The Method Section: Into the Unknown – Timestamps
00:00 – Introduction and welcome!
00:48 – What are scientists?
02:19 – Our pursuit of ignorance
04:54 – The cloud
10:30 – Takeaways and conclusions
11:57 – Outro and goodbye!
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This week on The Method Section, join Tom as he dives into the unknown. Challenging the view of the role of scientists in this world and the journey that they take. What if instead of being in the pursuit of knowledge we were in the pursuit of ignorance? What if we were trained to deal with the fact that experiments don’t always work and that within the unknown comes the most exciting adventures? Music by: Joakim Karud – https://soundcloud.com/joakimkarud.
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Tom: Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome. I am your host Tom Jenks and this week I will be heading into the unknown. What are scientists for our pursuit of ignorance, the cloud and just what am I talking about? Stay tuned to The Method Section.
Tom: Yes, that’s right. Welcome to The Method Section, a short form podcast aimed at scientists, old and new. And today I am venturing into the unknown in an attempt to challenge our views on science. Firstly then, what are scientists? It’s such a normal concept to us that scientists are a thing, but when we stopp to actually question why they’re there, we, it’s changed a lot over the years. So you know, the word scientist has actually only been around for 185 years since 1834 it was first coined by William Whewell at a Royal Association meeting. And the word scientist is a contraction of the Latin for knowledge, which is “Scientia” and an analogy of artists because they are expressing their knowledge. So he smashed the two words together and came up with scientist. Then along with Charles Babbage, John Herschel and Richard Jones they, the four of them created the rules by which we kind of abide by in science now. So the scientific method, the intrinsic looking at things through data and facts. And one of the first ever rules of science in this kind of community was it has to be used for the good of the people. Now over time, obviously the views of scientists has changed, but there are some things that hold true to the core, especially within the science realm. But to the outside world, our scientific community has become somewhat closed and is somewhat seen as a sink of knowledge. But today I hope to along with you challenge that idea.
Tom: So scientists are seen by the world as the keepers of knowledge and the investigators of truth. But when you’re having a conversation with someone professionally or otherwise, what do you find most interesting to talk about? Do you sit with your friend or colleague and talk about that, which you know, or is it far more interesting to talk about that what you don’t know? Using your knowledge and assumptions to inform yourselves better and challenge the ideas of the world around you. Now I would argue for most people, and hopefully especially for the scientists out there that are listening, it is the second option that you would much rather speak about what you don’t already know. With that being the case, then you can safely make the assumption that it is really our ignorance that drives our pursuit of knowledge. Not Ignorance as in stupidity or you know, on a individual level. I’m really talking about ignorance here on a societal level, a group misunderstanding or lack of knowledge that we kind of combine together to drive our pursuit of knowledge. And I mean this obviously isn’t a new thing that this concept of ignorance being the true true driving force.There are scientists after scientists with quote after quote about this kind of thing from Mary Curie to Erwin Schrodinger. They’ve all got quotes on ignorance. However, since this is such a talked about topic over the years, somehow we forgotten this. We’ve forgotten this aspect. And while knowledge is important and science is said to be the pursuit of knowledge, even I have just said it, that is only partially true or at least we can phrase it in another way. The way that science is a pursuit of deeper ignorance. You answer your questions to gain knowledge to find out what else you are ignorant about. In this sense, knowledge creates ignorance and in this sense our ignorance, our naivety should be celebrated in a sense, should be made more aware of and societaly acceptable. So the fact that we can move together and not be afraid of what we don’t know and move away from what we do or I guess more correctly using what we do know to find out what we don’t.
Tom: The side effect of forgetting that we are pursuing ignorance is that we forget to talk about it and we forget to train for that process. Now this is very important actually because if you tell someone I am in the pursuit of knowledge, you infer that you are in the pursuit of the truth and you will not veer from the truth. And especially when we talk about science, we talk about results. We don’t talk about the process. However, if you were to say you are in the pursuit of ignorance, you know you’re not going to be on a straight path. You know that it will not work out as it often doesn’t work out so straightforwardly in the real world, in real science. When we are taught in schools and university and I guess when maybe the public looks into our community, they see science getting from a question to an answer and they don’t see how it’s not actually a straight line. Because as I said before, we only discuss the results and very rarely discuss the process even within our community. So for new scientists at university, and I guess people like me, we build a schema of what we think research life will be like or life of any kind of scientist. Now what I mean by a schema is a concept of what we expect to happen. Our brains do this subconsciously. We can’t fight it. It is just what happens. So if reality is different to our schema, different to what we are intending, it causes extra stress by way of cognitive dissonance. If that’s the case, then when new scientists or any scientists with this kind of schema, which I guess would change over your career naturally but at the beginning, if you are not prepared to fail, for experiments to go wrong, to realize just how ignorant you are, then you are gonna fall prey to this stress, this negative emotion and this cognitive dissonance. There was absolutely fantastic Ted talk by Uri Alon and he has come up with a name for when you’re in this state, this negative state, and he has called it the cloud and this is great for a few reasons.
Tom: Firstly, it allows conversation about what is wrong or what we don’t know. This is the first time I’ve heard of a word specifically relating to this kind of scenario. If you can walk up to someone and say, Hey, I’m in the cloud colleague, a peer, a friend, a mentor, whatever, they can help you. They know exactly what you’re talking about. Now is not an abstract thing that you’re going through alone and realizing that, oh actually this is something a lots of people go through. Secondly, it doesn’t have the negative connotations associated with it. What I mean by this is if you’re sat in your lab or your home or you’re talking to friends and you’re, they’re like, I’m stuck. I’m lost, I’m failing. You have these negative attachments to your work and it really restricts, you. Yet, if you can say you’re in the cloud and you don’t have that negative connotations attached, it allows you to look at the situation logically, be there mentally and keep an open and curious mind. The way he described it was the cloud is the place that instead of seeing you go from A to B, which you need to start the process for sure, it allows you to find C and it allows you to change your assumptions because only once you have changed your basic assumptions can you discover new things. Can you venture into the unknown. So he was saying the best way to tackle this is to reinvent this schema. Not just for the up and coming scientists, but for the old too, the process is not smooth. You will be wrong. And the venture into the unknown and the possibilities that, that provides should be exciting and that should be the adventure. Not just from getting from A to B or even A to C the things you find out on the way but the adventure itself because the longer adventures provide more experience and the more experience you have, the more likely you are to notice more things and figure more things out. So as I said, like a lot of the time we, you know, start with a beginning and an end point , A and B, things that we know about. But the focus of this ted talk was maybe the more exciting things, the more interesting things. The things we really should be after is C, the thing we don’t know is there originally because then we are not talking about the things we know. We are talking about the unknown now. We are talking about interesting things.
Tom: But as you guys know, this is meant to be a shorter form podcasts. So I’m gonna try and end it there and I just want to kind of go through some takeaways and some conclusions that you know we can really absorb from this. So we need to reinvent what it means to be a scientist. We need to actively engage, make it exciting and remember what the word scientist was created for knowledge and artist. We need to be artistic with the way we interact with the world. We need to challenge the idea that being wrong is bad, but instead often a more exciting path to discovery. Instead of, “Hey, here is a question, what is the answer?” We should be saying “here is the answer, what could the questions be?” Because it is very rarely in science one, I’d like to end this episode on a quote by Alan Watts, a very inspiring philosopher and it very much sums up taking a step into the unknown. He says, “the only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it. Move with it and join the dance.” We must join the dance of ignorance and join the dance of science.
Tom: But that is it from me this week, guys. So if you want to check out all the latest goings on, you can head to conduct science.com you can check us out on Facebook and Twitter by searching @conductscience. If you have a question or just want to get in contact with us or want to suggest a guest or a topic, use the #ConductScience. If you are listening to us on iTunes, Spotify, podbean, stitcher, Google play, our website. Wherever you’re listening, please drop us a like a follow or anything of the equivalent and give us a rating or something. It really helps us out and I could not appreciate it more, but that’s it from me this week. So I’ll see you guys…. A-next time.