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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 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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