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E.O. Wilson on the Perfect Scientist (Surprise!)

By Harriet Staff


You’ve heard the ‘ol “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” but have you heard “think like a poet, work like a bookkeeper?”

That’s called Optimum Brightness and as famed Harvard University Science Professor E.O. Wilson says in the latest Science Friday interview, “I present it as, just a conjecture.”

He elaborates:

The ideal scientist is bright enough to see what needs to be done, but not so bright that he gets bored doing it. And I’ve discovered as time goes on, that some of the most successful scientists in America, the most innovative, have IQs in the low 120s, and this got me to start thinking about what happens to all these folks in the 170s, 180s that we hear about. So, the conjecture says, well, it’s too easy for them! And that brings me then to the allusion that you made to the scientist, or that I’ve made: the ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper.

It’s the poet, the poetic aspect of science that seldom gets talked about. But I’ve always felt that scientists fantasize and dream and bring up metaphor and fantastic images as much as any poet, anyone in the creative arts. And the difference is that at some point the scientist has to relate the dreams to the real world, and that’s when you enter the bookkeeper’s period. Unfortunately it’s the bookkeeper period which leads sometimes to months, years of work that too many scientists and students interested in science see, rather than the creative period.

As Wilson says later:

We’re all storytellers, you know, all of us… from the novelist to the artist who is trying to say something new and take us in a new direction on canvas to scientists who have discovered something, and when they’ve discovered something, they want to tell a story and they want to explain to others ‘why’ where it came from, what’s happening, what kind of process is going on and where it’s going to lead.

Listen to the complete interview at Science Friday. Or read the transcript here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.