Nothing beats the thrill of scientific discovery.
Probably one of the happiest traditions associated with Easter is an egg hunt. Unleashing one or more children into a house or garden rich with concealed chocolate Easter eggs is to precipitate one of the most exhilarating and innocently wonderful experiences that one can either experience or observe. The simple unadulterated joy elicited from children simply by searching for concealed objects and then finding them is a genuine marvel to behold.
Not everyone ceases hunting for Easter eggs at the end of childhood. Easter eggs are also well known to computer gamers, for whom the term refers to a secret feature that can be unlocked by performing a particular action or searching in a specific place (readers of a certain age may well remember the “ten pints” question that gave the player’s avatar immortality in Psygnosis’ otherwise fiendishly difficult Amiga classic, Shadow of the Beast 2).
Easter eggs in computer games can be as simple as a message, or as complex as an entire game hidden within the one being played. This latter definition is the premise behind the book – and now film – Ready Player One, where an 80s-obsessed gamer searches for an Easter egg within a limitless virtual reality universe. Easter eggs for the 21st century.
Scientists too arguably never quite leave their Easter egg-hunting days behind them, and it’s an interesting coincidence that they are often celebrated as retaining a childlike sense of enthusiasm, curiosity, and wonder.
And just like chocolate, the buzz that comes from making a scientific discovery is an addictive one. Many, perhaps most, scientists would probably describe themselves as hooked to some degree on the rush that comes with making a novel finding or insight.
It’s an addiction that, like most addictions, tends to lead its dependents on a rollercoaster of psychological highs and lows. The peaks are almost untouchable, but the lows are hard and can go on for a very long time, long enough to generate severe withdrawal symptoms and depression (along with inevitable existential crises that come in tow).
Chasing those highs, those peaks, usually becomes a lifetime obsession, a hunt after an elusive and ephemeral pleasure that comes packaged in such esoteric forms as the bands on a gel, a diffraction pattern of a crystal, or a localisation pattern within a cell. Yet when those moments arrive, the exhilaration that they generate, no matter how apparently mundane their form, is hard to beat. It is very hard to articulate the feeling engendered by suddenly seeing for the first time the three-dimensional structure of a molecule on which you have been working – and in some sense tracking – for many years, an indefinable “Ah, there you are” moment that combines satisfaction, euphoria, and awe.
Those peaks that come from a life at the bench are unpredictable and rare, but attaining one is a rush akin to finding and opening a treasure chest…or an Easter egg.
A belated happy Easter to all our readers.