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DYNAMIC REVELATIONS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH HOWARD GEST* Many years ago I began to collect accounts of scientific discoveries and insights that seemed odd in that they were not made at the laboratory bench or the desk, but instead were revelations that occurred suddenly while an investigator was "in motion" in one way or another. I thought I might someday use these accounts as the basis for a humorous article about the sources of creativity in scientific research. But as my file grew and I reflected on the testimonies of numerous researchers, I gradually became persuaded that I might have stumbled on an unappreciated , and still nebulous, phenomenon conducive to sudden extraction of an important scientific principle or pattern from a jumbled collection of facts. In this connection I exclude serendipity, that is, unexpected discoveries made by accident, such as Röntgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895. Serendipity has lately become a popular subject, and a recent book by Royston Roberts [1] that details numerous serendipitous discoveries is particularly interesting. Roberts has coined the term pseudoserendipity to describe accidental discoveries of sought-after solutions, in contrast to true serendipity , which describes accidental discoveries of things not sought. He gives several examples of pseudoserendipity, and it is a useful term. Sudden revelations "while in motion" is a different kettle of fish. By "in motion" I mean while moving, or just after moving, parts of the body as in walking, running, jumping, or skiing; or while being, orjust after being, transported on or in some sort of vehicle. Selected accounts follow ; attention psychologists and neurobiologists! Charles Darwin and His Theory ofEvolution Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest *Photosynthetic Bacteria Group, Biology Department and Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405.© 1993 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/93/3701-0846$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 37, 1 ¦ Autumn 1993 91 sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out and still possess. But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance . . . This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders, and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me . . . The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature. [2] Charles Lyell, Pioneering Geologist The eminent geologist Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was a close personal friend of Charles Darwin and was instrumental in convincing him to publish an "extract" of his manuscript on The Origin ofSpecies in 1858. The full text was published in 1859, and Darwin considered it the chief work of his life. In his autobiographical memoir [2], Darwin noted the odd gymnastic movements of Lyell when he was deep in thought: I saw more of Lyell than of any other man before and after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgement and a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. . . . On my return from the voyage of the Beagle, I explained to him my views on coral reefs, which differed from his, and I was greatly surprised and encouraged by the vivid interest which he showed. On such occasions, while absorbed in thought, he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 91-103
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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