What separates artists and experimental scientists? Not much. This was the conclusion of last nights' Quantum Leaps panel discussion which included such luminaries as Bill Haseltine (retired Chairman and CEO of Human Genome Sciences), Martin Perl (Stanford's Nobel Winner in Physics - 1995), the hilarious Ivan Schuller, and the ever-witty moderator Bruce Jenett.
Despite one man's obsessive compulsive interrupting disorder, the two hour discussion dove deep into the value of contrarian thinking, the self-confidence and intuition required by both leading scientists and artists to create break new ground (in spite of the scientific method), and how obsession (the result of combining extreme intellect and emotion) is required to grapple with the unknown.
Bill Haseltine focused squarely on the future of medicine highlighting the regenerative model of human health that is emerging (via skin graphs, bone marrow transplants, and stem cells) and the tight integration and rapid development of bioelectronics (artificial hearts, prosthetic limbs) and neuorodevices (cochlear implants, optical implants).
Martin Perl posited several interesting questions:
1. What if mass is a trivial property in relation to understanding the universe?
2. What if gravity is not a smooth force as currently assumed?
3. Can we do time travel?
Ivan Schuller brought many laughs as he stripped down to his black t-shirt that had a multi-color version of the period table of elements. Ivan's main point was that experimental scientists need to have the freedom to explore their obsessive concerns without the need to explain exactly what the value of their work will generate in terms of economic gains. In terms of his current research on nanosystems he declared, "Don't ask me why it's valuable, we won't know this for many years to come."
Bruce Jenett interjected at several points to illuminate the discussion, ending with the profound thought of asking the audience to explore what part of themselves they would like to modulate if they could. As Bruce reminded all of us, "Yesterday's magic is today's science is tomorrow's commodity." Snap, snap.