Thursday, February 15, 2007

Trivial or wrong?

A scientist tries to unravel problems or identify new findings. Or so the idea goes.

Anyway, it is sometimes hard to find a "spectacular" or "breakthrough" problem to work on. It is often easier to find a simple problem to work on, making small, incremental, but sometimes inconsequential contributions.

On the other hand, while working on "breakthrough" ideas, you could sometimes come up with a hypothesis that is totally, absolutely wrong, and then waste years trying to prove it.

So, what would you do? Take a risk, make a prediction, take a stand and be spectacularly wrong, or be trivial, work on simple problems but with the comfort of knowing that life will be steady and without surprises?

9 comments:

CuriousCat said...

I was going to answer your question when I realized that it is probably rhetorical, existential angst type thing...BTW Congrats on the nomination! MAy you rule the world.

Sunil said...

heh.....yeah it was probably rhetorical (though perhaps not existential angst) :-)

But it is a choice you often have to make....

loan motorcycle said...

When you're buying a motorcycle you need to know about bikes, but you also need to know about how to buy a bike, and that has nothing to do with engines and manufacturing. One important detail where a lot of people that purchase motorcycles go wrong is getting the right loan.

Arunn said...

Of what use am i to science, if i remain a good scientist and solve problems that yield incremental results, thus allowing me to rust, er, rest in my "secure success"?

Of what use am i to me and the society, if i aspire to be a great scientist and try solving the most challenging problems that exist on that day and end up solving at least one of them but die of stress related peptic ulcer or worse, end up as an unsuccessful crackpot?

Of course, these questions are also rhetorical... ;)

BTW, if you get your hands on that Santiago book that was discussed here sometime back, read first the chapter titled Diseases of the Will. It will answer these rhetorical questions in a way...

Ashutosh said...

Daniel Koshland (of the induced fit hypothesis) once said that it is about equally hard to work on both big as well as "small" problems, and one is likely to make equal numbers of mistakes and waste equal time in both ventures. So why work on "small" problems at all?
On the other hand, it is the incremental knowledge gained by working on small problems, what physicist Freeman Dyson calls the "craftsmanship of science" that pushes science to the frontiers. Dyson makes an interesting distinction between eagles- which have a soaring worldview of everything, and frogs-which love to play around in the mud. He says that it's as much fun being a frog (which he says he is) as an eagle.

Sunil said...

Arunn......i still haven't been able to get a hold of the Santiago book (partly because I haven't bought a book in the past few months.....), but it still remains on my reading list.

Ashutosh.....yes, sometimes working on trivial things leads to bigger findings. But somehow, I don't know how one remains motivated making just small increments (if any at all). Still....someone's got to do it, otherwise too many holes remain. It's an interesting dilemma.

Srikanth said...

Sunil,

Probably you have seen this already, but you may enjoy this speech:
http://www.paulgraham.com/hamming.html

Sunil said...

thanks for the link Srikanth. I'd seen it before, but it was nice to read it again.

Anonymous said...

I like a game which needs to use priston tale Gold, when you do not have priston tale Money, you must borrow it from friends, or you buy priston tale Gold. If you getcheap priston tale Gold, you can continue this game.