Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What mad pursuit, Crick, 1988

What mad pursuit— A personal veiw of scientific discovery
Francis Crick, 1988
Oscar Wilde
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

My other major debt is to my family not only did they encourage me to become a scientist but they helped me financially . my parents made considerable sacrifices to enable me to go away to boarding school , especially during the depression . my uncle Arthur crick and his wife not only assisted me financially while i was a graduate student at university college but also gave me the money to buy our first house . my aunt Ethel , in addition to teaching me to read helped financially when i first went to Cambridge after the war , as did my mother . they both helped also with the education of my son Michael . while i had very little money when i was young , was secure in the knowledge that , thanks to my relatives , i would have enough to live on.
the main perpose of the book: the discovery of DNA double helix in 1953-1966.
the most important theme of the book is natural selection.
Francois Jacob
Evolution is a tinkerer
The basic laws of physics can usually be expressed in exact mathematical form. The “laws” of biology are often only broad generalizations.
Elegance and deep simplicity are useful guides in physics, but may be very misleading in biology, which receive much more guidance from the experimental evidence.
My first degree was in physics. I took some time to adjust to the rather different way of thinking necessary in biology. It was almost as if one had to be born again.. It is well worth the effort.
1947, at age 31, I went to Cambridge after WWII.
I am concerned more with ideas than with people.

1 Prologue: My Early years

I have no doubt that this loss of faith (12 years old) in Christian religion and my growing attachment to science have played a dominant part in my scientific career. I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious untenable. such as true age of the earth and the fossil record.

2 The Gossip Test

During war I worked on the design of mines. After the war I was at a loss as to what to do. Although I was offered a permanent job, I was reasonably sure that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life designing weapons. But what did I want to do? I took stock of my qualifications. … I was sure in my mind that I wanted to do fundamental research rather than going into applied research, even though my Admiralty experience would have fit me for developmental work.
I ask my close friend, Georg Kreisel, who said,
I’ve known a lot of people more stupid than you who’ve made a success of it.
Thus encouraged, my next problem was to decide what subject to choose. Since I essentially knew nothing, I had an almost completely free choice. I brooded over this problem for several months. …
I have several friends who were interested in science but knew less than me. One day I noticed that I was telling them, with some enthusiasm, about recent advances in antibiotics–penicillin and such. Only that evening did it occur to me that I myself really knew almost nothing about these topics, apart from what I had read in some periodicals. It came to me that I was not really telling them about science. I was gossiping about it.
This insight was a revelation to me. I had discovered the gossip test– what you are really interested in is what you gossip about. Without hesitation, I applied it to my recent conversations. Quickly I narrowed down my interests to two main areas: the borderline between the living and nonliving, and the workings of the brain.
It should not be imagined that I knew nothing at all of either of my subjects. After the war I had spent a lot of my spare time in background reading. The Admiralty had generously allowed me to go once or twice a week to seminars and courses at University College during my working hours.
In spite of these reading, I must emphasize that I had only a very superficial knowledge of my chose subjects. I certainly had no deep insight into them…
At this point a crisis suddenly arose. I was offered a job. Not a mere studentship, but an actual job on neurobiology.
The decision was a hard one. Finally I told myself that my preference for the living-nonliving borderline had been soundly based, that I would have only one chance to embark on a new career, and that I should not be deflected by the accident of someone offering me a job…. attractive though it was, I must refuse this offer.
My next task was to find some way of entering my new subject. I went around to see Massey, under who I worked during war, to explain my position and to ask for his help… He looked surprised when I told him of my interest in biology, but he was very helpful and gave me two valuable introductions.
I visited 5 different lab and finally chose Strangeways laboratory, where they did tissue culture….
After a year I want to mellanby to report progress. .. I had spent much of my time in trying to educate myself…. now that I had a background in biology, I would like to work on protein structure.

3 The Baffling problem

For natural selection, the first point to grasp is that a complex creature or organ, such as the eye, did not arise in one evolutionary step. Rather it evolved through a series of small steps.
- random alteration in the gene
- selective pressure of the environment

14 Epilogue: My later years

In fact, some of scientist work so hard that there is no time left for serious thinking. they should heed the saying,
A busy life is a wasted life.
I decided that the move to Salk Institute was an ideal opportunity to become closely interested in the working of the brain….It took me several years to detach myself from my old interests, especially in molecular biology.
I found there was a new subject that called itself cognitive science. ( It’s joking that any subject that has science in its name is unlikely to be one). cognitive science was part of the rebellion against behaviorism. … may cognitive scientist tend to regard the brain as a black box, better left unopened. take no account of such things as nerve cells. … how do they hope to unscramble the way it operates by looking solely at its input and output, ignoring what goes on between? It is essential to study organisms at higher levels. The study of neurons by itself will never sole such problem.
If you want to understand function, study structure.
My own prejudices are exactly the opposite. I think one should approach these problems at all levels. In nature hybrid species are often sterile, but in science the reverse it often true. Hybrid subjects are often astonishingly fertile.
In studying a complicated system, one can’t see what the problems are, unless one studies the higher levels of the system. but the proof of any theory about higher level usually needs detailed data from lower levels if it is to be established beyond reasonable double.