Some philosophical thoughts – importance of stupidity

This is a philosophical entry. I have seen the #Foldscope community grow from just two of us (Jim and I) to now a very global community. Although we have a long long long way to go; I wanted to post some reflections and thoughts. I have been so excited to see the creativity of this community and watch it unravel every day. By establishing the same set of tools that are available to “everyone” – and I mean “everyone” – we will bring an attitude of creative explorations where we build on top of each other’s work and inspire, share and learn from each other. 

So, why am I writing this philosophical blurb. I just finished teaching my last class yesterday for this quarter; and I always make all my students read this fantastic essay from Prof. Martin Swartz “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”; please read it here – the free open access link can be found here (http://m.jcs.biologists.org/content/121/11/1771.full.pdf). 

Last night I was imaging some worms and I had this essay lying on the table.

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I realized this is a very relevant essay for our Foldscope community as well. 

Although with the title of this essay – it might appear so – this is not a joke. It’s very crucial to realize and understand that on a daily basis; science throws challenges at us which we don’t understand. It’s daunting and confusing. Embracing and being comfortable with not knowing and to keep pursuing until something clicks in your head is the “art of doing science”. I would recommend everyone to read the essay carefully. Reflect and share your thoughts in comments below. 

While I am on this philosophical walk in the woods; here are a few other thoughts bumbling in my head. These mostly come from my conversations with my students. 

1) Knowledge is cheap now (thanks google); experience is expensive: This is an important distinction to make. Often I meet students where they “know” quiet a lot; but they find it hard to apply it to real life challenges. And this stems from us being comfortable by just the act of “reading” a piece of knowledge instead of experiencing it. To experience it needs to roll your sleeves and dive right into it. Many people have said it before – but “thinking with your hands” is still under appreciated. 

2) Know what you don’t know: It’s perfectly Ok to not know something. In fact, I am yet to meet a person who knows everything. So why do we pretend – it’s valuable to know what you don’t know. It’s when you go in those unknown territories that you are putting yourself in a place to actually make a real discovery. 

3) Discovery of one: I use this phrase “discovery of one” often to describe the idea of joy that I (or anyone else) gets from figuring out something by ourselves. In that moment, I really don’t care if some German zoologist (they figured a lot of stuff) already figured it all out in 1800’s. In that moment, something clicked in my head and I said “ah”.. That’s what matters to me at that time. It’s those little discoveries we make every day that are the most important training for scientific research. So don’t be discouraged by others telling you have not found anything new yet. What matters is a new way to look at things – so let it percolate – and you will see; you will get insights that nobody else has gotten as yet although they have looked at the same thing forever. 

4) In the end; science brings joy to our soul: often we get in debates about why we do science. It’s a personal question for each one of us to answer; but every practicing scientist will say that it’s the “joy” that every day discoveries bring to us. Even if you are working on the toughest, most daunting problems – the everyday act of doing science is fun; very much like why we play. So always remember that.. 

Good luck with your science adventures. Can’t wait to see what you discover and share next. Remember, Foldscope are spread around the world. So who knows, who will get inspired by your post to make the next leap. Share and learn. 

Cheers 

Manu 

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