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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 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.

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