Blurry Lines: Philosophers and Scientists
I was visiting one of my favorite little-known museums, the Chemical Heritage Museum, located in the historic district of Philadelphia a few months ago. I found myself reading and then re-reading a small exhibit description, struck by the following statement:
The MYSTERIOUS PHENOMENON of electricity fascinated 18th century natural philosophers (whom we might now call scientists). They debated its nature and explored its properties. Some electricians, as they were known, used basic apparatus to generate, store and study electricity, eagerly replicating each other’s experiments. Others took to the stage, exciting audiences with demonstrations of electricity’s weird and wonderful powers
Gradually electricians and chemists recognized that all matter has an electrical nature, just as it has chemical properties. Researchers were soon looking into all sorts of interfaces – between electricity and life, electricity and chemical change, electricity and magnetism, and electricity and light. These investigations led to a series of discoveries that opened the way to harnessing electricity for specific ends.
I love the idea of philosophers as scientists. In an ever-expanding quest to embrace the blurry line between logic and the structure of science, alongside the unbridled, boundary-less qualities that fuel new discoveries, I find…. many of my colleagues.
Scientists who never see the word “no.” Engineers who work with those scientists to bring their discoveries to patients. Process architects who speak to clients about the beauty of the design process. One of those architects, Geoff Middleton,wrote recently:
The very fuel of design is the layer upon layer of uncertainty inherent at the start of any design effort. As the design proceeds, avenues are examined and evaluated. Along the path more variables are nearly always uncovered. More fuel. More opportunity for excellence. Where the blank sheet of paper intimidates many, for the designer, eyes light up, and the juices flow. In a way that seems counterintuitive, the designer, and the design, thrive on these independent variables. The more, the better.
Just a lovely description of the design process by a guy who designs pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.
I am going to speak to a group of middle-school students next week about my business. What I’d most like to get across to these 13 and 14 year olds, is that to seek a technical degree does not mean they will be abandoning their creative side. Artists and architects, writers and engineers, scientists and philosophers….no need for hard lines between any of us.
Blurry lines make for great debate, exploration and investigation.