The Sixth Sense in Science

Who? What? When? Why? Where? How? The five W’s. I vividly remember being taught to ask these five questions and seeing word-art posted around the classroom when I was a child. As children, we are taught to be curious and ask questions until we understand. We try new food, have new experiences, and explore uncharted territory. We have a natural drive to investigate, absorb the world around us, and learn as much as possible. We learn, solve problems, and develop a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Curiosity is an incredibly important part of our lives. It drives us to be lifelong learners, to strive for more, and achieve our goals and objectives. Curiosity plays an especially important role in scientific motivation, thinking, and investigation.

When we develop research proposals and projects, our curiosity is critical for developing questions and hypotheses, identifying observations, collecting and analyzing critical data, as well as drawing conclusions and future directions. Taken together, curiosity is necessary for our motivation and information-seeking behaviors, as well as in developing a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the world around us.

The uncertainty and ambiguity that exist in science goes hand-in-hand with curiosity to promote lifelong learning. Through curiosity, we can activate our existing knowledge base and fund our learning behaviors. Through the learning process, we develop investigational skills and improve our ability to process information, which can be used to develop new skills and acquire additional knowledge — in essence, a positive-feedback cycle. Altogether, by engaging with our intrinsic curiosity, we are utilizing our mental capacity and engaging with our metacognitive processes.

What I find so interesting is that as children, we are taught to be curious, to explore, and to learn. However, as we grow older, that curiosity subsides, and the importance of feasibility and working “within the box” becomes the mainstay or the “status quo.” There’s less flexibility to explore and push the boundaries.

We use buzzwords such as innovation and implementation in an attempt to create — but are we truly curious? For example, much of research is driven by funding prompts which generally align with current needs, and accordingly, the interest of these funding agencies. That’s not to say the objectives of these agencies are not important, but do these structures promote curiosity and creativity?

Somewhere along the way, being curious was no longer the objective but rather doing this or that correctly, getting the right answer, and learning not to repeat a mistake. Personally, I felt worried about making a mistake or “messing up.” Doing well in school meant that you needed to do things correctly, and that made it difficult to be creative and think outside the box.

So, what does it mean to be creative in science? Is it thinking of the most outlandish idea and implementing it? Is it finding the most creative solution to address the most critical problems in the current time? How can we harness our curiosity to drive science even further?

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About Leanna Lui

Leanna MW Lui, HBSc, completed an HBSc global health specialist degree at the University of Toronto, where she is now an MSc candidate. Her interests include mood disorders, health economics, public health, and applications of artificial intelligence. In her spare time, she is a fencer with the University of Toronto Varsity Fencing team and the Canadian Fencing Federation.

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