Blog of Sara Jakša

Creativity and Status Quo or How Some Discoveries were Made

Social sciences have a lot harder job than some of the other sciences, simply because the humans are a lot less predictable than for example chemical or physical processes. As long as there is gravitation, the apple will fall from the tree. And we discovered this centuries ago. But with the humans, the things are a little harder.

One of the reasons is, that our scientific method developed from some of the specific assumptions: for example that the world is uniform and objective. So most of the methods that were developed hinged on this.

Yet so far, I would not call humans uniform and objective.

This is why the creativity is hard to study. There are lot of stories of how the discoveries were made. But these stories, as long as they did not originate from the people making discoveries, then they could be made with a specific goal in mind. And might have made the stories different, to suit their goals.

Since we like stories, we are quite likely to simply accept them as the truth, as long as they make sense. In some cases, this is positive, as reading literature can improve the theory of mind in people. In the other, it might start the urban legend.

Also, even if it did originate from the inventors, there is a chance that their memory was playing tricks on them. I mean, I notice at myself, that I am capable of rewriting parts of my memory.

One of the story like that is of discovery of silent reading in the 11th century. Even though there are indication that the silent reading existed beforehand, even if it was not regularly practised or discussed.

Then we have how the Giordano Bruno conceived the universe, where the each star was like the sun with planets. He did have this idea, since he used it in his own writings, and considering that he lived in the 16th century, that was quite a forward thinking.

But I have also heard the story, that he came up with it in a dream. I have found no source that would be able to confirm or deny this, so it is hard to tell.

August Kekulé actually used the word dream when describing his discovery of benzene structure. I am much more likely to believe this account, even though it was made around 30 years later than the actual discovery. But even so, there are articles written whenever he meant it literally or metaphorically.

Then we can have stories that are connected with the politically problematic topics like drugs. The first one is how the compound that was discarded in the pharmaceutical research process was studied again by Albert Hofmann. For some reason it was bugging him and so he eventually returned to study it as discovered LSD.

This days is it sometimes described that the spirit of the LSD was calling him. What I am sceptical about, and I did not find anything more on the topic, is that I am not sure that it would be described like that by Hofmann when we discovered it.

Then there are the cases of Carey Mullis and Francis Crick, whose discoveries are connected with the LSD as well. Carey Mullis claimed that he used LSD as aid to understanding the polymerase chain reaction. Which make it at believable, since as far I can see, it came from the person making the discovery.

Then there is a case of Francis Crick using LSD when working on the DNA structure. Which, as far as I was able to tell, was first mentioned in the newspaper after his death. Not only that, they seems to get the information from a source other than Crick. Because of this, I would be much more sceptical of this claim.

For each of these cases, the best thing to do would be to talk the the people involved. Which is impossible in the cases of people that already died. Otherwise, using the things that they actually said and wrote can be the acceptable substitution.

But otherwise, I guess they are just a convenient stories that are hopefully used to help people get interested in science (though more likely for other reasons). And we should not take them as the basis for our own research.