Associate Professor Rod Dunbar (University of Auckland) gives his views on the myth of scientists wearing white coats and discusses the role of creativity and imagination in science.
DR ROD DUNBAR
People’s images of science is often that people in white coats going about very routine procedures over and over again in a boring way, but science actually is a creative endeavour. It begins with thought, it begins with imagination, and a lot of science is based on things that have gone before. So you always start your creativity from a basis of learning, but in general, everyone starts their creativity from a basis of learning. You can't write a brilliant new musical piece unless you really know what has been done before and you know something about the structures of music. The starting of the creative process in science is really knowledge and knowing what has gone before so you don't repeat things.
But in high-level science, such as the work that Hayley has been doing, once you have assimilated all the knowledge that is out there, the first step in a new project is to imagine something, it’s a creative step, and this is true of Hayley's project. What we did was we imagined a visualisation system that would enable us to see the patterns of lymphatic drainage, and there was no such thing in existence at the time. Then what we do is, having made that imaginative leap, we work out ways of working towards that.