Difficult to add to both endorph's and leftaroundabout's excellent answers, but my tuppence worth.
Some people just have to understand what's actually going on, to be able to do it. So, as a scientist, you probably understand how your kidneys work, for example. If you do, does it actually have any effect on how and what to drink? Before you knew, was drinking a problem? (not talking alcohol here, merely other liquids!) You drive, but did you study how gearboxes worked before you could? Trying to make a point that it's not always necessary to have the theory to be able to do things.
Your suggestion of a teacher is a good one. No-one else will help you along the playing route as well - they have the experience and knowledge, and will come up with answers that wiki amd google may not have the propensity to answer in a way you understand.
Something I do with some students. Assuming you can make notes play and find your way round the flute, sometimes try to play some favourite tunes without reference to the dots. And, make up your own , simple initially,tunelets, maybe with only a handful of notes that sound good together. If you want, with even limited theory, they could then be written down. Many, many players play that way, and on that journey, you will pick up your own theory, if you feel you have to. Remember, it's theory, not law! As a scientist, you must be aware of the more than subtle difference!
From my point of view, I find that for most people, the playing needs to come first, then theory tends to explain why things are like they are. Some of the more theoretical guys I play with don't play with as much feel and inspiration as those with little or no theoretical knowledge. Bizarrely, it's as if they're trying to make their playing fit into the theory they know - as if scared to play music for its own sake.
And try not to be a perfectionist (yet!) as most of us seem to learn from our mistakes. Try to let your playing flow, with any errors, rather than stopping each time you play a wrong note. And sometimes, that wrong note will actually sound better than what you meant to play!
So, your last para. Yes, just learn to play, BUT don't just do it from the dots, use your ears, and a lot of the more useful theory will reveal itself on the way anyway.