How do you balance creativity and scientific rigor?


Daniel Gilbert is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His research with Tim Wilson on "affective forecasting" investigates how and how well people can make predictions about the emotional impact of future events.

Dan has won numerous awards for his teaching and research—from the Guggenheim Fellowship to the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. However, he says that his greatest accomplishment is that he appears just before Dizzy Gillespie on the list of Most Famous High School Dropouts.

Dan's research has been covered by The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Money, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, Scientific American, Oprah Magazine, Psychology Today, and many others.

  • Transcript


Question: How do you balance creativity and scientific rigor?

Dan Gilbert: I don’t understand creativity and scientific rigor as antonyms. And I’m not even sure they have a relationship. They seem to me to be two attributes of good science. Good science is creative. It tells about things we don’t already know. It surprises us with solutions we wouldn’t have thought of; but the moment we hear them we go, “But I can see it’s right” . . . that’s the creative part. And science is, of course, about rigor. Anybody can be creative in any way, but science has a lot of rules within which we have to be creative. And in that sense, science is like haiku. You know, it’s a highly constrained form. And the question is, can you be creative within the rules? That’s what science asks us to do.

Oh we don’t. But if science … if history is any guide, we’re going to find out that half of what we believe now based on scientific evidence, is wrong. The other half we’ll find out was right. It’s a slow accumulation of knowledge and revision of mistakes; but it is progress. It’s not like we just keep throwing everything out and starting all over again. The cumulative progress is slower than any would … anyone would like, but it’s undeniable.

Recorded on: 6/12/2007