Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Importance of stupidity in research

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” –Albert Einstein

Every time I manage to take a small step forward in my research, a plethora of new doubts and questions crop up. There are so many of these questions that I don’t seem to have an answer for – at least in the present. My collected PhD notes seem to be littered with more questions than answers. They expose my ignorance and probably prove my stupidity. 

That turns out to be quite a normal and happy disposition for a researcher. Martin Schwartz discusses about the importance of stupidity in scientific research in a heartening article for researchers. “The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries”, he writes.

Questions are the very things that drive the researcher and his/her research. You can’t seek answers if you don’t have questions. Does that make questions more important than answers? Possibly yes. The amazing human brain can come up with endless questions. Answers for questions that have been answered before come from prior art and learned men/women. For the unanswered questions, answers could come from various sources – deep thought by the brain itself, nature, experiment and, in some cases, a computer. 

Quite interestingly, Pablo Picasso once said "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." They are after-all garbage-in, garbage-out machines. If the questions are meaningless, so shall be the answers. So if you've been thoughtful enough to pose the right question, it's acceptable to feel stupid about not knowing the answer so long as you're still seeking. In other words, feeling stupid is okay, being stupid is not.