Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery
A novel idea is very often overlooked or neglected in science –and in art. The chemist Gunther Stent puzzled over this impediment to progress.
[In 1944, OT Avery showed that DNA is the substance of heredity] “So why was Avery’s discovery not appreciated in its day? Because it was “‘premature.” … In other words, is there a way of providing a criterion of the prematurity of a discovery other than its failure to make an impact? Yes, there is such a criterion: A discovery is premature if its implications cannot be connected by a series of simple logical steps to canonical, or generally accepted, knowledge.”
Arguably, science is cumulative and the the truth (higher confidence) will eventually be manifest, while art represents unique and never-to-be manifest if it were not for the artist. Stent speaks to several possible comparisons between art and science.
It appears that Stent’s central insight is shared in all creative endeavours: . “Never forget what I believe was observed to you by Coleridge,” said William Wordsworth, “every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.” (William Wordsworth (1807) (in a “Letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807,” in E. de Selincourt (ed.) Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth vol. 2 (revised by M. Moorman, 1969)
“An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning.” (Max Planck (1858-1947)[i]
In science fiction, entities that want to communicate with humans arrange to manifest in a more familiar form: e.g., “Contact” (1987)
[i]. Max Planck, German physicist Awho framed the quantum theory in 1900. His research into the manner in which heated bodies radiate energy led him to report that energy is emitted only in indivisible amounts, called ‘quanta’, the magnitudes of which are proportional to the frequency of the radiation. His discovery ran counter to classical physics and is held to have marked the commencement of the modern science. He received a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918. To learn more about Max Planck, visit: http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/5/0,5716,115045+1,00.html .”)