Science and the muscle of imagination

One of the things that makes science difficult, is that it takes a lot of imagination. – Richard Feynman

Some people find science hard, and therefore, also find it boring and dull. As Richard Feynman stated, it is less a measure of intellectual capability and more a limitation of our imagination that prevents us from enjoying scientific knowledge to the fullest. When we do not enjoy something enough, it automatically becomes both hard and dull.

Scientific research has built upon itself over the centuries to manifest as the abstract scientific concepts we find today.  While we can experience a hot breeze and see a shiny red apple, our brain in its native form isn’t wired to think of hot air molecules zipping through a room, or to think of how the apple absorbs every wavelength of white light but for its particular shade of red. This imagination requires training and practice, much like muscle power. At first, it took all of our fingers to say that 6 + 4 is 10. With sufficient training, we know that answer instantly.

The people who find science hard haven’t trained their mental muscles to imagine these concepts. Perhaps their teachers from school did not inspire them or show them the right way to do it. Richard Feynman, on the other hand, had the imaginative muscle power to explain the most complicated scientific concepts to a lay person.

Apart from its practical benefits, science is the language of the natural world. It is fascinating to think of how sands from the Sahara desert, rich in fossilized algae, blow all the way across the Atlantic ocean to fertilize the Amazonian rain forest. In Feynman’s own words, the imagination of nature far surpasses that of man.

It’s a splendid world out there, waiting to be discovered, understood and appreciated. And just as it is true of physical muscles, it is never too late to exercise and build one’s imaginative ones.

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