Monday, November 8, 2010

The Mind of a Scientist

Here is an excellent example of how a scientific mind works. This is Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize-winning physicist being asked about "magnetism". From a post in The Atlantic magazine:

What I love about this video is that Feynam really wants the interviewer to understand science. He doesn't just "give an answer" to get the pestering questioner to go away. He provides a wonderful "show and tell" for how a scientist thinks and how questions lead to other questions. He makes it very clear that science doesn't just "explain" something. Instead, it is building an understanding from facts and theories and all the glorious interconnections of things. You can tell from the glint in the eye that Richard Feynman loves nature and loves the mystery of nature and really, really wants to understand it, but knows that there never will be an "end" to the quest to understand nature. He also makes it very clear that "explaining" has a fundamental flaw in that we want explanations that reduce things to something "we understand" or are "comfortable with" but in fact the world as we delve into it is far stranger than we can imagine and really understanding ends up with explanations that are in some sense very bizarre.

He doesn't say this, but the only real tool we have for "understanding" is to build mathematical models (systems of equations!) that capture all the relevant details.

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