Free Radicals: The creative anarchy of science.

Isaac Newton once stuck a blunt needle into his eye, just to see what would happen.

If anything, science is a rational pursuit. Or at least that’s what we think. Quantum physicist Michael Brooks disagrees.

Brainpickings has a wonderful summary and review of Brooks’ Free Radicals: The Anarchy of Science.

In the words of philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, “anything goes” when it comes to advancing scientific knowledge. Brooks details the bizarre (and sometimes even painful) sources of inspiration for some of mankind’s most important discoveries.

Some scientists went to radical lengths, even experimenting on themselves to pursue a theory. Nikola Tesla was inspired by Goethe’s dramas. Scientists (as well as entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs) followed fevered dreams, or drug-induced hallucinations toward what they believed was the truth.

It all seems profoundly irrational, until we remember that the growth of human knowledge is an evolutionary process. We will never unravel the mysteries of the universe sitting in our thinking chair. We just aren’t smart enough. Humanity’s advance requires action and constant trial-and-error to refine our thoughts.

The bigger lesson to understand is not that any particular degree of weirdness is necessary to do something new and creative. Rather, it’s that we can’t constrict ourselves to any single narrow paradigm.

And just as scientific knowledge evolves from visionaries willing to think radically, so too can our societies. But only if we start challenging monopolies in social knowledge, and make way for radical social entrepreneurship.

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  1. [...] The challenge for radical social entrepreneurs is to build the social structures that allow new experiments to occur. Disruptive innovation by entrepreneurs is scientific advance — it is the pure anti-authoritarianism of the scientific enterprise. And innovation can come from the unlikeliest of places. [...]

  2. [...] Free Radicals: The creative anarchy of science. (radicalsocialentreps.org) [...]