Interesting article in the New York Times today about how the offhand query of a young graduate student has spurred scientific experts to make significant advances into understanding the Zika virus.
Without the student’s casual suggestion, they would likely still be befuddled over finding a way forward in the kind of foundational research vital to eventually stemming this pernicious virus.
How is possible that a young and inexpert person can take an interest in a virus about which he knows next to nothing, and learn just enough to make what turns out to be such a remarkably penetrating and fruitful suggestion?
That’s how the young among us roll. That’s what they do best.
My question is this: Why in the world aren’t all our labs and research fields populated with open young curious inexpert minds — minds that can absorb quickly, if explained to them properly, what the experts are up to — not as an end itself, not simply as a means for the young to learn about new fields, but to actually spark advances in these fields with their imaginative, piercing questions.
Questions that the experts, alas, are simply no longer capable of formulating, because of their penchant to microscopism (and all the mind-numbing jargon that clusters around that) that inhibits the very kind of creative and critical thinking that would be of most service to them if they’re to make their mark.
Oh, but wait, you’ll say, after all, this young man in the NY Times article was a graduate student. So he’s really not that young. Well, he’s certainly a novice in the field.
My radical suggestion is this: let’s populate all research with very very young people. Elementary age and up. My hunch is that their questions will prove invaluable to those professional experts whose brains they’re picking.
Why do I propose this? Here’s how I explain it my The Philosophy of Childing:
(Children) do not see things in a blur; they see clearly, wholly. I won’t be surprised if one day cognitive scientists come to find that children have the capacity to focus on any one thing and everything at one and the same time. Children not only look at the world holistically, but with a sense of oneness. To them, there are no neat divides between their inner and outer cosmos, no more than there are between parts and wholes. e mind-bending questions they pose reflect this—and the more we take the time and trouble to inform them of what we’re inquiring into, the more probing their questions.
If only all our laboratories were peopled with children milling about, pouring over the work of scientists, who felt obliged to explain to them in intelligible terms what they’re up to, I have no doubt that the questions the children would then pose to them would further their experiments and explorations by leaps and bounds.
Whatcha think? What if I’m right? It certainly is supported by much of the latest neuroscience. It’d lead to unparalleled humanistic advances in the sciences and social sciences, among other fields? Worth a try? Have we anything to lose by attempting this prescription at further ‘childing’?