»I don’t believe a word of what you say.«
My supervisor shook his head. »This effect is minimal. How do you want to argue it is relevant at all?«
I stared at him in surprise. Couldn’t he see that my data were significant, even if only marginally? Should all my efforts count for nothing? Was he seriously suggesting that there was a flaw in my reasoning? Did I need to reconsider my basic assumptions? Could it really be that my scientific investigations led to a deceptive conclusion?
So I went and pondered over my research. Research – what was I searching for? Knowledge? Wisdom? Truth? Solutions to overcome our human weaknesses and limitations? Fame? Recognition? Self-affirmation? Power? Progress?
Obviously my current results could not satisfy my thirst for knowledge. In the end, it didn’t matter if there were more excitatory than inhibitory neurons, which were the names of the many proteins involved in the presynaptic machinery and what fraction of brain connections could be called long-range rather than local.
Or could these findings point to more important answers? Could they help us understand who we are, why we can rightly assume that we are able to think logically, why we strive to make sense of our lives and the universe we find ourselves in?
After all, science influences our perception. The more we learn about the incredible dimensions of space, the more we fall silent in awe. The Earth – an isle teeming with life – seems so infinitely insignificant. On the other hand, we find similar orders of magnitude when we replace the telescope with the microscope. So physical size may be the wrong indicator of relevance. Studying biological systems at different scales has been a inexhaustible source of inspiration for technical achievements – or should we call them imitations?
Smiling again, I leaned back. Surely my investigations promised to remain interesting; they might even reveal new secrets. At least they would have an impact on me.
And hopefully my next findings would be convincing, so that others didn’t have to believe in my results, but would only believe in the (well-founded) conclusions they drew from them.
- F. Sägesser