Techniques, discoveries, and ideas

“Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries, and new ideas, probably in that order.” — Sidney Brenner

I’m not sure whether I agree with Brenner’s quote, but I find it interesting. You could argue that techniques are most important because they have the most leverage. A new technique may lead to many new discoveries and new ideas.

Related post: Concepts, explosions, and developments

3 thoughts on “Techniques, discoveries, and ideas

  1. Wouldn’t they be interdependent? Basic research uncovers new discoveries leading to new ideas which could inspire new techniques. Alternatively, new ideas (say the work by Peter Higgs et al) have led to new techniques and new discoveries.

  2. Brenner didn’t say “is more important” but “depends on”. As Aristotle pointed out, the process of discovery is different from the process of synthesised understanding.

    Or maybe Brenner is saying that there’s heaps more new techniques than new discoveries, and even fewer ideas.

  3. Thomas Kuhn would say that it depends very much on whether you’re talking about normal, everyday science (in which case, yes, new techniques are more important than new ideas), or paradigm shifts, in which the new ideas are far more important.

    If you are trying to find a Higgs boson, then techniques are everything.

    If you are trying to reconcile Newtonian gravity with observed bending of light around stars, technique is irrelevant and ideas are everything.

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