I've spent the past few days at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting. I presented my data yesterday, and today I had the opportunity to hear talks and see poster presentations about things that interest me. But the best part of the conference has been the "chance" meetings in which I end up in conversations making connections between ideas I think I barely understand and those I'm sure I don't.
As frustrating as the world of science can be, one of the best things about it is that it's a group venture. The idealized view of a scientist as a smart person who thinks about stuff and does experiments and comes to conclusions...all alone in the lab...is a cultural hoax.
The reality is that even if a scientist physically works alone, s/he is always bouncing ideas off of other scientists, whether they're dead or alive. The community of scientists is really a community of ideas. A consortium of brains.
Today after having a bouncing-idea conversation with a new acquaintance at the conference, I found myself feeling grateful that I'm not working alone, and I never will. In a way, the output of the scientific community is like the processing of a big brain, with parts that specialize in certain areas and also communicate with other parts -- all so the giant beast in which this brain lives can go somewhere.
What is this giant beast? Where's the beast going? Good question. That's a question the scientific venture, thus far, has not been so great about answering. If I could predict the most important advance of science in the next century, I'd say it would be to understand where this venture is taking us, and why.