Peter Medawar, fully Sir Peter Brian Medawar

Peter
Medawar, fully Sir Peter Brian Medawar
1915
1987

Brazilian-born British Biologist who worked on graft rejection, awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Author Quotes

A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who complies and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles and major discoveries.

I reckon that for all the use it has been to science about four-fifths of my time has been wasted, and I believe this to be the common lot of people who are not merely playing follow-my-leader in research.

It is high time that laymen abandoned the misleading belief that scientific enquiry is a cold dispassionate enterprise, bleached of imaginative qualities, and that a scientist is a man who turns the handle of discovery; for at every level of endeavor scientific research is a passionate undertaking and the Promotion of Natural Knowledge depends above all on a sortee into what can be imagined but is not yet known.

The alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.

The similarity between them is not the taxonomic key to some other, deeper, affinity, and our recognizing its existence marks the end, not the inauguration, of a train of thought.

When the end of the world is mentioned, the idea that leaps into our minds is always one of catastrophe.

All advances of scientific understanding, at every level, begin with a speculative adventure, an imaginative preconception of what might be true ? a preconception that always, and necessarily, goes a little way (sometimes a long way) beyond anything which we have logical or factual authority to believe in. It is the invention of a possible world, or of a tiny fraction of that world. The conjecture is then exposed to criticism to find out whether or not that imagined world is anything like the real one. Scientific reasoning is therefore at all levels an interaction between two episodes of thought ? a dialogue between two voices, the one imaginative and the other critical; a dialogue, as I have put it, between the possible and the actual, between proposal and disposal, conjecture and criticism, between what might be true and what is in fact the case.

If a person (a) is poorly, (b) receives treatment intended to make him better, and (c) gets better, then no power of reasoning known to medical science can convince him that it may not have been the treatment that restored his health.

It is not envy or malice, as so many people think, but utter despair that has persuaded many educational reformers to recommend the abolition of the English public schools.

The art of research ? the art of making difficult problems soluble by devising means of getting at them.

The USA is so enormous, and so numerous are its schools, colleges and religious seminaries, many devoted to special religious beliefs ranging from the unorthodox to the dotty, that we can hardly wonder at its yielding a more bounteous harvest of gob.

Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.

Among scientists are collectors, classifiers, and compulsive tidiers-up many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers some are artists and others artisans.

If the task of scientific methodology is to piece together an account of what scientists actually do, then the testimony of biologists should be heard with especially close attention. Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding.

It is the great glory as well as the great threat of science that everything which is in principle possible can be done if the intention to do it is sufficiently resolute.

The attempt to discover and promulgate the truth is nevertheless an obligation upon all scientists, one that must be persevered in no matter what the rebuffs?for otherwise what is the point in being a scientist?

There are no summits without abysses.

Biology is complex, messy and richly various, like real life; it travels faster nowadays than physics or chemistry (which is just as well, since it has so much farther to go), and it travels nearer to the ground. It should therefore give us a specially direct and immediate insight into science in the making.

If we abandon the idea of induction and draw a clear distinction between having an idea and testing it or trying it out ? it is as simple as that, though it can be put more grandly ? then the antitheses I have been discussing fade away.

It is written in an all but totally unintelligible style, and this is construed as prima-facie evidence of profundity. (At present this applies only to works of French authorship; in later Victorian and Edwardian times the same deference was thought due to Germans, with equally little reason.) It is because Teilhard has such wonderful deep thoughts that he's so difficult to follow --- really it's beyond my poor brain but doesn't that just show how profound and important it must be?

The ballast of factual information, so far from being just about to sink us, is growing daily less. The factual burden of a science varies inversely with its degree of maturity. As a science advances, particular facts are comprehended within, and therefore in a sense annihilated by, general statements of steadily increasing explanatory power and compass ? whereupon the facts need no longer be known explicitly, that is, spelled out and kept in mind. In all sciences we are being progressively relieved of the burden of singular instances, the tyranny of the particular. We need no longer record the fall of every apple.

There is much else in the literary idiom of nature-philosophy: nothing-buttery, for example, always part of the minor symptomatology of the bogus.

But Watson had one towering advantage over all of them: in addition to being extremely clever he had something important to be clever about. This is an advantage which scientists enjoy over most other people engaged in intellectual pursuits, and they enjoy it at all levels of capability. To be a first-rate scientist it is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) to be extremely clever, anyhow in a pyrotechnic sense. One of the great social revolutions brought about by scientific research has been the democratization of learning. Anyone who combines strong common sense with an ordinary degree of imaginativeness can become a creative scientist, and a happy one besides, in so far as happiness depends upon being able to develop to the limit of one's abilities.

Imagination is the energizing force of science as well as of poetry, but in science imagination and a critical evaluation of its products are integrally combined.

It just so happens that during the 1950s, the first great age of molecular biology, the English schools of Oxford and particularly Cambridge produced more than a score of graduates of quite outstanding ability ? much more brilliant, inventive, articulate and dialectically skilful than most young scientists; right up in the Watson class. But Watson had one towering advantage over all of them: in addition to being extremely clever he had something important to be clever about. This is an advantage which scientists enjoy over most other people engaged in intellectual pursuits, and they enjoy it at all levels of capability. To be a first-rate scientist it is not necessary (and certainly not sufficient) to be extremely clever, anyhow in a pyrotechnic sense. One of the great social revolutions brought about by scientific research has been the democratization of learning. Anyone who combines strong common sense with an ordinary degree of imaginativeness can become a creative scientist, and a happy one besides, in so far as happiness depends upon being able to develop to the limit of one?s abilities.

Author Picture
First Name
Peter
Last Name
Medawar, fully Sir Peter Brian Medawar
Birth Date
1915
Death Date
1987
Bio

Brazilian-born British Biologist who worked on graft rejection, awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine