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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    Feb 11 2013: In his book titled The Art of Scientific Investigation, W. I. B. Beveridge writes:

    "While imagination is the source of inspiration in seeking new knowledge, it can also be dangerous if not subjected to discipline; a fertile imagination needs to be balanced by criticism and judgment. This is, of course, quite different from saying it should be repressed or crushed. The imagination merely enables us to wander into the darkness of the unknown where... we may glimpse something that seems of interest... Imagination is at once the source of all hope and inspiration but also of frustration. To forget this is to court despair."

    I think the straitjacket in Feynman's quote may actually be the most ideal garment with which to clothe our imaginations. If we let our imaginations run wild, we will surely come up with interesting ideas, but they may not be most effective.

    We have seen that science, as a global endeavor to unlock the worlds secrets, is actually quite locked down. Grants are not easy to come by and home-brew labs are only very recently gaining popularity (ie. Genspace.org). Since the time of the enlightenment, it was academic societies, and journals that influenced which scientific advancements and ideas would be popularized and accepted. If your imagination was ahead of its time, then it most likely wouldn't have made it to the status of "Science."

    I think many would agree that imagination is the precursor to science and that with the necessary refining, testing and polishing, imagination can become science.
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    Feb 10 2013: G’day Swetha

    Imagination in a strait jacket definitely a yes on that one, if scientists never imagined what if’s science wouldn’t have evolved from philosophy & mysticism. Has science conducted itself freely within the imagination? Definitely not as it’s restricted by fundamental logical deductive analysis in other words dogmas.

    Imagination is a huge primary conductive source to a scientist as it allows the scientist to wonder which usually leads to theorising which can lead to a proven deduction with the source of the initial analysis.

    This is a good one Swetha!!

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    Feb 8 2013: Imagination is a powerful force that sometimes requires restraint in order to be used productively. I think that when viewed through the lens of imagination, science does indeed have the dual roles of utility and tyranny. It seems to me that the metaphor is funny and apt -- good science does involve a great deal of imagination contained within it, but the current system can be primitive and overbearing, and needs a lot of work.
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    Feb 11 2013: The underlying purpose of science is to create knowledge. How can creating something not be imaginative?

    There are methods and rules for scientists to follow so we can confirm the knowledge but that should not restrict imagination.
  • Feb 11 2013: I think that what he was trying to say is (to paraphrase):

    'Science lets you do some imagination, but it makes you test your work and prove it'

    I think that this is a very ASTUTE observation that is right on the money. Science allows you to be imaginative, if it was not imaginative there would rarely be new discoveries! But it also makes you prove what you imagine.

    For example you could imagining a cure for a disease. You could come up with many options. Everything from microbiology, to diet change to seeing if weightlessness cured the disease, or treating it with anything, and any ingredients.. There are millions of cures and you could be as creative as you would want to be. You would only be bound by your imagination! But you also must prove that your idea, invention, approach or anything else actually WORKS. That is the beauty of science. It is provable by other people.

    I love science and I also love innovation. When you combine the two amazing things can happen. Thank you for sharing this quote and posting it. Asking the question in the way you did made me grow mentally and enhance my perspective.
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    Feb 8 2013: Hi Swetha,

    I appreciate you introducing this Feynman quote in your ideas. I think it is a very powerful statement that illustrates the depth and beauty of science.

    Science definitely requires creativity in order to flourish. However, imagination needs to be confined to the scope of the realty we perceive to be useful. I think it is interesting to ponder whether this type of imagination is completely limitless or is simply within the bounds of our understanding. This also raises the question of whether or not we are actually capable of true imagination, as this demands withdrawing from our realm of being.

    I find the application of the abstract world into concreteness a defining factor of science. Therefore, science is faced with the tough task of implementing theoretical ideas to produce practical solutions. With this, science has this magical effect of connecting two seemingly independent worlds.
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    Feb 8 2013: Hey Swetha!

    I really love this quote (as well as most Feynman quotes. Seriously, the man was a genius in so many ways.). I think it definitely holds true, but I think there's two ways to approach this quote: One is to think of imagination as a pure entity, and then confine it in a straightjacket. The other is to imagine a person in a straightjacket, and give them the power of imagination. I think science is definitely best looked at as the latter. Too often, people find science boring and regimented, but Feynman was saying that it's not like that at all- it's a creative pursuit, it's just that creativity has to follow certain laws of physics. Science is working within those laws of physics, and creating a world of infinite imagination in that confined space.

    And anyway, pure unleashed imagination is chaotic and unproductive: merely sitting and staring into space with imagination rarely, if ever, produces great ideas. Without direction you could spent your time imagining, for example, pink elephants breakdancing in glittery tutus; the scope is too broad. (That isn't to say that pure imagination is pointless, just that it's not as productive.) Most writing workshops give their participants prompts, or genres, to work within. So too, the universe gives us laws of physics to work within, and we (scientists) get to study and explore within those bounds!
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      Feb 8 2013: Hindi,
      I really liked your way of interpreting this quote, a person in a straightjack with the power of imagination, perhaps because it reflects how I like to think about science. Science allows us to imagine incredible things while approaching the idea with logic and intelligence. It provides us with a method, knowledge, and background, before setting us free to think up whatever we wish. Like you said, science gives us direction. But even with the laws of physics we are forced to adhere to, the possibilities will always be endless. In fact, often our imaginations fall short of reality. The more I learn, the more I feel that there are certain phenomena out there that are too incredible for us to think up. Science challenges us to understand its nature, to work with it, and learn from it. It is definitely a vehicle for imagination.
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    J D

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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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    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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    Feb 8 2013: Feynman may have actually said, "The game I play is this, its imagination in a tight straightjacket, which is this; that it has to agree with the known laws of physics." He said this in response to a question about designing an anti- gravity machine.
    min 1:38

    This changes the question posed here.
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      Feb 8 2013: Thanks for the link. I find Richard to be an interesting and similar minded individual. I have seen some of his interviews but not this one.
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      Feb 10 2013: Theodore

      I think you're right. Over this conversation and that video I think the question has changed from, "Is science imagination in a straitjacket?" to "How can we preserve the imagination behind science and not feel constricted?" How do we allow ourselves to dream and explore without feeling like a question cannot be answered. The worst idea would be to say "We can't build an anti-gravity machine because physics says no." Instead, we should be saying, "Anti-gravity machine? Challenge accepted! Let's see how we can reform our definition of gravity and work towards making something novel!" Imagination is a precursor for science!
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        Feb 10 2013: The problem as I see it is that our scientific understanding of the universe is far ahead of how we apply the science. At the same time our abilities to understand the implications science has on our planet is limited.
        The uses of fossil fuels, nuclear reactors, genetic modification, all have a downside.
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        Feb 10 2013: a better question might be: what other interpretations facts make possible? we often neglect alternative explanations, because we got used to the old ones. it took a decade or two and a rare genius for the special theory of relativity to show up, despite all the pieces were known, just nobody had put them together. many times the new knowledge is right in front of us, but our old conclusions hold us back.
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    Feb 8 2013: Swetha, nothing great has ever been accomplished without being creative. You are obviously a bright young lady and in your life you will get to hear a lot of opinions. Some you will agree with, some you will not and that will not just be in your educational life. So, as in many things in life take them in evaluate them and use them as you choose. Just because some one is intellectual does not mean they are smart!
  • Feb 7 2013: Scientists are explorers of complex landscapes. On these landscapes, it is easy to find novelty, and it is even easier to get lost. The scientific method allows us to strike the right balance. The scientific method, as described by Popper, is the oscillation between conjectures and refutations. To use your terminology, the imagination is the conjectures, and the data are the restrictions placed on the conjectures.

    Feynman's point is that artists need no be restricted by the data. Good art is only restricted by its ability to tell us truths. By contrast, in the course of doing their jobs, scientists constantly run up against refutations to their beautiful, imaginative ideas. This makes science difficult, but it also makes science uniquely qualified to describe the natural world in a way that leads us down unexpected avenues, nooks, and crannies within the fractal landscape (nature) we explore.

    Most of the working scientists in the world spend most of their time restricting their imaginations with experiments, calculations, critical thought, and statistics. In fact, they often do this too much--at the expense of the imagination part. On the other hand, it is bloody difficult to dance across the fractal and not get lost. That is why so few scientists do both conjectures and refutations well. As an example of one who did, you need to look no further than Feynman.
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    Feb 12 2013: I do agree with the fact that science places restrictions on imagination, however I would not go as far as to call it a straight jacket. Unfortunately, it is true that the human mind can fantasize about many things that are just not physically possible in this world. Science is, therefore, a damper on our imagination; however, I believe that imagination can overcome this obstacle. Imagination and science can be manipulated to work in harmony with each other, rather than against each other, as the term "straight jacket on imagination" implies.
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      Feb 12 2013: George,

      I agree with your take on science and the restriction that it places on imagination. Imagination is near limitless, as you have said. However I do believe that science is limited to the concrete evidence that is used to prove an idea or theory to be scientifically sound. In my mind, this is the straitjacket that science wears. Simply put, imagination can be anything and everything, while science uses imagination to a certain degree and real life proof to show its validity. Think about the past scientists who have stumbled upon new ideas. These ideas were initially merely the work of their imaginations.
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    Feb 12 2013: Hi Swetha,

    Thank you for your post! I vote that science is most definitely a vehicle for imagination.
    When Ashcroft stated that science is imagination in a straitjacket, she may have meant that she was limited by any number of things - the equipment she was using, the lack of support financially or from other researchers, the access to samples to test, etc. Feynman is included in this sense of restriction - a physicist might feel limited simply by the inability to 'see' in the fifth or sixth dimension. My point is that science does not limit imagination, it's outside factors, generally limited resources, which create the straitjacket. Part of the solution to this is social outreach, garnering support for researchers through public education. Look at publications like http://www.genengnews.com/ or encourage people to attend events such as http://makerfaire.com/. We should ask how we can make science more popular and accessible so that people may never think that it stunts imagination.
  • Feb 12 2013: I spent some time doing research in a microbiology lab as an undergrad. At one point, I was working with a postdoc who was submitting her first grant proposal. My postdoc was obviously both very nervous; this was her first grant proposal on a project that she designed herself. Unfortunately, she did not end up getting the grant. However, she wasn't that surprised. When I asked why, she simply responded that her ideas were too "radical". That there wasn't enough supplementary data collected by other scientists that can verify that her project would work, or even be worthwhile.

    Thats the regrettable, under-reported aspect of research. When projects are this expensive, grant committees have the power to essentially decide what gets done within their entire field. On one hand, this is understandable; why spend $50,000 looking into a gene that may have nothing to do at all with cancer or its cure. But on the same token, that gene may very well be the key to curing ALL cancers. We don't know. And unfortunately, a lot of "safe" projects with limited potential get grant money whereas the risky, but high reward projects get nothing.

    In my lab, researchers would have one main project that was approved for grant money. However, the big "grant" supported projects weren't really anything more than testing a hypothesis that you KNOW was right (you wouldn't have gotten the grant if there was a hint of doubt). But the side projects was were the real science was really done. This is where we asked "what happens when we do this". This is where the "huh that's funny" occurs. All of this is done with leftover grant money not used for the main project. Nothing big and risky (like isolating/manipulation genes) can really be done as a side project. And unfortunately, something big is what we may need.
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    Feb 9 2013: I think Feynmen's idea is largely true in the sense that science has its limits set by the laws of physics. There are areas of science that we have little understanding of, such as how the human brain works, etc. In this case, I think imagination is what helps scientists learn more about the unknown and understand things better, despite the negative connotation that the word "straighjacket" has. I think science is bounded by the reality, but imagination and creativity lead to scientific discovery especially in the areas that we have very little understanding of.
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      Feb 10 2013: Kyung,

      I agree with your point. I think the quote is double-edged. From one end, as many have commented, scientific theory serves as a reality check on imaginitive ideas and gives a framework in which to explore and create. From the other end--and this is what you brought to my attention--I think that the more unknown scieces don't offer that framework and a lot of it is just shooting in the dark. So indeed "imagination and creativity lead to scientific discovery especially in the areas that we have very little understanding of."

      I think this is where the negative connotation of "straightjacket" comes in to play. Swetha asked " What experience could have caused him [Feynman] to have this opinion?" Perhaps he and many other scietists have frusterating experiences, particularly in new frontiers of science, in which their idea or theory is proven empirically false. Maybe it's in times like those when Feynman felt like he was tied down to the laws of nature like a straightjacket and he couldn't break free from them as much as his imagination and theories tried. It can also be that this enemy turns into a friend once success is achieved, because it provides the guidance and framework that has come up throughout this TED conversation.
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      Feb 10 2013: I think, when we look at history and see the great works done by those who lived and ruled under the established religious order, we can say that imagination works under any system of discovering the truth but science does it better.

      If you walk a path that is narrowed by the rules of science, you will, eventually, stumble onto a discovery, wither you have imagination or not. Computers lack imagination but, if properly programmed, can take the rules of science and make new discoveries.

      I'm no longer sure just what imagination really is and if we need it or not.
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    Feb 9 2013: Imagination is not a piece of science. Science is a piece of imagination. Any other thought of this relationship is the straight jacket Feynman suggests.

    Okay, everybody take a five minute break, go into the hall and remove your straight jackets, please. just teasing
  • Feb 8 2013: The straitjacket is "Profitability" and "Marketability".
  • Feb 8 2013: I like how he put it. "Science is imagination in a straight jacket," because it so truly is. It starts in schools, we are taught to memorize facts and not to think independently. Look at any great inventor, he is usually up against colleagues and others who say it cannot be done or that it's silly. Progress is what carries the motivation to get something done, and everyone defines it differently. Modern science has limited our 'way' of thinking and it's only until we try to define life's possibilities ourselves that we ever really achieve anything. Science tries too hard to control the how and imagination allows truth to work itself out naturally.
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    Feb 8 2013: Richard has some interesting view points on science and its study and applications. Great interviews to watch and many people may take away more philosophical view points than pure science.

    2 ideas I love. Science does not take away from beauty. We can understand all about molecules, cells, botany etc and that beautiful rose is that much more beautiful because of the understanding.

    The other idea... we can know the name of a bird, who discovered it, its latin name, its species etc and still know nothing about the bird.

    Great topic. You have given me another Feynman lecture to listen to. Thank you
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      Feb 8 2013: Thank you so much for your input. I completely agree with both of your ideas! I am making it a point to watch more Feynman lectures after hearing the TED community's input. I hope to pick up on his philosophies. So much to learn from!
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    Feb 8 2013: Feynman is talking about the struggle between imagination and empirical thinking and practice. In other words, there will always be tensions between "invention" and science, although both are interdependent.
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    Feb 8 2013: This was on "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.
    This is the transcript of that interview:

    This was Ashcroft's quote:
    "As the American physicist Richard Feynman famously said, 'science is imagination in a straitjacket'. But the best scientists are those whose curiosity, insight, and skills are tempered by doubt. Doubt is at the heart of all we do."
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      Feb 8 2013: Theodore

      Thank you for posting this! I forgot to do so in my initial post. I hope you enjoyed the interview.
  • Feb 14 2013: I agree with Richard Feynman, who says "Science is imagination in a straitjacket."

    If and only if for one reason, I could imagine a place and a time where drugs are not engineered as to "Manage" a disease but rather cure it. Science has not delivered.

    Some homework for you :)... look up the last time any disease was cured.

    You'll be surprised at the answer and how science has been in a straightjacket not of imagination but of business and ongoing profitability.

    Be careful about using this as any argument in any class, its not in general what scientists want to hear.
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    Feb 14 2013: Egg or Chicken puzzle? As human beings we imagine things and before the imagined can exist physically, we call this imagination. When the very thing is discovered at it appropriate time we call it science. For instance, before electricity was discovered by humans, people imagined what it would be to have such energy so in this case imagination can be said to have come first before science. On the other hand, imagination did not create science. Nature laws, energies such as electricity has always been there awaiting discovery. Simply put, science is always there, imagination is always there. We only imagine what we are prepared to handle at particular periods in our lives. Science does not restrict imagination and imagination does not create science.....
  • Feb 13 2013: The commercialization of science is a very very tight jacket but pure sciences shouldn't be. Even thought science encourage imagination, there is always a commercial aspect that sponsors are not going to overlook!

    On the other hand, based on resent studies that our minds interact with our environment and we can impact the physical world at a quantum level with our minds, we might actually find that imagination is the real limit. Facts would be just our imagination collapsing in what would like to experience. I know, sounds crazy but we might have to archive classic mechanic at some point in the future. Now, how is that for imagination? :-)
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    Feb 13 2013: Is science just imagination in a straitjacket?
    No, its much more than that, but at some stage it comes back to evidence and what is physically possible with current technology.
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    Feb 12 2013: Science covers so many topics I couldn't imagine not calling it a vehicle for imagination. Everything around us rotates around cycles of science, from our heart beating to all the galaxies in the universe moving away from one point in space. Imagination really is a science! Yes, science does say that humans can fly, sure, but it can explain to you why a bird flies or an airplane can carry thousands of pounds and still stay in a substance light enough to float. Science is the foundation for imagination.
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    Feb 11 2013: I think the statement suggests that science is constricted by the laws that govern it, the laws of physics, etc.

    So while it is our imaginations that allows us to pursue the stuff of StartTrek or ask questions of our beginnings, it is the straight jacketed nature of science, the hard limits of the known rules that govern our universe which eventually satiates or douse that imagination.

    Imagine jumping out of a plane and flying, soaring through the skies like superman. Gravity will eventually have something to say about that dream. Or science may use the rules that restricts your dream to develop some technology to allow the fruition of that dream. In a way working within these constrictions (known rules) has been and is the key to that straight jacket and the freeing our imaginations.

    After all, man always thought that he could fly, but it was science that allowed him to.
    I believe it is our imaginations that are straight jacketed, limited, and science is the gateway to our dreams.
  • Feb 10 2013: No I don't think that is an accurate statement, Science has rigorous procedures to come to an specific result , imagination is unrestricted by this procedures but imagination is not concern with any particular outcome. In my opinion we should not state that science is a subset of imagination it is not a subset of imagination, it is not contained inside imagination, ( all elements of science are not present in imagination) . The most significant contribution of this statement is that it serves as a reminder of who does the heavy lifting behind the inventions and discoveries that we attribute to science.
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    Feb 10 2013: yes but so is religion! One could say that the gods have a serious multiple personality disorder
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    Feb 10 2013: When science tries to answer how - it is straight jacket. The fun and true knowledge is when science grapples with the WHY. Here imagination is the vehicle and hard scientific facts give it momentum
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      Feb 11 2013: Hi Asgar and Swetha,
      I think that you bring up a good point Asgar. I believe that Feinman's statement meant that science leaves lots of room for imagination, however, the laws of the scientific method can often restrict the expression of the creativity. Scientists can not just propose whatever they want to - their hypothesis need to be proven with experimental data and facts. This is what really validates Asgar's point, which is that when science seeks to demonstrate how something in nature occurs - they must show it rigorously with all of their means necessary so that their hypothesis can be proven beyond doubt. However, when it comes to explain why it occurs, as Asgar said, their lies the most room for imagination. I believe that this is the healthiest way for science to balance its creativity and empirical side. Science needs the imagination to think of their theorems, design the experiments and explain why different phenomena occur, but at the same time science also needs the straight jacket to prove their hypothesis and to actually carry out their dreams.
  • Feb 10 2013: I'd argue that imagination is a result of the science we observe, but unrestricted by its laws... So, by the symmetric property, the reciprocal is true. :-)
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    Feb 10 2013: Science is just one of many ways to answer the question "why?"

    What separates us from the animals is the fact we ask that question in our minds. We are the only animal that does that.

    Science is a direct result of our need to answer that question. It is the only route that works to narrow the course of applying resources to determine that answer. All other methods just put answering the question off to a later date, and accelerate our use of resources.

    Imagination in a strait Jacket is Capitalism and all the trading rules that have been established by that system of sharing resources. Of course the word "sharing", under the rules of capitalism, is a misnomer.
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    Feb 10 2013: Richard Feynman!! I miss his mind!! .... I believe that Richard simply meant that Science has the greatest responsibility, that it needs to follow certain rules to gain proof and acceptance in the Scientific world; this is the straightjacket!!. To waver from that one looses control of the subject at hand. This does not mean that one must lock away his or her imagination....... one starts with the imagination, then comes the straightjacket.
  • Feb 9 2013: I do not think the quote by Feynman is meant to indicate restriction in quite the way you are taking it. For example, great writing is made within the "straitjacket" of haiku or iambic pentameter. Both are examples of a very rigid and restrictive formula, but an author can use the confined form to express the most expansive ideas. An artist can sometimes use restrictions as a foil instead of being foiled by them. Imagination within the straitjacket of science can work in a similar way. You can struggle against the sure bindings or you can learn to let your imagination be unfettered by them and go on to discover something beautiful.
    • Feb 11 2013: Good point !
      Imagination if it cares to be seen should wear something ; maybe for haiku poetry it chooses takageta...
      naked imagination in takadeta to walk carefully in a rainy day.
      For science it's a straitjacket of interlocking laws.
      Isn't it different ? :)
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    Feb 9 2013: Okay, I finally got a minute to watch that Feynman video that Theodore provided.


    Fantastic. Here are the two points I take from it. First is that Richard is using his imagination and that the straightjacket is the known laws of physics. So with his understanding of our laws (at that time) he would not waste time trying to invent or imagine something that was impossible. That is more flight of fancy.

    The second thing I take, and he does not mention this at all, is that if I were to use my imagination in the scenario he was talking about (anti-gravity) I would use the imagination to better define gravity. AND then perhaps see if an anti-gravity machine was do able. Rather than trying to use imagination to create an anti-gravity machine that was against, the then, current theory. Keep in mind, to this day we still do not have a law of gravity we have theories and at the time of Richards talk String theory and M theory were so new (or just arriving) that we did not have a quantum view of gravity.

    LOL.. of course.... use your imagination to create an anti-gravity machine and you will make a fortune. Use your imagination to nail down the theory and laws of gravity and you will surpass the fame and prestige of Albert Einstein. Which would you want?
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    Feb 9 2013: There are so many bright, inquisitive minds involved in this conversation that I am given comfort "imagining" a better tomorrow. I only wanted to add a simple thought .....before any understanding, or comprehension, the thoughts of "Why?", "How?", "What?", "Where?", "When?', or "Who?' were involved in the hypothetical, the data, and the theory, eventually becoming an ever shifting fact, it was your imagination that provided the ability to question. Hopefully, none will suffer from asking these because they believe science has given the understanding...it too, came from your imagination.
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    Feb 9 2013: "Imagination", itself is just one of the great mysteries our imagined existence, Imagination, and not science is worthy of believing in.

    Thank you, Swetha, for taking my imagination with you on this journey, this morning. It has been very delightful, reminding me again, what is important in my life. I choose to leave behind the false sense of security in traveling with the perceived 'known' , and I'll run with Mystery and Imaginations, til I run no more.
    It has been my utmost pleasure to have met you here, as well. Later, Tim.....if there really is a later?!?!?!
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    Feb 9 2013: “I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research. ---Albert Einstein
    “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.”
    ― Albert Einstein
    It was from Einstein's notes, and the traditional stories told to me by elders of this nation's first people that helped me put into perspective my ability to dream visions, and restrain fears. I have been told, "Imagination, is the foundation of everything. It is not a piece of , and it is not a compartment within the brain, it is the base ingredient of every cell, right down to the atom."
    The message to our central nervous system which reports the hot horseshoe in our hand must be imagined by several distinct messengers before it is reported. Anything, and everything we do, voluntary and involuntary, begins with someone's, or something's imagination.
    Einstein also believed knowledge is limited and imagination was everything beyond those limits. Our doctrines, our facts (which , usually end up being facts for a limited time), and our science all create paradigms of thought and imagination. If we are able to understand that our scientific facts, and perhaps, including universal laws of physics, too, are only so for this day. One day it is very likely through higher understanding and healthier imagination that we had measured these perceived truths through frail human understanding, as feeble as this understanding is, in our arrogance this is how we measure all things around us, including fauna and flora, and the celestial beings.
    I enjoy science, study and passion of research. I also understand the risk of limiting my imagination should any of that seem worthy of belief. I always worship the Mystery, first. Only Mystery is worthy of belief.
    Yes, science is a straightjacket
  • Feb 9 2013: Imagination is actually a kind of window onto REALITIES NOT PRESENT.
    Take music poetry science painting .... one may say :
    Imagination was here, imagination acted in this place, and this is what it left.
    Science among all human activities , by its very nature is the most restricted one by facts proofs, laws... iow. with the REALITY THAT PRESENT.
  • Feb 9 2013: i think science is very useful for distinguishing rational imagination from fantasy. some o the strangest places, creatures, and worlds we can imagine can be investigated and sometimes found, and sometimes we find things even stranger than we could have possibly imagined. i think feynman was possibly referring to the fact that while we can discover things beyond our wildest imagination through science, that doesn't mean that everything we can imagine is possible. in other words, we could imagine a species of deep sea fish resembling butterflies which is not beyond the realm of possibility, but imaging a pink deep-sea whale that has never been seen because it lives purely in the pelagic zone is just crazy - if it were a whale it would have to surface to breathe.
  • Feb 8 2013: The thought process behind this thought is seems to me extremely pessimistic, but also true to an extent. Imagination has no boundaries. Science however gives us those boundaries. Science explains every detail of our lives and what lives and takes place around us. Thus its relevance and also importance for everyone and anyone over cedes the boundaries that it creates in our minds and the ability to understand so much more around us, in coincidence with imagination, is what has propelled our society so far forward as the ever going scientific revolution continues.
  • Feb 8 2013: No.
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    Feb 8 2013: It's neitther....that being said many a times scientific breakthrough may start with imagination.....
    Being evidence based it may at times sound like to be straitjacket.....but if it was such then there would be no place of curiosity in science.........which will turn science in to dogma that science is not.....
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    Feb 8 2013: If you are interested in a technologist's take on it, science is neither a vehicle of imagination nor it is something to tie down imagination with facts. Science is an inquiry based on evidence and open to falsification because in it's core it contains skepticism.
    Imagination is a faculty of human mind that broadens the scope of such inquiry, for example many scientists use gedankens or thought experiments which are imaginary examination of postulates that cannot be otherwise experimented upon.
    I think, even if science is imagination in a straightjacket, there will always be scientists with such strong imagination as to ultimately come out of the straightjacket. Science is an eternal game-changer where the rules change every now and then by astounding counter-intutive contributions that would have never been possible without imagination.
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    Feb 7 2013: i guess it is not easy to be a genius, and understand more than contemporaries. feynman was that kind of genius.

    i also suggest this talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/luca_turin_on_the_science_of_scent.html
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      Feb 8 2013: Hi Krisztián

      Thank you very much for suggesting Luca Turin's talk. I thoroughly enjoyed it and believe that it captures my thoughts on the beauty of imagination. The problem however here is although his theory on vibrational sensing is inspired and imaginative, it needs fact to be proven. Though I admire the imagination, it is necessary to apply fact and data and restrictions for research to be grounded. This however only suggests to me that the beauty of science comes in taking imagination and challenging the laws of physics and fact. If you fail, that just means it's time to imagine something else. Many answers have been found by not taking no for an answer and instead asking "Why not?"
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        Feb 8 2013: i was sure you will enjoy it, kinda your field, isn't it? maybe you can get the proof? :)

        they are getting data, but it takes time. you probably know better than me that finding out how molecule-sized structures work inside the body is not easy. we lack the toolset. plus the guy really didn't get support from academia, despite the shape theory is even less supported by data. so talk about straitjacket.