Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Great Question! Science
Science: it's fundamentally, primarily, firstly, about asking a good question. I love asking questions.
Throw out with the bathwater that nonsense about how curiosity killed the cat. The real cat of science is very and inexhaustibly curious. It's a poky little puppy.
"Play like you don't know how to play the guitar," is something Miles Davis supposedly said to John McLaughlin. The same koan of advice applies to scientific questions. Ask questions like you don't know how to ask questions, as if you are a child.
In my 40 + career here on Earth I've asked a lot dumbass adult questions. Ex., "Why did my college boyfriend cheat on me on my own futon?" Ex., "Does this lipliner (whatever)?"
That is a question, yes, but it is not one worth devoting one's scientific career to (or even junior year to, as I did.) I could have been asking better ones regarding marine snails. Sorry Professor Peckol.
When I asked my first good scientific question it was about the barnacle. "Why are there bands of barnacles on those cobbles" I asked. "Whyfor the bandination?" BOOM. "Great question!" someone said, and I was handed a transect.
I'd graduated to step two of the scientific method. POW. Construct a hypothesis.
It was Vertical Zonation of The Intertidal. For a few minutes on Appledore Island, off the Coast of Maine, studying at Cornell's Shoals Marine Lab for six weeks in 1994, I was thinking like a marine ecologist. Then I got tired. "Is it time for lunch?" I asked. It's work being in waders in the sun carrying a stick to fend off the gulls protecting their nests on a steep rocky shoreline. When's lunch?
I'm reminded now of the famous 19th c. zoologist Louis Agassiz who considered the barnacle to be "nothing more than a little shrimp-like animal standing on its head in a limestone house and kicking food into its mouth."