Friday, February 9, 2018

Why I am not a Biologist

I diligently avoided biology throughout my high school and college years. Why? Well, for starters biology is the smelly science. Also wet, sticky, and generally disturbing. Contrast that with the clean, crystalline clarity of physics. But I've also come to understand that there's a fundamental difference between the way that biologists and physicists think about the world. Maybe you've seen this famous poster of "metabolic pathways":

I have to admit that the first time I encountered it in the hallway of my university, I thought it was some sort of a joke. What kind of Rube Goldberg machine is this anyway? Of course, it's very real, but my reaction shows the gulf between the way that physicists and biologists think.

Physicists always seek out the simplest explanations. Their theories can be quite complex, and whole books are written about classical mechanics or general relativity. But these theories are, at their base, very simple -- based on just a few key ideas. And new theories in physics are evaluated on their simplicity -- the more bells and whistles and knobs and gears in a new theory, the less credible it will be. Biological systems, in contrast, are extremely complex, and biologists revel in their complexity. Hence the poster above. So that's the real reason I am not a biologist. Plus I hate the smell of preservatives.


Anonymous said...

You avoid biology because biology is harder than physics. Good answer.

Robert Scherrer said...

The two fields require different skill sets. That's also why I am not a baseball player.

Richard said...

Living things don't play by the rules very nicely either; especially as found in mathematical axioms, so beloved by physicists. This is not to say that biological processes and activities cannot be described using very elegant maths. A great example is how plants during the "light" phase of photosynthesis can be beautifully described by the quantum photoelectric effect. Nonetheless, bio entities can't help but produce unexpected novelties all the time. That's how evolution works and precisely why no two people (including monozygotic twins) have the same fingerprints.