The PBS documentary Lord of the Ants, begins “Every so often a giant emerges on the stage of science, someone who transcends the narrow boundaries of a particular line of research and alters our perspective of the world. EO Wilson is such a man.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. When I saw that WWNorton was going to be publishing a new book by EO Wilson I did a little happy dance. The book “Letters to a Young Scientist” is a wonderful series of ‘letters’ written to encourage and entice young minds to follow the path of science. The overarching theme “You are needed” is demonstrated time and time again.
In a world where so much seems known and it seems that new discoveries will be impossible – Wilson through stories of his own experiences, why there is so much left to discover, more – why it is vitally important that we search.
In the book he outlines a Series of (guiding) Principles :
1 “It is far easier for scientists to acquire needed collaboration from mathematicians and statisticians than it is for mathematicians and statisticians to find scientist able to make use of their equations” (39)
2 “For every scientist, whether researcher, technologist, or teacher, of whatever competence in mathematics, there exists a discipline in science for which that level of mathematical competence is enough to achieve excellence.” (41)
3 “March away from the sound of the guns. Observe the fray from a distance and while you are at it, consider making your own fray” (46)
4 “In the search for scientific discoveries, every problem is an opportunity. The more difficult the problem, the greater the likely importance of its solution.” (47)
5 “For every problem in a given discipline of science, there exists a species of other entity or phenomenon ideal for its solution (Example: a kind of mollusk, the sea hare Aplysia, proved ideal for exploring the cellurar base of memory.) Conversely, for every species or other entity or phenomenon there exist important problems for the solution of which it is ideally suited. (Example : bats were logical for the discovery of sonar.) (48)
Perhaps because Wilson himself straddles both hemispheres of his brain he notes that “The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and only later works like a bookkeeper. Keep in mind that innovators in both literature and science are basically dreamers and storytellers.” (74) *
-deleted 3 paragraph philosophical treatise on those that straddle the scientific/humanities divide-
The book is written to young scientists and I would strongly recommend it to anyone from 5 th grade onwards. Certainly there were even parts of the book that entranced by 8 year old. The book is open and designed to be interesting and accessible to all. The lessons for potential scientists, or anyone for that matter, are well worth learning.
*disclaimer I am COMPLETELY in love with EO Wilson’s brain
E.O. Wilson’s TED talk “Advice to Young Scientists”
If you want to buy a copy of Letters to a Young Scientist
from Amazon please feel free to follow the link or purchase a copy from your favorite book store.