chapter 11 - the domain of life
- the domain that we now call biology, dealing with the forms and processes of life, is one of the fundamental ways humans have tried to make sense of the world in which they lived.
- the difference between present knowledge and the knowledge of our ancestors is greater in biology than in any domain except physics
- the life sciences now have become so diversified and specialized that we would need several dozen examples to show what the domain consists of.
a passion for order
- Wilson keeps true to his vocation, which is an unusual combination of rigorous fieldwork with inspired insights that bring together facts and principles everyone else thought were unrelated
- his current goal is to achieve the grand synthesis of the social and biological sciences that he initiated with the class work sociobiology.
a naturalist with steely ambition
- his personal development appears to have been as complex as the intellectual one. Wilson mentions several of these polarities - facility vs persistence, love of subject matter vs desire to control, selflessness vs ambition, solitude vs social acceptance, enjoyment vs pain - in these reflections about what is takes to be a successful scientist.
- as Wilson suggests, in order to make a viable creative contribution one must change both the symbolic system and the social system at the same time. it is not enough to come up with new ideas, new facts, new laws. one also must convince young people that they will be able to make a living and a name for themselves by adopting the new perspective.
hunting for patterns
- Wilson typically works on several projects at once, using different methods. this is again a common pattern among creative individuals; it keeps them from getting bored or stymied, and it produces unexpected cross-fertilization of ideas. there are at least four different appraoches that wilson commonly uses.
- the first is field work in exotic places, what acts as a sort of "nuclear fuel" by providing concrete experiences and data to be elaborated later.
- the second is attending lectures or meetings, where he absorbs from other experts the latest developments in the domains that interest him.
- the third is night-work, the serendipitous connection between ideas the unexpectedly arise upon waking up in the middle of the night.
- and finally there is a systematic work that takes place from morning to early afternoon, which also includes reading, writing, mathematical modeling, and drawing specimens.
- the crucial insights sometimes occur during the night-work, but more usually they are the result of the systematic work process itself and its combination with the other three approaches.
the life of cancer cells
- Klein's domain, like that of many other people we interviewed could scarcely be said to exist until quite recently. the elements of knowledge were there, but they were not put together in a coherent conceptual system.
a sunny pessimism
- in a way, it is surprising that Klein ended up choosing a career in medicine. as a child he had been horrified by saliva, vomit, or bodily functions in general. he remembers being both fascinated and frightened by doctors when six or seven years old.
- being a witness to one of the most tragic periods of european history left Klein a "sunshine-colored pessimist". an atheist with a positive outlook, he feels happyeven though he is sure that life has no meaning at all. his goal is not to save humanity from disease, or to build a scintifiv empire, or to be successful. he has identified flow as the moving force for his life.
the synergy or arrogance and modesty
- at first his hypothesis was regarded as a "most hair-raising extrapolation" from what was known about chromosomes to the much more minute works of the genes. Klein sees infinite vistas opening up in his domain. the more one knows about the complexity of the worl within the cell, the more wonderful it all seems. "as you go in, it's a jungle, " he says, a jungle full of perils and stark beauty.
the immense journey
- yet history provides ample evidence that even the benefacors of humanity are not immune to the entropy that bedevils ordinary lives
making visible the invisible
- a central theme in Salk's life was the effort to see, and to make other see, that which is hidden. at the most obvious level, this has involved bringing to light the viral process that caused polio. less directly, his later attempts to assemble men and women from very different domains at his center were also directed at making the invisible visible through conversation that would bring out new ideas that could not arise in the minds of the single individuals but might emerge as a result of the interaction
the human side of science
- Salk grew up as an overprotected son of a strong and domineering mother. she was an immigrant with little knowledge of english, but as is often the case with the mothers of creative persons she spent a tremendous amount of time with her children and expected a great deal from them
- as a child of ten, he wanted to become a lawyer so he could be elected to congress and make just laws. he was deterred from his plans in part by his mother's doubts about his ability to win qrguments, but even when later he decided on a medical career it was not with the intention of becoming a physician who cared for on patient at a time, but with the goal of bringing science into medicine, and so "to make it much more valuable to human beings"
patterns of meaning
- all three remember childhoods that were in some way troubling or even "dysfunctional". one never kenw his father, the others never mentioned theirs throughout the interview. all three however, remember very strong, demanding, or emotionally dependent mothers.
- each one felt early on the support of the beliefs and values of a cherished tradition, whether of the american south or of judaism.
- none of them were particularly brilliant students; in fact, school left positive memories with none of them
- in fact, while all three started their career as specialists, in narrow fields, now that they are past sixty they all see themselves primarily synthesizers. their main goal is to connect their specialized knowledge with other domains, or indeed with the evolutionary process itself.
- over and over they mention the strong responsibility they feel toward other people and the living world in general
- perhaps, it is this combination of empathy with the living world and a predilection for risk and adventure that leads to a creative involvement with the life sciences