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I have some confusion interpreting the meaning of this text completion:

Because there are few things that (i)____________a scientist more than being told that something is (ii)________________, so called pundits should be more cautious in their pronouncements: the Wright Brothers took the sky at the very time when it was fashionable among experts to ridicule the likelihood of human flight-it was the experts who ended up looking foolish.

(i): startle, galvanize, discourage

(ii): impossible, mysterious, serendipitous

I'm able to somehow understand what goes in the second blank, which is "impossible" but can't understand the sentence structure "Because there are few things that__________a scientist more than being told that something is.."

The answer is galvanize, but why is it so? Why can't it be discourage? It could be said since they have only few things to be discouraged than pundits saying something is impossible, they weren't discouraged that much and took to the sky..

Can you explain what's wrong in my interpretation of the sentence structure?

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    Because scientists are often a contrary breed who like a good challenge. "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong." -Arthur C. Clarke Jul 17, 2017 at 19:30
  • I agree but can you elaborate on why it is galvanize and not discourage within the context?
    – Jake
    Jul 17, 2017 at 19:34
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    You are reading it wrong. The test is checking to see if you know the difference between "a few", and "few", without the article. "Few things" means "almost nothing". ie "There is almost nothing like being told something is impossible that will galvanize a scientist..." Jul 17, 2017 at 19:48
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    galvanize doesn't only mean to cover in tin, if this helps. Jul 17, 2017 at 19:52
  • "Why can't it be "discourage"? Of all the options given, only "galvanize" and "serendipitous" are the words one may meet on most of the lists recommended for the GRE test preparation. To pass that, you have to know the different meanings as @marcellothearcane noted.
    – Victor B.
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:54

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If the text were only "There are few things that ------- a scientist more than being told that something is ---------," then either "discourage" or "galvanize" would make sense. Some scientists would be discouraged, and others would be galvanized. But the rest of the text is about an instance of success in what was claimed to be impossible (heavier-than-air flight) and a suggestion that one should avoid claiming impossibility for fear of looking stupid. That part of the text is about people being galvanized, not discouraged, by the nay-sayers.

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it could be said since they have only few things to be discouraged than pundits saying something is impossible, they weren't discouraged that much and took to the sky..

I think you may be interpreting it backwards, somewhat.

Because there are few things that discourage a scientist more than being told that something is impossible, ...

To say that "few things discourage scientists more than X" is to say that most things discourage scientists less than X does. In other words, being told X is one of the most discouraging things a scientist can hear.

"Scientist" is a very broad term but in many fields, the ultimate goal is to expand the knowledge base, discover new things, improve old things, etc. Basically, scientists are at the frontiers of knowledge and are pushing the boundaries forward into the unknown. So a scientist who gets discouraged by being told (by a pundit) that something is impossible probably shouldn't be a scientist.

On the other hand, a scientist who gets galvanized by being told something is impossible is likely a very good scientist or at least a very eager one.

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