Thursday, January 27, 2011

The spirit of inquiry

Reading The Emperor of All Maladies today, I came by a passage whose sentiment I found familiar .

"Basic research," [Vannevar] Bush wrote, "is performed without thought of practical ends. It results in general knowledge and an understanding of nature and its laws. This general knowledge provides the means of answering a large number of important practical problems, though it may not give a complete specific answer to any one of them...."

Bush argued that the the spirit of inquiry was central to scientific progress, and that "programmatic" science, which favoured a regimented, goal-based approach, would stifle innovation.

But as I mentioned, Bush's words felt familiar because writing often felt like this. Especially at the start, and especially at times like now, when I want to stop doing whatever I'm doing and focus on defining my present limits. These boundaries keep changing, and with these boundaries the 'laws' change too. The "general knowledge" it results in is of the personal kind; I discover a little more about myself. These discoveries, in turn, take me someplace else. When the spirit of inquiry is alive, we chart new territory.

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