Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration


As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” What they don’t tell you is that it also makes Jack less likely to succeed at work. In the next fifteen examples, you will see the value of play–hobbies–in addition to work, specifically scientific exploration. In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson reports how hobbies have benefited the scientific community through many generations.


“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies” (Johnson, 172).

The innovative power that comes from balancing work and play–career and hobbies–has always been present in scientific exploration. This anthology will describe how that power is still at work today.

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Scientific Anthology: How Hobbies Affect Scientific Exploration

Human Exaptation of Genes

“Much of the rest is ‘junk’…[consisting] partly of now defunct genes–that once carried instructions that are no longer relevant. For instance, in humans, the stretch of DNA that told our bodies to grow thick long hair all over is no longer useful, but, instead of being deleted, remains alongside a DNA message that disables it.” (Weinberg, 114-115)

This entire process is exaptation. As we learned from Johnson, exaptation is taking something, here a gene, and defining its role. The example he gave was birds’ wings used for flight instead of warmth.

Similarly here, the gene that programs for thick hair all over out bodies is not deleted or modified. Instead it is given a partner to work with. The partner gene allows the original hair gene to still exist, while also giving the modern human body the normal image. A new purpose is given with the aid of a newly (well, relatively) developed partner gene.

Before this example, I didn’t fully understand how exaptation worked in humans, or how it was different than evolution. Now I understand that exaptation in humans works to address a very specific genetic code. The partner gene process was developed to help in the evolution of humans.

If the gene were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, we would not be humans or advanced primates. Similarly, if the wings of a bird were deleted instead of redefined in purpose, they would not be birds.

Human Exaptation of Genes