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Scientific Insight Requires Hard Work More than Easy Epiphany

(p. A21) The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin's success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.

The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.

Of the tale of Newton and the apple, the historian Richard S. Westfall wrote, "The story vulgarizes universal gravitation by treating it as a bright idea ... A bright idea cannot shape a scientific tradition." Science is just not that simple and it is not that easy.

. . .

Even if we are not scientists, every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn't require such hard work.

But even beyond issues of science, there is a broader lesson to learn, . . . . We all run into difficult problems in life, and we will be happier and more successful if we appreciate that the answers often aren't quick, or easy.

For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD MLODINOW. "It Is, in Fact, Rocket Science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on MAY 15, 2015.)

Mlodinow's book, related to the commentary quoted above, is:

Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. New York: Pantheon Books, 2015.

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