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CREATIVITY IN SCIENCE LORD ADRIAN* New ideas in science are induced by new discoveries, and at the present time it seems to me that the most potent factor in promoting new discoveries has been the introduction ofsome new technique, some new tool which can be used for exploring natural phenomena. There are endless examples of modern technical progress leading very soon to advances in understanding. Think what has been found out by the various applications of electronic techniques, by X-ray analysis, or by chromatography—one could prolong the list indefinitely. In earlier centuries this kind of technical advance was much slower. Telescopes, vacuum pumps, and rubber tubing did a great deal to help research , but the natural world had so much unexplored territory that there was less need ofimproved apparatus for opening up fresh regions. Nowadays so many scientists have been at it for so long that most natural phenomena , at all events those ofthe inanimate world, have been pretty fully scrutinized, and the young scientist faces them with his mind already stocked with facts and theories, with copious reference libraries and all the examples ofpast discovery to urge him on. Ifhe follows the beaten track with the old equipment, he cannot expect to do much unless he is clever enough to see what the others have missed, but he can certainly expect much more if someone provides a better instrument or a new way of analysis which will give greater detail. I may be overemphasizing the importance ofthe tools forpromoting the new advances, because I date from the period when there were far fewer scientists about and most oftheir apparatus belonged to the age ofstring and sealing wax. Yet no one who began before the first war can visit a well equipped modern laboratory without realizing what great progress has * The Master's Lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge, England. This paper was presented at the Third World Congress ofPsychiatry in Montreal, June 7, 1961. 269 been made in the technical aids to scientific creativity, how much time and labor on inessentials are saved by all the new research equipment, by the plastics, the computing machines, the infra-red spectroscopes, and what not. Those of my generation may like to console ourselves by thinking that themodernscientisthaslesspractice indevisinghis ownnew methods, but we have all learned how to be specialists and to rely on the other specialists who have provided our equipment. I think we can reasonably expect that we have not come to the end ofthis phase oftechnical progress and that it will remain a major factor in leading to new discoveries. The discoveries which come in this way will usually be made in the course ofa research with a definite plan based on the theory or theories which we accept as reasonable. Ifthe new results give fresh evidence for one or another ofthese theories, we shall at least know how to go on. But sooner or later we can hope for the results which are unexpected and puzzling because they do not seem to fit into any ofthe pictures we have made. These are the discoveries which will create the new outlook and make the decisive advances in science. It is then, ofcourse, that we want the scientist without too much respect for authority; the physicist who is prepared to give up matter or space or energy; or the biologist who can give uphis loyalty to someone who was a leader fifty years ago. But all I want to emphasize now is the importance of technical development for providing the new facts, the discoveries which make it necessary to doubt what used to be axioms. We can expect that such discoveries will not be confined to the inanimate world. Electronic techniqueshave not only made itpossible to photograph the back ofthe moon, they have given us the electron microscope to explore the virus and the mitochondria; but it must be admitted that most ofthe new methods which have led to recent advances have been devised by physicists and chemists and have been ofuse mainly for research into the fundamental properties ofmatter. Living systems are made ofthe same matter, and technicalprogresshas led to greatadvances in the biochemistry and biophysics ofthe cell, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 269-274
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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