Structural Biochemistry/Mental Inertia in the Biological Sciences

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New discoveries are often not immediately made when new technologies, knowledge, or techniques become available. They are often delayed as a result of mental inertia. Mental inertia is defined as the basis that prevents a scientist from taking the most productive steps and the most adaptive reasoning available with the current level of scientific methods, approaches and techniques. In other words, mental inertia is basically simple ideas that scientists overlook because they do not think the idea warrants investigation. The scientist is often either unaware of these reasons or they believe that they are using the most productive experimental approaches. A scientist would readily change their reasoning if it was brought to his attention that the selected reasoning was wrong. Therefore, intentional repositioning, does not qualify as mental inertia.

What is Mental Inertia and what causes this symptom. It is the involuntary or the unwillingness to perform something. In the other hands, we can say it is slacking in people’s mind to think of something or come up with a plan. People usually call that in a normal way is laziness that is hidden somewhere inside each of us. And based on each person’s function, it will display different level of the laziness. Therefore, the immunity is also different. So when we can break this slacking and laziness, we can create the impulse. There are many types that that cause by mental inertia: - By incorrectly established result - By adherence to a faulty technique - By the incorrect understanding of mechanism of action - By improper controls

Mental Inertia by incorrectly established results[edit]

Since scientific progress relies heavily on experimental results, theories only stand on experimental observations, many of which are subjective and easily prone to change. It is often a dilemma to many scientists to whether accept an existing theory as true or to personally test these theories. Often, the mental inertia occurs when scientists blindly accept the theory from an authoritative source. Aristotle’s wide-accepted theory of eight-leg fly is a typical example of this type of mental inertia. In addition, scientists today face many financial pressures to produce notable results, so they are reluctant to invest in an experiment and then waste time and money verifying a previous theory. As a result, scientists are inclined to accept the existed theory as true and rely on it. Incorrect results can also come from deficient techniques. Mental inertia can occur when the researchers depend on results verified with outdated techniques, even though new techniques are available that can improve or correct their experimental observations.

Mental inertia caused by adherence to a faulty technique[edit]

The most common type of metal inertia is the adherence to incorrect results that have been established with a obsolete technique. As scientific progress advances, new techniques for conducting experiments makes previously results outdated, and wrong. However, it is the tendency for many scientists to adhere to scietific techniques that have provided generally accepted theories even when new techniques would produce more accurate and better results. However, the distinction must be made that when a researcher uses a technique before it was improved is not a victum of mental inertia, but merely a victum of technical errors. It is only when a scientist is aware that the basis of their work has been obtained by an obsolete technique, is the scientist suffering mental inertia. The lack of awareness that a scientist has about new and improved techniques, is unfortunately a product of an education that puts an emphasis on results and not processes.

Mental Inertia caused by the incorrect understanding of mechanism of action[edit]

Mental inertia can be caused by the name of the mechanism. Assumption by name can make scientists overlook the other possibilities. For instance, the hormone independent activation function of hormone receptors was ignored for a long time because they were named named “hormone receptors”. Mental inertia can also result from improper control. Some inadequate techniques are used simply because they are common. This type of mental inertia can be self-perpetuating because the more experiments that are done by such a control, the more common the control becomes. Mental inertia also occurs when scientific paradigms stop scientists from questioning other possibilities outside of the paradigm or the possibilities that would contradict with previous observations. Furthermore, independent mechanisms that can explain different stages of the same process being viewed as “the manifestations of same mechanism” can also cause mental inertia. The assumption that the first mechanism must be active in order for second mechanism to be active in the process while the two can be at work independently serves as an example.

Mental inertia caused by the name of the mechanism[edit]

The simpliest type of metal inertia can be found in the phenomenon of exclusive mental association produced by the simple selective naming of a specific mechanism. For example, hormone-independent activation of hormone receptors was not realized for year due to the fact that these proteins were at first only called receptors for hormones.

Mental inertia cuased by improper controls[edit]

Because the science of biology is inexact, i.e. too many varying parameters, the proper controls must usually be exactly replicated in order for an experiment to progress to a predetermined outcome. However, if improper controls are accepted as the "correct" control pararmeters, this would be an example of mental inertia. Scientist hoping to replicate a certain experiment will have to replicate improper control environments in order for the experiment to proceed to a desired outcome. Even if the experimental control are inadequate for the particular investigation, they will be utilized simply because they are what is generally accepted. This creates the condition in which improper controls become more widely used simply because they are widely used. This is a circular argument and self-perpetuates experiments with less than ideal control environments. An example would be the "common use of dioxins as a control in studies of compounds that activates certain receptors but have different chemcial structures", (A Schnieder).

Ignoring valid observations because of a researchers false diffidence[edit]

Oftentimes, scientists regard the deviations from their previous experimental results are merely the product of technical mistake. If the scientists are unable to identify the “mistake”, it is usually the case that the scientists would repeat the experiments until the “right” results are established. Such reasoning can sometimes cause vital observations to be overlooked.

Mental inertia from Ignoring valid observations[edit]

A lot of researchers perform the experiment base on standard experimental techniques and by obeying the law; they try to produce the most ‘corrected’ result from the standard technique. Because of this approach, they tend to assume that all the unexpected results they get are the results from the technical mistakes or poor experimental skills, and those unexpected results are normally disregards. This is the example of ignoring the valid observation; the unexpected results that are claimed to be invalid turn out to be the most important observation for future research. For instance, the mold that appeared on the petri plate led to the discovery of antibiotic by Alexander Flaming. None of the researcher except Flaming paid close attention that the molds on the plate contain the bacterial culture. So, these scientists were indeed the victim of mental inertia.

Mental inertia due to rejection of an alternative concept that explains the same set of observations[edit]

A very problamatic sector of mental inertia is the extreme difficulty to change an existing well-known theory. A new theory can only have a chance of acceptance only if new facts are presented that can solely be explained by the new theory and not the old one. An example of this would be the discovery of the double helix and the chemical structure of necleotides. It is very difficult to postulate a new theory if it has to not only fullfill supporting an old previous theory, but also provide new insight into some other new scientific progressions.

Mental Inertial that prevents the updating of old paradigms[edit]

Mental inertia can occur when the new tools are not applied to the questions that scientists considered as already answered earlier.

Mental Inertia of an experimental approach from other scientific field[edit]

In opposite of mental inertia caused by outdated techniques, mental inertial can also be caused by very advanced techniques that are borrowed from other fields of study due to the unfamiliarity to the techniques.

Mental inertia of the “hot topic”[edit]

It is often very hard to distinguish whether a research is hot or important. As many scientists aim to work on solving vital problems, more scientists pay attention to the “hot topics”. Similarly, scientific journals are unlikely to report a first stage research in that it does not have much potential of bringing citations. Many important scientific discoveries are thus ignored for a long time because they are not in the realm of the “hot topics”.One classic example of this mental inertia is that, Gregor Mendel’s experiment on the inheritance of traits in pea plants was not very well-received when he first reported in 1865. However, his experiment on the astronomy which didn’t really influence the future science, became a very “hot topic” right after he first reported it. The desire to explore new avenues of bioligcal theories and experiments are superseeded by the need to obtain grants and funding for research. Today's scientists are in the same position as artists in the resenasance commissioned by a patron to provide a painting. A scientist can only conduct research if there exists somebody who with resources who coincidently wishes to have the research conducted. As the people who award grants and funding to scientists will never be able to fully understand the concepts as well as the scientist researching them, there is an innate inability for the people providing the resources for the funding to understand the importance of the research.

Mental inertia due to a habitual use of theory and/ or classification[edit]

It is often hard for the scientists to switch form their accustomed theories to an alternative theory. When the observations can be explained by a famous theory with some inconsistencies, it is the tendency of the scientists to try to solve the inconsistencies rather that coming up with an alternative. Mental inertia of equating a task with the traditional method Mental inertia can result from substitution of what we intend to do and how we can accomplish our goal.

Mental inertia of cultural context[edit]

There is not any scientific experiment that is performed in a cultural vacuum. Every experiment is influenced by cultural, ethical, and esthetic opionions of the surrounding environment. The cultures that dominate the society today often limit the freedom of scientific quest, such as the current practice of political correctness. This block on new scientific exploration that manifests is very similar to cultural taboos of the past. This type of mental inertia is the most likely to be extinquished first as the global environment becomes more and more inundated with intellectual and academic freeedom.

Now we know what causes this symptom so we can find a way to overcome it. Here is just an example of how to overcome it. There are several ways to handle it. By mentally, try to see the result of our action and capture it. Then we will start moving to physically and let our brains follow the suit. We just try to start very slow to see the actual result from the small step. The most important thing is just believe in ourselves that we can do everything. It is very easy to break and control once we know how to overcome it.



  1. Shneider, A. (2009) Mental inertia in the biological sciences. Science and Society 126-128