Asking Different Questions

Talk to high-school students preparing for their science exams, and you’ll probably hear two things: that they’re scared of physics, and relatively comfortable with biology. Strangely, this is contrary to the view of most researchers. The scientific zeitgeist is that physics is easy. Its simplicity comes from an ability to create crystalline theories that are powerfully predictive, for everything from the existence of subatomic particles to how light bends around stars. Biology, on the other hand, is much harder to distill into elegant theorems and mathematical equations. For this reason, some eminent thinkers have argued that cells and forests are harder to understand than distant and difficult-to-observe black holes.

But perhaps there is no such thing as an easy or hard discipline. Maybe there are only easy and hard questions. Biology only seems so hard because it has been defined by a set of very hard questions. Physics only seems easy because centuries of effort by deeply insightful thinkers have produced a set of answerable questions.

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