cultural organisation called AARAMBH based in Kumaun (Uttarakhand), working to inculcate rational thinking among the masses. He is a Post graduate in Zoology and has completed Diploma in Science Journalism. Interested in reading, writing and communicating science.