Lab Muppet Theory

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.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?" "I think so, Brain, but isn't Nietzsche a type of cheese?"

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.


  1. I think I am a hybrid of Kirk and Beaker!

  2. Fozzie Bear? Let’s do some chemistry, wocka-wocka!

  3. Statler and Waldorf

  4. I’ll subscribe to the Berzelius school of thought.

  5. …but to stay within the parameters of the question…
    Inside my own head, I’m The Brain and Spock. }Ooo, Spock’s Brain, one of the high points of TOS, who wouldn’t want a remote control Vulcan!}
    To everyone in the outside world, I’m Pinky and the red-shirt crewman on a seemingly innocent away mission.
    And Berzelius would be proud of my lab (and office).

  6. We have an ongoing argument in my household over which of us is Pinky and which is the Brain.

    After years of careful analysis and perhaps too many arguments about cartoons to be considered normal adults, I’m going to conclude that both my husband and I are switches.

    Today I’m having a brain, spock, beaker day but this weekend I was much more Pinky, Beaker (I don’t think I can pull of Kirk as much as I may want too).

    Thankfully my experience has been that when you are working closely with another person (personal or business) each party naturally fills the missing role. if I get a little to much like a manic rabbit then those around my tend to stay on task and be worry more about not breaking things, likewise when i’m serious the external atmosphere seems to always make up for my decefit of fun.

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