“Science is an inherent contradiction”

Drawing content together at the intersections of art, science, culture, imagination, and literature, Brain Pickings has to be one of my favourite websites right now.  Consistently excellent posts that leave me feeling inspired and better-read than before.  Here’s a gem that sums up why I love science, but also why the idea of doing strictly “hard science” is not enough.

Science is an inherent contradiction — systematic wonder — applied to the natural world. In its mundane form, the methodical instinct prevails and the result, an orderly procession of papers, advances the perimeter of knowledge, step by laborious step. Great scientific minds partake of that daily discipline and can also suspend it, yielding to the sheer love of allowing the mental engine to spin free. And then Einstein imagines himself riding a light beam, Kekule formulates the structure of benzene in a dream, and Fleming’s eye travels past the annoying mold on his glassware to the clear ring surrounding it — a lucid halo in a dish otherwise opaque with bacteria — and penicillin is born. Who knows how many scientific revolutions have been missed because their potential inaugurators disregarded the whimsical, the incidental, the inconvenient inside the laboratory?”

– From: “Systematic Wonder: A Definition of Science That Accounts for Whimsy”

Science respects ruthless critical analysis in pursuit of the true truth.  But as scientists, we have to respect that centuries of scientific inquiry and data still represent dramatically incomplete representations of the total possible understanding we could have about a problem and how best to solve it.  That’s not to say that the pursuit of scientific truth is not worthwhile, but that we as scientists have to allow room for serendipity, intuition, and instinct to glue together our puzzle pieces in ways that our logical minds would never consider.

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