Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Yes, Science is a Creative Career

The world is divided, or so it seems: The creative ones stand on one side, and the analytical ones on the other. Right brain, left brain. Left = analytical, maths, words, logic, the scientists, solicitors, doctors etc. Right = intuition, arts, imagination, visuals, the designers, marketing professionals, sculptors etc.

So you are a physicist, or more generally, a scientist. Does that make a “left-brain person”? Well, no.

I am not implying that the right-left brain theory itself is nonsense, but that its simplified interpretation is.

Saying that “scientist = exclusively left-brainer” is a little like saying that electrons behave like billiard balls. The analogy is reasonable as long as you stay in the classical domain. Beyond that, good luck explaining electron diffraction and all the other fun quantum effects.

The diversity in scientists’ ways of thinking should not be a surprise. We are people too… Some are more comfortable with words, others with visuals. But it doesn’t matter, because we all hunt for a pattern. It’s just that we each have our own ways to do so.

Scientists are imaginative and intuitive as much as they are logical and analytical. How much imagination do you need to dream up a rocket to set foot on another planet? How much visualization to try to get a grip on the quantum world? Or intuition to decide to test this particular molecule next because, you know, you have a good feeling about it?

If science taught me one thing, it is to remain open-minded. Solutions to my problems, the new understanding I need to make progress, these are not in a textbook any more but they could be anywhere, or triggered by anything, around me. A scientist needs to be both analytical and creative.

Somehow, we assume that intuition can take a larger part in the artistic process rather than in the scientific one. But ultimately this way of thinking belittles both. Call intuition this educated guess about what will “work”: It is not a gift of nature, it is a skill carefully honed through training, practice, trial-and-error, patience and passion.

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