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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: It's kind of hard for me to distinguish science from imagination. Both of them develop by asking "what if this were true?" And also, "what if everyone's wrong?" We start from there and branch off in many directions. The straitjacket is what we've accepted as true after many repeatable observations of the past. In some ways, these accepted theories restrict our imagination, but they also work as a springboard for our thoughts by giving us extra parameters to consider, and also extra things to question while we're imagining. Unfortunately as we get older, a lot of people begin to value imagination less and less, and prefer immediate practicality. The consequence is that our developed minds are less able to picture or value things that we haven't observed with our senses or can't find a use for. Children find it easier than adults to imagine the 4th spatial dimension. American space exploration has lost its high priority as well as its funding.
    I also can't help but tie all this to personality theory models such as the Myers Briggs model (Intuition versus Sensing http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/sensing-or-intuition.asp ), and The Big Five model ("openness to experience" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Openness_to_experience ). Intuitive thinking and openness to experience (i.e. imagination) are required for motivation in advancing science, while sensing thinking (i.e. the straitjacket) is required to bring consistency or unity to the many different ideas.

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