"Where do you look to find something really new?"

Start with belief that more exists than is known. Then, trust your imagination to lead you where you can find it.

I will try to answer these questions from a research perspective.

In science, it is important to start somewhere. You could start by exploring or replicating someone else's intriguing study, or you could survey some topic by reading relevant literature. You could also examine samples from your topic of interest without any particular objective in mind other than to see. Sometimes what you see "communicates" what you should do.

Then, as work progresses, something usually catches your attention either because it does not fit the dogma or because it is particularly "beautiful", i.e. It fits the overall hypothesis but probably has not been thought of in that light because dogma causes it to be overlooked.  It is important to be liberated from "prejudices of concept" in order to see this kind of beauty. All humans have the capacity to be aware of this kind of beauty but one must be spiritually calm and unencumbered of preconceptions for the way to open.

In this clip from the Diane Rehm show, hear Stuart Firestein discuss "How Ignorance Drives Science" Looking at something you never saw before, or having a thought you never had before, may reflect ignorance but if it excites your imagination it may lead you to something completely unknown and important. If you ignore it because it does not fit the prevailing hypothesis you have left the observation to someone else who then must choose whether to pursue it or leave it alone.

Charles Darwin most likely responded to the unexpected variation in the appearances of finches when he came upon them on isolated islands in the Pacific. This attention led him to hypothesize that unique environments provide selective pressures that encourage some but eliminate others based on inheritable characteristics. His treatice on this adaptation to selective pressures became one of the most influential hypotheses on the evolution of species and ideas derived from this permeate all of biological science from whole animals all the way down to isolated genes.

Another motivation comes from becoming interested in another scientist whose ideas are challenging yours.  Friendships and animosities among colleagues play an important role in creating novel scientific discoveries.

My mentor's mentor was a member of Peter Medawar's research group. Medawar recognized that beautiful ideas needed to be tested, i.e. You must try to disprove the very thing that you think you have discovered. If, at the end, you can't disprove it there is a chance it might be a lasting truth. He phrased this idea differently when he said "I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing over whether it is true or not."

As an effective way to sort fact from theory, Peter Medawar encouraged his colleagues to discuss and debate everything the lab was doing rather than keep it secret. Only through such open dialogue could one find the truth amidst competing theories.

The Duty of Critical Thinking in Science

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes discussed the relationship between reason and absurdity.

According to Hobbes, the human:
“…can by words reduce the consequences he finds to general rules, called ‘theorems’ or ‘aphorisms,’ that is, he can reason or reckon, not only in number, but in all other things whereof on may be added unto, or subtracted from another.
“… But this privilege is allayed by another, and that is, by the privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but men only.”

On first glance, the irony in “the privilege of absurdity” may be all that meets the eye, especially if attention focuses on the privilege of reason being “allayed.” Yet consider the following passage from Peter Medawar’s 1968 Romanes Lecture, “Science and Literature.”

“All advances of scientific understanding, at every level, begin with a speculative adventure, an imaginative preconception of what might be true – a preconception that always, and necessarily, goes a little way (sometimes a long way) beyond anything which we have logical or factual authority to believe in. It is the invention of a possible world, or a tiny fraction of that world. The conjecture is then exposed to criticism to find out whether or not that imagined world is anything like the real one. Scientific reasoning is therefore at all levels an interaction between two episodes of thought – a dialogue, as I have put it, between the possible and the actual, between proposal and disposal, conjecture and criticism, between what might be true and what is in fact the case.

“In this conception of the scientific process, imagination and criticism are integrally combined. Imagination without criticism may burst out into a comic profusion of grandiose and silly notions. Critical reasoning, considered alone, is barren.”


In the above quote, Hobbes’ “privilege of absurdity” may be perceived as productively complimentary to that of reason. The privilege of imagining and hypothesizing – and hence, of possibly falling into absurdity– carries with it an obligation to subject ideas to criticism through critical thinking. Reciprocally, the privilege of reason ought not to be made barren by avoidance of hypothesis, for fear of the implied absurdities reason exists to detect.

Rather than just argue about the meaning of observations, the constructive thing to do is to design mutual experiments that test the respective competing ideas. Usually this kind of approach results in an explosion of new ideas and observations that neither of you thought of.

Again, prejudices, chauvinism and single mindedness will interfere. The simplest prejudice is the belief that new observations can be made from measurements. "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." ... Albert Einstein

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ~ Confucius

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."... Albert Einstein

"Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information. It is a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than as information processors." ... Stephen Jay Gould 1942-2002

"How do you begin that search in life?"

I don't know if my outlining the scientific process of "discovery" is helpful with life situations but maybe it might help.

The message is clear. First, you must liberate your ideas from being owned by other people, things, and expectations. Second, be aware and sensitive to what is around, especially those things that pop up unexpectedly and cause you to react.

Analyzing why you reacted could give leads to determine whether it is something NEW (the unexpected) or something OLD (messages from your past) that is causing you to react. If it is something new, design ways to characterize it. If it is something old, find ways to think out of that box. Third, allow yourself to move in directions that give pleasure.

Successful people usually say that the ideal career is doing something you love to do; or, at least, something that leaves you feeling fulfilled for having done it. So, whatever you do, it should be fun. If it is not, think about change.

As Joseph Campbell aptly said, "Follow your Bliss." I add to that: determine that it is your own bliss; don't make choices based on the wants, needs and feelings of anyone else but yourself; and, don’t let money or objects affect your decisions.

"A human being is part of the whole called by us universe , a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty...We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive."... also by Albert Einstein

"How did people search for new ideas in 419 B.C.?

Plato's "Symposium" translated by Benjamin Jowett in 1871 includes passages in dialogues about Love that are insightful about creativity and beauty as a motivation for new ideas, mentoring and other intellectual endeavors. Below is part of Socrates speech on "The Cause and Effect of Love".

"Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women and beget children -- this is the character of their love; their offspring, as they hope, will preserve their memory and give them the blessedness and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which are pregnant -- for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies -- conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions? -- wisdom and virtue in general. And such creators are poets and all artists who are deserving of the name inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort of wisdom by far is that which is concerned with the ordering of states and families, and which is called temperance and justice. And he who in youth has the seed of these implanted in him and is himself inspired, when he comes to maturity desires to beget and generate. He wanders about seeking beauty that he may beget offspring -- for in deformity he will beget nothing -- and naturally embraces the beautiful rather than the deformed body; above all when he finds a fair and noble and well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to such an one he is full of speech about virtue and the nature and pursuits of a good man; and he tries to educate him; and at the touch of the beautiful which is ever present to his memory, even when absent, he brings forth that which he had conceived long before, and in company with him tends that which he brings forth; and they are married by a far nearer tie and have a closer friendship than those who beget mortal children, for the children who are their common offspring are fairer and more immortal."

Ronald B. Standler's Essay on the Nature of Creativity

Teaching Creative Science Thinking

Lymphocytes and Dendritic Cells

Click Bar and travel through the immune system with Art's lymphocytes


Art enjoys answering Immunology and Virology questions for the Mad Scientist Network www.madsci.org

Recirculation | Emigration at HEV | FRC Conduit | Locomotion | Chemotaxis

Dendritic Cells in TDL | Dendritic cells in Tissue

Art's FAES IMMU 522 Lecture Notes | Mucosal and Peripheral Immunity

Art Anderson's CV | Responsible Conduct in Research


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