Oceans of Opportunity

motives in exploration – science or discovery?

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiWith one foot out the door on a next expedition – this one highly scientifically driven as we search for novel fluorescent proteins on deep coral reefs – my wheels are spinning on over drive to consider the next move. As with any business, you gotta be thinking at least three steps ahead so as to not fall flat with nothing gainful  to do – and  no income.

So, among my long list are numerous program development efforts to keep the exploration work underway. First is continued wet work in the mesophotic zone down in the Bahamas, second is a related R&D effort to expand on life support capabilities such that the mesophotic work becomes more productive, and third are efforts to put the Exosuit ADS to work for the first time. Sounds like a full plate – and it is. There’s nothing better than being busy, and among the many lessons learned along the way – failure is far more prevalent than success. So, for every 10 projects on the table, only one or two are sure to grow some legs.

There’s been a recurring challenge lately, and that has been facing inquiries on questionable motives of my work from the perspective of it not necessarily be driven by scientific hypotheses. I appreciate that perspective, and understand this manner of thinking coming from the science community as the system is engineered to evolve in response to asking more and more questions – striving for the finite solution to an infinitely expanding universe of unfolding knowledge gained through inquisition over time. I value this, embrace this from time to time, am often engaged in related work, though challenge this from the other side of the spectrum with great confidence…

how can we possibly know what questions to ask if we’ve never been to a place for the first time, or possibly do not yet know that such a place exists to begin with? Discovery based science may well be forgotten, or is at least most certainly repressed, as the stakes are so high risk (from several perspectives) that no institutionally driven model can support it – hence the more conservative hypothesis driven approach. Today, no one questions the motives of Columbus, Mallory, Shackleton, or related individuals with purist motives to uncover new bodies of knowledge and open a new path for inquisition. That type of discovery, that motive – changes the world we live in, and frankly it is quite necessary.

As I reflect on my own work and consider how to justify moving elements of it forward, the challenge is boiling down the discovery process into something tangible – just like following through with experimental design to test a hypothesis. Within the discovery paradigm, this is difficult. My motives lie with the basic notion that as a species, we will at some point in time be forced to leave our terrestrial world here on Earth, and for a variety of reasons. At some point, we will need to understand how we, humans, can interact and operate within the ocean. That is coming without a doubt. The art and science of diving – or placing a human underwater to live, work, and play – remains at its infancy on the grand scheme of human civilization. To me, that is exciting, and leaves an enormous field of opportunity to take bold steps, chart new courses, and empower new generations to embrace solutions to terrestrial problems in very new ways. Baby steps first of course – we just have to get out there and see what we can and can’t do. Period.

So, as the next wave of projects materialize, yes, scientific questions are being asked and answered, but almost more importantly is the body of work inspired by the taking of bold steps alone – setting sail to the edge of a flat planet, taking steps on the moon, and finding a renewed human presence within the sea – because we can, and because it is our duty at citizens of this planet in exposing new frontiers that might some day help with our species eternal sustenance.

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