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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 8 2013: Swetha,

    You raise a very interesting question. First and foremost, I think it's very important to fully understand what sort of imagination Feynman was referring to. Imagination in this regard definitely doesn't have anything to do with unicorns and elves. Perhaps what Feynman meant to say was that in our generation, we are constrained by what we already know. I don't necessarily agree with that, because there is always something left undiscovered. In her interview, Ashcroft makes it seem like everything has already been discovered and all that is left now is to prove scientific theories and focus on what was provided for us by previous generations and work with what we were given. In her eyes, you can't simply make up a story out of thin air and start doing scientific research.

    I like to be optimistic and believe that there are still hundreds of things that we still haven't discovered on our magnificent planet. Hopefully some day soon you'll be able to escape from this so called straitjacket as Houdini did and focus on your creativity along with your affinity for science.

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