Experimental researchers are all unique. The problems are common, globally. The broad structure of the solution is also common. The way the solution is conceived is for the major part universal (pretty much everybody adheres to the same physical laws). But then, demonstrating the solution requires entering a lab.
The behavior of a person in the lab, depends on the connectivity of past experiences, i.e., how the experiences are being stored and related in memory and therefore the cues that are being setup to recall specific memories.
Conducting experiments, is then, a process of observing to identify the right cues. Observations may not always trigger cues in any one individual and often groups of people are necessary. We may even be aware of our triggers and therefore design the sequence of observations accordingly.
This variable aspect of the process of conducting experiments, can also be described as intuition.
What if, this intuition could be communicated? Would the world have a lesser number of experimenters or would efficiency increase?
It is not difficult, to identify examples/experiences in almost every researcher's career, when several people were trying their hands on the same experiment and one answer emerges and this is true of the papers that get published everyday; the others were all partially right. Agreeing that there's fun in this however does not discount the possibility that this societal behavior is being conserved. Right now it appears that it has to be.
Two scientists, independently arriving at the same conclusion at the same time, resulting in back-to-back articles in Nature is therefore a big deal.
What doesn't add up is that, how can this gap in knowledge exist?
Intuition cannot be communicated. But, can it be affected? It would require the transmission of emotions, feelings. Its like Bertrand Russell's example of the description of rain- when a poet describes it, for some its a drizzle for others its a shower, but its rain. When a scientist describes it as H2O drops falling downwards, its not rain anymore.
Paintings I know are really good at expressing feelings. And, the expression of emotions is one of the purposes of our social existance. Could this then be why science has such a hard time integrating into our social fabric...
February 11, 2010
E. O. Wilson's name came up in another conversation. Wanted to preserve this interview; plus it is in someways the bigger picture of what I was thinking here.