In the Opinion piece “Being True to Our Own Imaginations” (Physics Today, November 2005, page 48), Gregory Benford makes the case that “among reviewers, ‘speculation’ is a word mostly deployed as a pejorative.” Perhaps reviewers should first be required to read some of the works of Robert Scott Root-Bernstein. Readers may find the quotation below interesting.
Most eminent scientists agree that nonverbal forms of thought are much more important in their work than verbal ones. This observation leads me to propound the following hypothesis. The most influential scientists have always nonverbally imagined a simple, new reality before they have proven its existence through complex logic or produced evidence through complicated experiments.
There is a simple reason for this phenomenon. Experiment can confirm or disconfirm the tentative reality that imagination invents, and experiment can suggest the need for the invention of a new reality to account for anomalies to the existing one. But experiment cannot, in and of itself, produce conceptual breakthroughs or be used to explain data.
Logic is similarly limited. Indeed, philosophizers of science are almost universally agreed that logic can be used to test the coherence of theories and to provide proofs of existing ideas, but logic does not produce the ideas to be tested. One must be able to imagine that which is to be tested and how to test it before one can even begin to employ logical, experimental, and verbal forms of thought.
Furthermore, I suggest that this ability to imagine new realities is correlated with what are traditionally thought to be nonscientific skills—skills such as playing, modeling, abstracting, idealizing, harmonizing, analogizing, pattern forming, approximating, extrapolating, and imagining the as yet unseen—in short, skills usually associated with the arts, music, and literature. 1
Picasso might have made a great analytical physicist.