My Dominant Hemisphere

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Real Science is Discovery, Not Invention

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Real Science is Discovery

Hello everyone!

Today, I want to talk about an ostensibly innocuous yet profound statement that struck me the other day, from one of my favorite TV shows, NUMB3Rs. In one particular episode, physics professor, Larry Fleinhardt, in his inimitable style said:

“Real science is discovery, Charles, it’s not invention. The truths are there, whether we find them or not.”

What fascinates me most, is how true the first part of of what he said is, at least at a macro level. Because discovery and invention are so intricately meshed together, it is perfectly understandable when this becomes a subject of controversy among scientists and thinkers. A lot of discovery comes about due to invention, and likewise, invention cannot be borne without discovery. On the surface, this might look like the chicken-or-egg problem, but notice that while invention always needs discovery, the reverse is not necessarily true. You cannot truly do something unless you are first conscious about its underlying nature. In essence, the very marrow of science’s purpose, is in the discovery and understanding of truths in our universe. This is by far more valuable and enchanting than anything else. Larry, perhaps, tried to reflect this view on the business of math, but it applies to all of science really. We don’t often think about it very much, but every scientist fits either two roles – theoretical/pure or applied. There might be overlaps in his or her work but the brunt of it falls into one of these domains. While the theorist works around discoveries most of the time, the applied scientist is mainly concerned with inventing stuff based on knowledge gained by discovery, and bringing it to use for humanity. This is also true for medical science. The clinician is the applied scientist whereas the basic scientist is in large part, the purist. In this grand scheme of things, stop for once and think, which one are you?

On a parting note, I leave you with you with snapshots from the captivating lives of Carl Friedrich Gauss, widely referred to as the “greatest mathematician since antiquity”, and Ibn Sina (otherwise known as Avicenna) and his genius, courtesy of Wikipedia. Recall Gauss’ work’s relevance to medics when they deal with the familiar Gaussian curves and Ibn Sina, whom the likes of William Osler considered to be their patriarch.

Feel free to leave behind your comments. Asta la vista for now! :-)

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Written by Firas MR

July 2, 2007 at 3:48 am

One Response

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  1. […] Anyhow, one of my main feelings is that honing one’s math not only helps us survive better, but it can also teach us about our place in the universe. Because we can then begin to fully use it as a sensory organ in its own right. Which is why a lot of pure scientists have argued that doing math for math’s own sake can not only be great fun (if done the right way, of course ) but should also be considered necessary. Due to the fact that such research has the potential to reveal entirely new vistas that can enchant us and surprise us at the same time (take Cantor’s work on infinity for example). For in the end, discovery, really, is far more enthralling than invention. […]


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