Is Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty the future of science? The Adult Swim cartoon, which follows the adventures of alcoholic mad scientist Rick and his anxiety-ridden grandson Morty, is far from academic. But a recent video from the PBS Idea Channel takes a semi-serious look at the relationship between the show and the modern scientific method.
PBS host Mike Rugnetta asks, "Is Rick the ideal scientist?" Rick is undeniably brilliant; he can travel to alternate dimensions, pause time, and recreate the gadgets from pretty much any modern sci-fi movie (the show, itself, was originally inspired by 1985's Back to the Future). However, his process is anarchic and frequently self-serving: Rick's not really trying to advance science as a discipline, as much as he's trying to help himself.
But maybe that anarchic approach to science is exactly what the discipline needs. So argues Rugnetta, citing philosopher Paul Feyerabend's book Against Method. Feyerabend, who specializes in the philosophy of science, argues that the modern scientific method has become overly rigid. Too often, scientists are encouraged to specialize in one narrowly-defined subject, and discouraged from considering the ways in which their discipline may overlap with others. Moreover, he argues, while the scientific method—which involves "making observations, asking questions, formulating hypotheses, making predictions, testing against those predictions, gathering data, and developing theories"—undeniably provides a useful framework for the pursuit of knowledge, it should be a guideline for research, not necessarily the rule.
Basically, Feyerabend argues that science should be more anarchic. Scientists should be free to draw inspiration from multiple disciplines, from their own lives and interests, to pursue whatever line of inquiry they want. Which, if you think about it, is exactly what Rick does. His inventions are created in response to his own needs and interests, whether he wants to pause time to clean up after a particularly messy house party, or steal cable television programming from alternate dimensions. Rugnetta notes that Feyerabend's views on scientific methodology are controversial, and by no means held by all—or most—scientists. So whether you think Rick is a scientific role model or just a funny fictional crackpot may depend on your opinions on the scientific method. Nevertheless, Feyerabend might agree with Rick when he says, "Sometimes science is more art than science.”