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THE ARTOF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY A. S. PARKES, C.B.E., Ph.D., D.Sc, ScD., F.R.SJ I. Prologue Some years ago, at a research institute in London, a group ofphilosophically minded members ofthe staffdecided to hold a series ofdiscussions on the aims ofscience. After a while they ran short ofthemes, and a colleague suggested that they should turn their attention to the question "Is it better to work or talk about it?" This remark stuck in my mind, because I have always felt that it is better to work than to talk. In particular, for me, the fascination ofscientific work has been enough, and I have been more than content to leave discussion ofthe philosophical and social background of science to others. Nevertheless, it is difficult to work year after year in an active laboratory without having some thoughts about the scientist, especially as to how he obtains his useful, interesting, or even embarrassing results. It is these thoughts, supplemented by some highly eclectic reading, that I set before you now. The Addison Lecture, ofcourse, has usually dealt with strictly technical matters, but I make no excuse for talking today on more general topics. The recognition ofthe syndrome ofadrenal cortical deficiency as a clinical entity—to mention only one of Addison's achievements—-was a classic discovery of its kind, based on meticulous observation and penetrating deduction. It is appropriate, therefore, that at least one Addison Lecture should be devoted to the subject ofscientific discovery. I need hardly say that I appreciate very much the invitation which has given me the opportunity to talk on this subject, and my pleasure is much increased by having as chairman Sir Henry Dale, who is the living—we are all happy to think the very much living—embodiment ofthe art of discovery and all that goes with it. * National Institute for Medical Research, London. This essay is based upon the Addison Lecture delivered by the author at Guy's Hospital, London,July n, 1957. 366 A. S. Parkes · Scientific Discovery Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1958 To start with, I must make two things clear. First, I have no formula for making discoveries, and I hope no one expects that I have. IfI had such a formula, I should have used it myselflong ago. The most anyone can do is to conduct a careful post mortem on how discoveries have been made in the past, in the hope that the results will assist prognosis in the future. Second, I must limit the scope ofmy subject. In taking the art of scientific discovery as my text, I am thinking mainly ofthose who extend the frontiers of knowledge rather than of those who fill in the details. But particularly I am thinking ofthe biologist, in the widest meaning ofthe word. The medicalman, for instance, is a biologist in the sense that he deals with material which is living—at least to start with. II. The-Biologist Compared with the Mathematician and Physicist The distinctions among the various branches of science are important ones. The solution of various problems requires the use of reasoning, knowledge, inspiration, and experience in very different degrees. The same is true ofdifferent branches ofresearch. In general, it may be said that the mathematical and physical sciences, on the one hand, and the biological sciences, on the other, call for very different qualities in their exponents. Thephysical sciences are more dependent on reasoning and calculation, the biological ones on knowledge and experience; and the inspiration required by both is correspondingly derived. This difference has some interesting results. It means that the physicist is likely to mature before the biologist, and this tendency is reinforced by the fact that inborn ability ofthe kind applicable to the physical sciences flowers earlier than that applicable to the biological sciences. Newton had firmly laid the foundations of his immortal work by the time he was twenty-four years old. Charles Darwin, by contrast, had some inkling ofthe theme ofthe Origin ofSpecies when he returned from the "Beagle" voyage at the age of twenty-seven, but he continued to collect material and develop his ideas for another twenty years before beginning to put them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 366-378
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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