Channeling my inner scientist.

I finished 101 Theory Drive about a month ago and haven't had a chance to type up the passages I liked the most. This morning I started doing this, and holy crap. That book was so good. Don't get me wrong; I felt like I was a freshman in a PhD neuroscience program, but I loved floating along top of the text when it was too deep for me to understand and diving down into it when something made sense.

I learned a lot about memory, but I really learned a lot about science too and the way that scientists work. Here is a beautiful little description of theory and hypothesis from page 9 of the book... so well said! Doesn't this just make you want to go be a scientist?

Hypotheses and theories, while related, are more different than alike. The hypothesis is the fundamental organizing principle in scientific research. Its "if this, then that" structure underlies almost all scientific investigation. If is the key word in that construction. An hypothesis is a set of questions. A theory is a set of proposed answers.

Imagine the brain as a huge storehouse with shelf after shelf, miles long, filled with a wild assortment of tableware - teacups, saucers, platters, ceramic bowls, crude pottery, fine china, simple dinner plates. The tableware may once have been stored tidily, but an earthquake has leveled the interior. The resulting huge pile of wrecked shelves and broken plates is the geography that a neuroscientist must navigate while trying to discern patterns and coherence in the brain.

An hypothesis is what someone, after surveying the wreckage of that pile of plates, might offer to begin putting the pieces back together. If all the blue pieces go together, then maybe we can rebuild the bowls. Frequently -always, really- the view of the pile inside the brain is incomplete. Pieces big and small are missing. Sometimes they sit out of sight for decades, even centuries, with no one willing or able to imagine their having a place in the reconstructed order. Perhaps they're obscured by other pieces, or in another room, lying in plain sight but are the wrong color. Who could possibly have imagined that brown shard would fit between the two blue? Lynch's true gift is an ability to see how varied pieces might fit together, to intuit that somewhere in the room - under that blue-black pile, perhaps- there ought to be a piece of green ceramic.

P.S. Dr. Lindsay, if you still read this blog, this is totally for you.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I will definitely have to read that Jen! Neuroscience is definitely an interesting field... If you get time, check out these articles of the "brainbow mice" to see some stunning images of the mouse brain, where individual neurons are labeled. It reminds me of Jackson Pollack paintings.

If you cannot download the Nature article, let me know and I will email you the PDF.