“What Mad Pursuit” by Francis Crick

What Mad Pursuit

An Extraordinary Journey

Dr. Crick shares with the readers his personal journey of scientific discovery. Starting with how he chose molecular biology as his pursuit, the “gossip test — what you are really interested in is what you gossip about”, leading up to the discovery of structure of DNA and the genetic code, and eventually the study of neurobiology when he passed 60, “at my time of life I had a right to do things for my own amusement”. Dr. Crick’s intelligence and great sense of humor shines throughout.

It’s a rare, insightful book that is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating, with many amusing anecdotes and characters. For example, at one point he had to extract enzymes from his own tears and even thought of testing his two-year-old daughter’s tears, but “was sternly forbidden to attempt it” by his wife. Mad pursuit indeed.

The Eureka Moment

“It is not easy to convey, unless one has experienced it, the dramatic feeling of sudden enlightenment that floods the mind when the right idea finally clicks into place. One immediately sees how many previously puzzling facts are neatly explained by the new hypothesis. One could kick oneself for not having the idea earlier, it now seems so obvious. Yet before, everything was in a fog.”

What Is A Good Theory?

“One should ask: What is the essence of the type of theory I have constructed, and how can that be tested? even if it requires some new experimental method to do so. … The job of theorists, especially in biology, is to suggest new experiments. A good theory makes not only predictions, but surprising predictions that turn out to be true.”

Experimental Evidence vs. Model Building

It is important not to place too much reliance on any single piece of experimental evidence, as it might turn out to be misleading. Exact and careful model building can embody constraints that the final answer has to satisfy, and sometimes lead to the correct structure, using only a minimum of the direct experimental evidence.

On Neuroscience

It is essential to understand our brains in some detail if we are to assess correctly our place in this vast and complicated universe we see all around us.

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