Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

An off-hand comment of Neil Gaiman’s has shattered of my notions about the difference between science and literature. But first, a short pontification:

Science is, as any active researcher will tell you at great length, a very creative endeavor. There is a constant stream of problems — ranging from “Why do particles have mass?” to “How do I wire these three instruments together without blowing up the lab?” to “Can I word this paper to maximally piss of my rivals without having the referee make me change it?”. The solutions generally require agile and unconventional thinking. Far from the image of mindless button-pushing and number-crunching, a sizable part of even the day-to-day life is about constructing thoughts that no one has had before.

However, this creativity is also highly constrained. The question, “What is the universe made of?” has a huge range of possible answers. On the other hand, almost all of those are wrong. I could advance the theory that at the fundamental level everything is made of unicorn tears. While that may be an interesting (or possibly horrific) world, it’s not the one we live in. Scientific creativity is much more akin to that of a haiku writer than, say, a novelist.


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