I’m reading through Steven Pinker’s book “The Stuff of Thought“, which I fully anticipate will be the subject of many posts in the future. Though it is not indicative of the any overarching theme of the book, I was particularly struck by a quote Pinker includes in one of the opening chapters and couldn’t help but share.
In the book, Pinker quotes prolific author and scientific advocate Isaac Asimov, who at one point made the following statement:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I’ve found it) but ‘That’s funny…’
Think about that statement for a moment.
What Asimov is saying in that quote is truly powerful and entirely necessary to an understanding of science and, I would argue, the universe we inhabit. Asimov is referring to the fundamental assumption in science that we, as an intellectual society, are often wrong.
We don’t know how the world works. We don’t know the relationships between phenomenon X and phenomenon Z. But, that’s not to say that we can’t know them at all.
“Eureka” moments, as Asimov calls them, represent times where individuals (or, more often, vast pools of thinkers over a long period of time) are looking for Y and eventually find Y. On the other hand, the beauty and ultimately the primary function of science is that every so often we find ourselves looking and looking and looking for Y and, surprisingly, we happen to stumble upon V.
*Photo Credit: Roger Smith (Creative Commons)
(Asimov is famous most recently for being the author of the book that was the basis for the movie I, Robot. Another random fact that I couldn’t go without mentioning… of the ten major categories in the Dewey Decimal System, Asimov’s works can be found in all but one.)