Einstein`s thought through the eyes of physicist Ram Dusic Hren.
"IF WE KNEW WHAT WE´RE DOING, IT WOULDN´T BE CALLED RESEARCH"
... said Albert Einstein. The more I think about it, the more brilliantly it captures the essence of scientific research. Research is not about getting to a destination, it’s about exploration. It’s about stepping out of the known, letting go of presumptions and keeping an open mind as we make our way into a world nobody has explored yet. It’s about accepting the fact that we don’t know where we will end up. The amazing thing is that when approached this way, it becomes pure fun and joy.
BUT FUN AND JOY IS FOR CHILDREN, THEY SAY. YOU HAVE TO TAKE LIFE SERIOUSLY, THEY SAY
I say we should learn scientific research from children. Children don’t play and have fun just for the sake of having fun. They have fun because they are naturally curious because experiencing and learning new things is amazing because through fun they learn social dynamics. We are all born curious. We have no presumptions at all, we don’t even know that things fall down when we drop them. I remember watching my baby sitting on his chair, dropping his spoon and being amazed by the fact that when he drops it, it magically gets pulled towards the floor. They have a superhuman ability to learn incredibly fast because they haven’t yet cluttered their minds with prejudices, opinions, and goals. Naturally, the more we grow up, the more information we keep in our heads and the more biased we get because we see the reality as we have been taught to see it, not as it really is. We start taking life so damn seriously and forget about being curious, thinking we know it all. In light of all the responsibilities of adult life, keeping an open mind and nurturing the child-like curiosity becomes a real challenge.
So, should we all just play and have fun? That probably wouldn’t lead to a well-functioning society. That’s because exploration is just half of the story. The other half is practicality. Practicality is about getting specific tasks done, about developing systems and rules by means of which we can achieve goals and work together. If we had no system, we wouldn’t get anywhere. How would the traffic look if everybody was just having fun and driving as they please? How would we get from point A to point B if we constantly got distracted by something fun on the way and just spontaneously went with the flow.
The problem is that the social, business and scientific environment we live in favors practicality much more than exploration. We live in a world where we are constantly busy and full of responsibilities, where we have to earn money, please bosses, achieve goals, where we are afraid of failing and looking bad in front of the public. Everything we do is measured. Success is measured, looks are measured, status is measured. We are under constant pressure that we have to achieve.
THE PROFIT-DRIVEN SYSTEM IS DEVASTATING FOR PROGRESS
This world of ours is driven by business, which is in turn (mostly) driven by the lust for profit. And the system is so deeply embedded in us, that it’s sometimes hard to imagine there exists another way. So many people fall into this black hole of surrendering to the thought “this is just the way it is” and spending the rest of their lives working hard for something that doesn’t really carry much meaning to them (even though some of them convince themselves it does). Such an environment is an absolute creativity killer. Every business leader is saying how important innovation is, but so few are capable of creating an environment that fosters it. That’s because they treat short-term profits as priority #1. You can’t put financial targets on research, it just doesn’t make any sense. In fact, the majority of research will fail to bring any business success. But when it does, it changes paradigms. It changes lives. And after all, it satisfies something much deeper and more meaningful than financial success — the curious spirit we all still possess from childhood but is buried beneath a pile of superficial problems and worries we cast upon us when growing up.
This profit-driven system is devastating for progress. For progress, research and exploration are a necessity. While we need a system of constraints to function in day to day life, we need a lack of constraints to break out of the normal and discover something new. Therefore, we should change our system to allow for some slack. To purposefully integrate non-busy time into the day-to-day schedule. To have the time away from worrying about goals. Not to fill our schedule with meetings, reports, emails, etc. Creating such an environment that motivates open-mindedness and creativity should be the job of academic and research institutions. Unfortunately, academic institutions at the end of the day feel the same pressure as business. They become rigid and systematic. They receive financing from commercial projects that have well-defined objectives. And they are full of politics.
As an intermezzo, a valid argument at this point would be that a lot of innovation comes from having constraints — by finding innovative ways to overcome gaps and solve problems. But that’s different from basic research. Instead of finding new ways to solve existing problems, research is finding problems nobody even knew existed. And you can’t do that if the boss is behind your back asking you about your quarterly report.
Then how can we approach this? Maybe we can find inspiration in an entirely different domain. Art. The beautiful thing about art is that it has no practical objectives. Nobody buys a painting because it will change their life in a practical sense, but yet we get so much joy from appreciating a beautiful art piece or listening to music or watching a show. Art comes from inspiration and open mind. And here is the interesting thing: while the immediate purpose of art has nothing to do with practical value, so much progress has come from art. We base a large amount of our history knowledge on pieces of art from different periods. Entire industries have formed around art. Design has become a major differentiator in business. Art has inspired movements. It serves as a channel to express emotions, messages, views.
SCIENCE IS A FROM OF ART
I always thought of science as an art form. Sure, science consists of a mathematical framework that describes how something works in real life, but the key element is finding different interpretations of that framework and different frameworks that might work in different contexts. Art is the same. Music has a framework. If you just play random notes without any framework, the only people that will stay in the room are deaf people. There are rules that say which notes go well together, but the job of a musician is to find in which ways those rules can be bent to still make something enjoyable. And that is where curiosity, inspiration, and open-mindedness come in. See the parallel? Another point can be made by comparing science to art. Imagine if when people invented the first flute, they would have said: “Ok guys, the flute is the only instrument we can use to make music, anybody who thinks there are other instruments is coo-coo”. Sounds stupid, but people do that in science all the time. They develop a theory that works and then they say that no other theory is correct because you can’t prove it. For example, somebody saying that there may be a subtle field with which we are all interconnected and that consciousness plays a key role in it is considered a lunatic because there are no other fields than the ones physics knows, right? There are no other instruments than a flute. Again, this is exactly the opposite of what research is about.
All of us carry the potential to discover something truly amazing. But the vast majority of us make a compromise to follow the established system and slowly become robots, working in favor of the few. Those rare ones that don’t make that compromise are the ones that make a change. Let us build a world that supports those with a drive towards exploration instead of cutting their wings. Let’s bring art and fun back into science. Because in the end, that’s all it’s about. Progress will follow naturally, but it can’t be forced.
Writing for Stellar Delight: Ram Dusic Hren