Sunday, October 01, 2006

Books: The decisions I made...

I was in my 5th grade then, my grandfather bought me a whistle to blow and play cop in the house. He perhaps knew that I was at that time fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and his methods of detection. It was also during this period that I was introduced to a number of wonderful works of English literature, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Midsummer night’s dream and umpteen numbers of incredible poems by Shelly, Milton and Wordsworth. From time to time the books I read shaped my thinking and I wanted to become everything from an astronaut to a chef. Books were probably my only companions till my 10th grade. All my classmates lived so far away from my place that it was very difficult for me to get together with them for even a game of cards. I love reading books and if I love something even more it is analyzing what I read in those books.

I was in a dilemma when I finished my 12th grade on whether to choose the arts or the sciences. I think many of us go through this tough phase in life. We all have a passion for many things and choosing one thing that appeals most can be an almost impossible task. I must have considered almost everything from political sciences, Journalism, English literature, Biology and even law! I had one hell of a decision to make.

Finally, I made the decision to get into life sciences and I think that it was the best decision I could have ever made in my life. I have come to realize in the last 10 years from my association with science that science is not very different from the arts. Science requires a lot of creativity, creative ideas lead to creative experimentation which in turn leads to breakthrough. Arts and sciences have in fact always gone hand in hand. In order to be a successful scientist and publish papers in top journals in addition to great ideas one also has to have good writing skills. The ability to communicate ones ideas clearly and succinctly is a big part of being a successful scientist. A good scientist is a culmination of many artistic skills. For instance, some of the experiments we perform in biology require good hands and deep concentration and coordination. Taking photographs of cells is a very tricky thing, inexperienced researchers can easily select for fields that are misrepresentative of the result they obtained. Taking photographs of cells is a refined art; every time you look at a cell you tend to have a better understanding of the cell as well as the equipment you use to visualize the cell. These are in fact the easy part of being a researcher. The most difficult part in research is coming up with the right questions or in other words “hypothesis”. This is perhaps where the arts and the sciences differ. The degrees of freedom in both these disciplines are vastly different. For instance a person in the arts can draw an abstract whose meaning is open for interpretation whereas in science there is no place for abstract thoughts; clarity is the name of the game. The reason for this huge essay is to emphasize on the works that go into becoming a good scientist and how scientists need to be meticulous and precise in their experimentation and communication. It is easy to summarize all that I have here, but it is very difficult to follow it in practice; I strongly believe that every human being needs to follow the scientific method in their life. We are prone to blind faiths and assumptions, we come up with theories that cannot be tested and attribute them to some unknown entities.

Books have shaped my outlook towards life and have led me to major decisions in life. If I had spent time on spiritual and religious text I would have changed the way I currently think. My mentor during my M.S in microbiology had a different idea about books, he was against the concept of text books. He felt that text books took away the ability of an individual to think “out of the box”. I agree and disagree with him on this, there has to be precedence for performing experiments; text books might have taken away mans curiosity to search for answers to unknown questions but at the same time they also provide the base for building ones curiosity. Good reading habits can shape an individual… can someone define what good books are?


Swahilya said...

Hi Robbie, Your blog looks very nice now. Nice piece. I just returned from the Himalayas.
Happy Deepavali. Swaha.

kitchenette soul said...

Yes indeed science is an art too! 'Taking pictures of a cell' I remember how I screwed up my first picture!!

Its always fun though!

Creativity is the the lifeline of science.
In my view
Good books are those which tickle those little grey cells in the brain into action. Good books are those which tempt you to seek out more.