Quick: What do Pinky and The Brain, Kirk and Spock, Bunsen and Beaker…and your research group all have in common?
Give up? They all subscribe to “Muppet Theory,” a very recent label on a very old phenomenon. As Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick explains, Muppet Theory reprises the age-old struggle between archetypes: Order fighting Chaos, Kermit against Animal, maybe even mustard vs. ketchup.
Nietzsche formalized this philosophy in 1872 (thanks, NPR!) with his Apollonian (order-seeking) and Dionysian (chaos-loving) personae, stating that true high art comes from the successful fusion of both aspects in one venture. Well, scientists have argued these points for the last three centuries! Consider the following quotes from two chemistry legends:
“A tidy laboratory means a lazy chemist.” Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
“Fortune favors the prepared mind” – Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)
Right there, you have “Muppet Theory” in action. Lab Order Muppets (Brain, Spock, Bunsen) contribute careful data collection and deep analytical thinking, while the Lab Chaos Muppets (Pinky, Kirk, Beaker) stir the pot, following gut instincts and making wild assumptions. In my experience, Lab Order Muppets are department-builders, sturdy rocks in the storm that can manage conflicts. Lab Chaos Muppets have the devil’s luck, write roguish autobiographies, and often enjoy pop-culture “crossover” success.
So, which Lab Muppet type are you? I’ll disclose my “Muppet type” in the comments, but only after I hear from a few readers.
P.S. While researching this post, I came across this fantastic Agilent ad.