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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 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.

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