TED Conversations

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: 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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