At the University, we are fixated on the ideal of the artist. This image is born from the pursuit of authentic creativity, a desire that permeates all realms of our campus. But what about scientific inquiry? Has it no place in this same creative pursuit?
Science has unnecessarily fallen by the wayside of the creative for the Wesleyan student. How many students attempting to fill an empty course spot have elected to take “Introductory Chemistry” over “Techniques in Poetry?” Beyond the importance of General Education Requirements (Gen-Eds) and even public scientific literacy, there is an important need for why, as a creative endeavor, science should garner more coverage in The Argus. To that end, this marks the first article in a new bi-monthly column dedicated to science at the University.
Like many longstanding institutions in higher education, the scientific field has become entangled in the formalities and insular terminologies that make it inaccessible without serious background. This, in part, accounts for the choice of poetry over chemistry; it seems to require a lot less background to get to the creative part of poetry rather than chemistry. As a result of this expensive “entrance fee,” the creative aspects of scientific research are shrouded.
The scientific method becomes a soulless process. A question is asked in which there is a finite set of possible solutions, all algorithmically determinable. Then, the correct solution is diligently sought after in a fractal tree of possible logical outcomes. The reality could not be more the opposite.
Creativity resides throughout the entirety of the scientific process. Finding the right question to ask is creative in its own right. Far too often does the audience happen upon a story “in medias res” (in the middle of), rather than at the outset of the question. When a student researcher describes hir project to a peer, it often sounds like an obscure question that intentionally necessitates an obscure means to answer. The reality is that the question that spawns an undergraduate’s research is often too broad to be assessed by a single researcher. Origins of fields of research are always moments of creative genius. Archimedes, for example, lying naked, noticed the volume displaced by his body as he entered the bathtub, and as such created a principle that underlies the field of fluid mechanics.
The compulsivity and soullessness that plague the scientific image are merely byproducts of the importance that is placed on correctly solving these questions. Science elucidates real features of the world, and, to borrow from philosopher John Haugeland, we are existentially committed to holding these real features up to the scrutiny of the scientific process. In other words, science reveals to us a fascinating aspect of human life in that the practice itself enables its own demise. We created the scientific process, but the practice still exercises autonomy over us. Take phlogiston chemistry, a popular scientific field in the 17th century that postulated different substances contain different quantities of phlogiston corresponding to their combustibility. Even though it was once part of the scientific practice, the existential commitment we have for the scientific practice itself forces us to now exclude phlogiston from our chemical language. Science undoes itself and rebuilds itself constantly.
There are entrance fees to all disciplines, and the journalist’s role is to translate. Even though the layperson may not know what a diminished seventh chord is in music, nor what chiaroscuro is in art, they are able to appreciate the field for its creativity. Such is the role of the science journalist: to translate the overwhelming technicality of the scientific realm into the creative practice that it is.