Crowdsourcing: Looking for eloquent statements of 'what it means to be a theorist'

Submitted by drupaladmin on 9 November 2011.

Loyal Oikos blog reader and theoretical ecologist Robin Snyder emailed me with a question, which I'm hoping other readers can answer:

"I'm talking to some undergraduates soon about how I got where I am, what it means to do science, etc. and need to give them something to read.  I'd love to give them a nice essay on what it really means to be a theorist --- something about playfulness and "all models are wrong, some models are useful," beauty, etc.  I'll probably give them Borges' Parable of the Map.  I might give them Stoppard's Arcadia, act 1, scene 4, but I'd rather something that gets at the matter a little more directly, if it's well written.  Do you have any favorites?  Undergrads seem to think that we all follow the scientific method and sit around trying to disprove hypotheses that were motivated by observations.  Nice, but such a narrow slice of what we do."

I suggested Richard Levins' classic 1966 article, The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology, especially the final paragraph.

Anyone else have any other suggestions?

Just for fun