Dingzhong (Andrew) Sun, PhD Student in Biology, Wesleyan University.
On the Purpose of Science
I am a person who has a broad interest in science. Though I spend most of my time studying biology, I do not feel it is really fundamentally different from any other scientific branch, or even unscientific ones. As biology is just a subdiscipline of science, and science, in other words, “natural philosophy”, was merely one branch of philosophy at the early years of its birth, the thing separated science and modern philosophy apart is not their purpose but their object. While modern philosophy more tends towards the internal/spiritual part of how to understand the world, science tends to be more exterior/material. However, we should realize that the ultimate question what a true biologist is after is actually as same as a physicist, a chemist, a mathematician or a philosopher, which in brief is the question about the true existence of the world (including ourselves). In a little more specific way, it could be divided into three parts:
1) where do we come from?
2) what are we? and
3) where shall we go?
The questions in fact reflect our innate bewilderment on our past, present and future as well as our fear of unknown. The unique trait of intelligent beings is not only being aware of these questions, but also trying to answer them and confront the fear. The way how we achieve that is what we call as research.
Therefore, one of the important things that a scholar should keep reminding himself all along his research career is the connection between his research and those questions above; otherwise, he would easily get lost.
In terms of me, I am also an explorer who is endeavouring to seek the answers to those questions (and I hope it is not 42). I choose biology as my way just because it seems that I happen to be good at it. My major interest could be simplify as – “why everything happens”, with the special attention to the “origin” problem (“why everything begins”). And I feel the most probable place where the answer hides is in the process of evolution. So far, the most typical answer to “why it happens” in evolutionary biology is “because nature prefers it”. Although if somebody asks again about “why nature prefers it”, we would probably be rendered speechless. My goal is to answer that question. And I believe that the answer does not only contain its biological attribute but also could be linked to the basis of physical or even mathematical theorems.
I am working on experimental microbial evolution and general ecological/evolutionary theory (Cohan’s Lab).
Research Interest: evolution, ecology, microbiology, biophysics, unified theory.