Emotional sensitivity and the scientist

Recently, I have been pondering the question regarding whether or not, apart from delineating the boundaries of scientific endeavours through ethics, the emotional faculties of individual scientists are somehow superfluous to the scientific process. I would like to distance myself from the trope of scientists that is so ubiquitous in our culture that deems them hyper-rational and emotionally obtuse, and while doing so, probe whether innate or culturally-informed proclivities to being swayed by emotions, and by extension, ideology, is at all beneficial to the scientist.

The very nature of the scientific method, if it can be termed as such, suggests that any interference that is based on anything other than empirical fact detracts from the evidence-based nature of science. However, in my experiences as someone who has suffered from clinical depression and continues to be under the influence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) a large portion of the year, I have found that my ability to do rigorous analysis is sometimes influenced by these factors. In these times, it is not exactly the depression itself that inhibits cognitive and physical functioning required in the scientist’s realm, but rather the state of low-energy that is difficult to counteract, even with the help of medication, visceral stimulation and exercise.  Thus, it is not the emotional volatility itself that is the problem, but the circumstances surrounding it that can pose problems for the working scientist.

There is always the looming danger of Lysenkoism, and as such ideologically-driven science, with predetermined conclusions is something we all should be wary of, when speaking about the role of emotions in science. However, I would like to approach this question in the same way people approach the question of diversity among scientists, in that having a group of people who come from diverse backgrounds is often beneficial to the field itself. As such, what place does neurodiversity have in this, if any? By extension, how do experiences of mental illness inform the quest for scientific knowledge among individual scientists? Most studies regarding diversity in science focus on gender, race, socioeconomic backgrounds and more recently, sexual orientation, but it sure would be interesting to see trends in mental health status among scientists. I understand that the mental health remains a largely taboo subject throughout society, but a discussion with regards to it in the STEM fields would be of particular interest.

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