June 1, 2011
Basic science doing good.
I saw this article from the Huffington Post posted on lifehacker today and though the content is really interesting and good; Who doesn't want to reduce stress at work? I could definitely stand to stop my stress loops in their tracks more often. I'm a lot better at it than I used to be, but it's still a challenge. Another thing that struck me was just how much basic science went into informing this story. The questions that had to be asked, and answered about human evolution, how the body responds to stress, where we feel stress, that there's a specific part of the brain in charge of the fear/anxiety response and many more. I'm sure it took years to build up that knowledge base, and yet more years to understand the detrimental effects of chronic stress on our bodies and minds- something we didn't necessarily evolve to deal with. None of these questions on their own form a complete picture, but taken together they bring a more complete picture into focus. I'm sure most of the scientists had a vague notion about how their work would help complete the picture of what it is to be human, but probably didn't have Mr. Robinson's complete argument in mind- they just knew stress seemed like it could be a problem and one with interesting biology behind it. My point is that basic (or foundational) research with seemingly no point, starting as a drop of water, can turn into a river when combined with other drops. That's why exploring seemingly arcane hypotheses that are narrowly focused is important for progress in any field. All those basic research discoveries in chemistry, physics and computer science are what's allowing me to type this post in fact. Don't get me wrong, applied research is great too, but only doing applied research is limiting, as is only doing foundational research.