How to Rediscover Discovery

When we talk about the scientific method we usually think of it as something bland and dry. We might picture a group of scientists in white lab coats, we might picture the generic stereotype of an awkward male more comfortable with test-tubes than people. What we almost always won’t do is understand what it has to do with our own lives. The scientific method consists of collecting data and formulating and testing the theories that the information leads to. While this too sounds very dry, let’s try it in different words: When you want to figure something out, you get all the information that you can and, acting on what that information tells you, do something with that info. Better? Sound like something you do every day? I hope so.

While the exact history of what we call the scientific method is filled with greats such as Alhazen, who laid the groundwork for much of what we know about optics, to Galileo Galilei, who the most recent pope has finally gotten around to praising, most of us have our own personal history of Discovery. From learning that fire is hot to discovering that desiring someone doesn’t make them like you back, we all have our early discoveries. As we get older most of us learn the “official” rules of science and start to divorce the discovery aspect of science from our lives. We start talking about how “random” things are and how “shocking” someone’s behavior is. The simple truth is that if we were to approach the world with the same enthusiasm we did when we were younger, we would not only find ourselves less constantly surprised but learning and discovering new things all the time.

Discovery, and science, is subject to one of the purest joys available in life- learning. In our lives we run around and catch-up and slow down and start up again so often that we frequently miss the implications of all that is around us. We miss the hints and the signs, we miss the tips and the tricks. So often we are trying to finish our work to make our boss happy that we fail to notice that all he wants is for us to smile when he walks past our cubicle. Sometimes we are so caught up in our own issues that we fail to pay attention to those around us, leading us to be stunned by the news that they are getting divorced or married or having a kid. How often have you come home to say you “just discovered” some fact or place only to find out that your teenage kid has known it for weeks?

Discovery is not stumbling across something you never knew before; discovery is gathering data and growing from there. Sure, we all try to do that when it’s crunch time but how many of us bother to keep ourselves attentive when it’s “just” life? So you probably won’t discover some new principle or create a unifying theory of everything but you might find yourself surprised by what you do discover. So keep those eyes open, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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