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Swetha Chandrasekar

Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Is science just imagination in a straitjacket?

This week in my Bioelectricity class, we listened to an NPR interview with Frances Ashcroft. Ashcroft is a British scientist who made a discovery in 1984 that allows neonatal diabetes patients to take pills as insulin supplements instead of injections. In her interview, as she discussed her thoughts on the scientific process and developing her theory, she referenced a quote by Richard Feynman, is a renowned American theoretical physicist.
"Science is imagination in a straitjacket."
Many scientists would argue that science does not restrict imagination, but rather promotes it. How is it that a well renowned scientist and thinker like Feynman, could feel confined when seeking answers in science? Is science a vehicle for imagination or is it used to tie down imagination with facts? What experience could have caused him to have this opinion? Does science truly restrict the imagination as Feynman suggests, or is science a vehicle for imagination?

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    Feb 7 2013: I believe, based on my having read a lot by and about Feynman, that you are misinterpreting his statement. What he meant is that it is not like walking to a canvas and painting whatever you like. It is about marshaling your imagination to fashion a picture that meshes with what is observed empirically. He found this far more intriguing (though he also painted) and not at all stifling!

    I could refer you to his biography by James Gleick or any of his autobiographical writing.
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      Feb 7 2013: Hi Fritzie,

      I think it's interesting to consider the dynamic relationship between the free-flow imagination in scientific theory and the generation of undeniable evidence to get everyone else to believe the fantasy of a scientist. From one end, you could say that theory gives rise to experiments which generate scientific data, but at the same time that scientific data could contradict your original fantasy and provide inspiration for a new one. It's kind of like a chicken-and-egg scenario.

      If you could, please post more information about Gleick's autobiographical writing you were talking about. Thanks!
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        Feb 7 2013: Do you mean a link to the Gleick biography or to Feynman's autobiographical stuff?

        The Gleick book is called Genius.

        Two of the autobiographical ones are:

        Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman
        What Do You Care What Other People Think

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