Imagination in Science

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DrRocket

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<p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">There seems to be in some quarters in these forums a misconception regarding the role of imagination in science.<span>&nbsp; </span>I thought I would start a thread to address the subject. </font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">My thoughts below are directed at the hard sciences, mathematics and engineering, and when the term &ldquo;science&rdquo; is used it connotes those disciplines.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">Imagination is critical to science.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is not the imagination of science fiction, of abstract art, of the cinema, of comedy, or of any works of fiction whatever.<span>&nbsp; </span>Imagination in those pursuits is valuable, and entertaining, but it is of a different sort than is appropriate in science.<span>&nbsp; </span>Imagination in science is distinct from foolishness.<span>&nbsp; </span>Foolishness has a place.<span>&nbsp; </span>That place is not in science.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">Science is constrained by a set of principles that have been the result of a great deal of imagination, but also have been demonstrated to have a tight logical construction and have been supported by a large body of experimental evidence.<span>&nbsp; </span>The basic laws of science are known to provide extremely accurate predictions of natural processes over a very wide range of circumstances.<span>&nbsp; </span>Those circumstances in which the laws provide such predictions are well known and constitute a domain of validity for the laws of physics and the principles of science governed by those laws.<span>&nbsp; </span>Within that domain of validity the laws of physics can be considered to be &ldquo;true&rdquo; unless and until extremely convincing evidence to the contrary is found.<span>&nbsp; </span>The history of science suggests that the fundamental laws of physics are never demonstrated to be totally wrong and inapplicable but rather are found to be limited to a particular domain of validity and may require revision to extend that domain.<span>&nbsp; </span>Such was the case when general relativity replaced Newton&rsquo;s law of universal gravitation, and when quantum theory replaced Newtonian mechanics and Maxwellian electrodynamics.<span>&nbsp; </span>It was required when Newtonian mechanics and Maxwellian electrodynamics were formulated.<span>&nbsp; </span>The development of these theories required imagination of the highest order on the part of the scientists involved.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">It is imagination of the sort exhibited by Maxwell, Newton, Einstein, Feynman and many others that drives science.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is a disciplined imagination.<span>&nbsp; </span>It requires the formulation of new principles and concepts that simultaneously agree with earlier principles in that domain in which they are known to provide accurate predictions and extends a predictive capability to a broader context.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is an imagination that produces concepts that are defensible with experiment, that are mathematically consistent and that provide a basis for mathematical models with a high degree of accuracy.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is an imagination that is constrained on the one hand by known science and unfettered on the other in order to extend that knowledge to new frontiers. <span>&nbsp;</span>It is imagination that must produce principles that are consistent with ALL valid experimental data, and not just some of it.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is an imagination that produces principles that are in agreement with mathematical models and not just simple pictures and cartoons. <span>&nbsp;</span>It is imagination and intellect of the highest order.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font size="3"><font face="Calibri">Engineering imagination is similar, but is directed at the production of systems that must actually work in and uncertain world and are of economic value.<span>&nbsp; </span>Engineers are constrained by the laws of science, and also by the uncertainties that come with the complex systems with which they work.<span>&nbsp; </span>They must be imaginative, but also must be constrained by science, economics, and practicality.<span>&nbsp; </span></font></font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">What scientific imagination is not is as important to understand as what it is.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is not nonsensical promotion of ideas that are known to be false.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is not the result of a failure to recognize that a proposal is silly and to continue to advocate demonstrable nonsense.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is not a rejection of known principles in favor of unsubstantiated flights of fancy.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is not becoming an advocate for a notion that seems to explain some of the date while clearly being in conflict with the complete body of available data. </font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">The requirement for a Ph.D. in science, the only hard and fast requirement, is the production of an acceptable doctoral dissertation.<span>&nbsp; </span>That dissertation is required to be a <strong>significant original contribution </strong>to the discipline.<span>&nbsp; </span>Imagination is actually a requirement for the degree.<span>&nbsp; </span>To think that science does not value imagination is therefore demonstrably absurd.<span>&nbsp; </span>But it must be imagination of the disciplined scientific variety.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal"><font face="Calibri" size="3">Everyone has bad ideas as well as good ones.<span>&nbsp; </span>Scientists have bad ideas, lots of them.<span>&nbsp; </span>But they come to quickly recognize them, usually on their own and do not promote those ideas constantly and publicly.<span>&nbsp; </span>One way, a good way, to have few ideas is to have lots of ideas.<span>&nbsp; </span>Then you pick the good ones.<span>&nbsp; </span>But it is important to know the difference, and to cull the bad ones out quickly &ndash; usually on your own.<span>&nbsp; </span>There is nothing stupid about having stupid ideas.<span>&nbsp; </span>But it is stupid to promote them.</font></p><p style="margin:0in0in10pt" class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> </div>
 
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arkady

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<p>Just finished my Einstein biography. Struck me how important imagination was in his life. The ability to form mental experiments and considerations was central&nbsp;in his&nbsp;work. Much of his succes stems from&nbsp;disregard of&nbsp;conventional wisdom and the ability to question authorities. To be intrigued by mysteries that others find trivial. It actually gave me a lot of comfort in my delvings&nbsp;into physics. All the seemingly simple and childish questions is perfectly reasonable to consider in order to really form an understanding of the world. </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>"To punish my contempt for authority, destiny has made me into an authority myself" - Albert Einstein</p><p>"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> "<font color="#0000ff"><em>The choice is the Universe, or nothing</em> ... </font>" - H.G Wells </div>
 
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