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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 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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