Nobel Prize Credit?

They continue to maintain that Henry Erlich’s work in making PCR into what is probably one of the most useful–and widely used– biochemical tools, the genetic equivalent of a photocopying machine, has been under-credited. But Mullis emphatically disagrees: ‘Henry Erlich? He was just the lucky person in the lab down the corridor who got to use PCR to amplify stuff’ – Weinberg, p157

I found this argument between Erlich and Mullis very interesting, mostly because I do not see how Erlich in any way would share in the Nobel Prize. Also, it seems to be a unique case to begin with because not many industry scientists receive Nobel Prizes. But regardless, I agree with Mullis solely getting the recognition. It is true that his company gave him the platform on which he needed to fully implement his idea, the “slow hunch” (Steven Johnson) was entirely his. In order for Mullis to find his eureka moment in that car that day, he needed to have a problem to solve and mull over in his head (which he did). Erlich’s contribution was patented fairly, as it was used directly to make money for his company.

Erlich developed PCR technology and made it practical, but he had no say or contribution to the actual theory or idea of what PCR was and how it worked. In Steven Johnson’s terms, he simply built off the platform. It would be like the fish who built its home on a coral reef taking credit for the reef, or the animal that feeds and thrives on the habitation surrounding the reef ecosystem, taking credit for its food being there to begin with, effectively sharing the credit with the polyp skeletons. The only action that is attributed to this feeding animal is that of eating and thriving. This is similar to Erlich, he took a base and built and thrived upon it.

 

Nobel Prize Credit?

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Theoretical and Evolutional Networking Connections

Our physical, emotional and mentally evolving universe has many known limitations in fields of chemistry, biology, biotechnology and innovative sciences overall. These limitations are nothing but mental barriers that are bound to be overcame using the basis of innovation that our great ancestors founded many years ago. Where Good Ideas Come From written by Steven Johnson makes clear and somewhat short the long and tedious step-by-step process in which innovation progressed. In this science related nonfiction piece, Steve Johnson, a formidable writer and historian, talks about the different variations of ways in which ideas come to be, how they are/were implemented, the best ways these ideas can come to surface and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of innovative thinking. This writing contains a wealth of information relative to what everything is today and how it came to be, thus making it relevant and interesting to audiences of all sorts. Continue reading “Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From”

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

“Landsteiner, a shy man in his early thirties and an assistant professor of Pathology at the University of Vienna, had been drawn from medical practice and back into research out of frustration at the shortcomings of medicines in dealing with many illnesses” -Weinberg 51

Pathology- the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes (Google). Landsteiner is the man who discovered that humans have different blood types, and so for blood transfusions to be successful, their types must match.

I think Landsteiner is an example of Johnson’s slow hunch. At first look, it might look like Landsteiner just deciding to look at how blood differs and discovering blood types as serendipity, or just a happy chance or eureka moment. But at second look, Landsteiner needed his years of study and failures in the medicinal field to give him not only the idea or inspiration to look at a different problem, but also the materials and methods necessary. In other words, he trained and worked in the medicinal field and so was able to decide that that was what he didn’t want to do, and looked at a different problem/perspective with the same eyes and skills that he had used for years.

Landsteiner started out in the field of pathology, he experimented with body tissue to learn about preventing disease. But because what he was doing was not working (Johnson’s failure), he approached his problem (reversing disease) from a different perspective and found something even better- he learned another way to prevent disease.

Landsteiner’s Slow Hunch

The Slow Hunch and the DNA answer

” ‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure’, Watson wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality’. It was a true Eureka moment” (Weinberg 38-39).

I think that this quote, about Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, illustrates Steven Johnson’s point about slow hunches being the basis of all good ideas. There actually aren’t generally such things as “eureka” moments. True, it seemed as if Watson just miraculously stumbled upon the answer to DNA’s structure, but in reality his process was different. For one, he collaborated the whole time with Crick, and so his ideas were inevitably influenced by and checked by someone else.

For another thing, Watson and Crick were basically at a stumped point in their research when they went and saw Rosalin Franklin’s work of X-ray photographs of DNA. Weinberg even says that with “more earnest manipulation of their models” (Weinberg 38), they started working harder to find the solution. This basically means that competition was a driving point to them making their discovery.

Finally, the two scientists were trying the whole time to answer one question: what was the structure of DNA? They were searching for this specific answer. They had exhausted basically all other possibilities and answers when they made the discovery. From this, one could argue that they just naturally arrived at the answer from their slow hunch.

The Slow Hunch and the DNA answer

Ideas and Economics

In the conclusion of Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson ties together his book of good ideas with introduction of the quadrant system. He explains the fourth quadrant, and the inventions that have succeeded from this category. In his explanation, he goes back to his discussion of slow hunches…

“A slow hunch can’t readily find its way to another hunch that might complete it if there’s a tariff to be paid every time it tries to make a new serendipitous connection” (Johnson 232)

This made me wonder about the amount of good ideas that have fallen short because of patents and the economic endeavours of fellow scientists. I wondered if the fourth quadrant could start to wither in the future, for the exchange of fame.

Ideas and Economics

The Slow Hunch

These teachers understand that science is not a field that delivers quick answers, and through this project, they arm students with both the practical skills and the intellectual patience to quiet their minds and reject quick conclusions until all the evidence is in.  – Jessica Lahey, Relearning the Lost Skill of Patience

This article in The Atlantic reminded me of the slow hunch. The idea that there ins importance in slowing down and engaging in deep, critical thinking, which is very much needed to make those crucial connections. The beauty of this is that it is applicable to many fields not just science. Hopefully, students are making meaningful connections in this course too!

The Slow Hunch

What you learn in History

You can learn a great deal about the history of innovation by examining great ideas that changed the world. – Johnson page 72

As said in a previous post, we can learn a lot from the ideas that have risen before. We learn from the mistakes and the achievements others have made in the past. This way we can learn what works in our society and what does not. Most great ideas are those that have a large impact in the world. It is important that we take into account that in order for us to know this, we have to have access to the ideas that were brought up before. This could lead to something good or bad depending on how people take it. I believe however, that ideas are to be shared and discussed so we know if it something better left untouched. 201500008425

What you learn in History

You can’t fail until you quit

les brown
http://everydaypowerblog.com/2014/05/12/les-brown-quotes/

In Chapter three  of “Where do good ideas come from” by Steven Johnson the concept of the “slow hunch” is introduced. The slow hunch discusses setbacks that occur while forming ideas and how it takes a long time to achieve goals but eventually they will come to happen.I think that setbacks get you prepared for what is coming in the future. I wanted to encourage everyone especially my fellow college students to continue working hard. It may seem like a draining process, you can’t seem to find the right major that fits you, you are unsure of what study abroad program you want to attend, those are the many factors that effect us college students. The slow hunch will occur but there is greatness at the end. I am hear to say you can’t fail until you quit.

Keep working hard.

You can’t fail until you quit

A Closer Examination of Errors

“De Forest had stumbled across a classic slow hunch… In 1903, he began a series of failed experiments with placing two electrodes in gas-filled glass bulbs. He continued tinkering with the model…”-Johnson p132-133″

 

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Reading Johnson’s Error’s reminded of other experiments and inventions performed by scientists. One of these scientists that created a breakthrough invention was Thomas Edison. Edison invented the light bulb based on idea he had concerning electricity, currents, etc. Although Edison created the light based on science concerning electricity, he did not have an immediate answer to his question. Edison required long periods of experimental testing on a trial and error basis. With time Edison finally reached a solution to a problem he posed onto himself. When asked about his failed experiments concerning the invention of the light bulb, Edison states that he did not encounter failure but found critical data for his discovery. This statement I believe is something that the entire science community abides by because although an experiment did not follow through as planned the data is critical for knowing what went wrong. By keeping these data point in lab notebooks, databases, etc., scientists can formulate a new experiment to try answer their question in manner different than before.

A Closer Examination of Errors

Darwin’s Hypothesis

“Without noise, evolution would stagnate, an endless series of perfect copies, incapable of change. But because DNA is susceptible to error– whether mutations in the code itself or transcription mistakes during replication– natural selection has a constant source of new possibilities to test…Error is what made humans possible in the first place” -Johnson 142

Darwin’s theory about where these variations that produced the innovations of life came forms that when a particular organ or limb was heavily used in the lifetime of an animal, it released more “gemmules” that shaped the next generation of its species (Johnson 143). As was later proved by genetics, this theory was wrong.So, as Johnson also says, Darwin erred in trying to understand error (and its successes).

This leads to the idea of wondering why Darwin might have failed at understanding completely his discoveries. He seemed to have made the discovery of natural selection in the first place from the combination of his own observations and the adjacent possible. Did he need to “tap into” the adjacent possible once again to understand the whys behind evolution? Was he trying too hard to independently force another “eureka” moment upon himself? Or maybe he simply needed more time to contemplate any slow hunches about the reason behind his observation, constantly keeping them in the back of his mind while focusing on some other problem. Maybe, if he had “slept on the problem” like other scientists who studied single topics for years at a time, he might have come up with a solution.

But looking at Darwin’s hypothesis about the reason behind the selective traits, and comparing it to the quote above, one can say that the only possible way for Darwin to come up with an idea would have been to constantly try different ideas, revising them when they were in error. Darwin actually was acting like DNA when he subjected himself to an unanswered problem (stressed environment) and attempted to answer it.

Darwin’s Hypothesis

Errors

“The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.”-William James

I found this quote by William James very convincing, if one has the drive to never quit.  Growing up, I was raised to never give up at things I truly wanted and it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the many inventions discovered through trial and error.  As Johnson talks about, errors open new doors to the adjacent possible and I too feel they are necessary to find truths.

Errors

Slow Hunches

Johnson talked about the idea of slow hunches and how this was the rule. No one really has light bulb ideas like Sherlock Holmes who quickly puts together clues in less than a day. It takes time to process ideas and come to a realization about what makes the most sense. Even Darwin took almost a year to realize what all his research about evolution meant. This made me realize the importance of slowing down and really taking time to look over ideas instead of just posting or sharing your idea right away, which is what happens a lot now because of social media.

Slow Hunches

Sustaining the Slow Hunch

“Sustaining the slow hunch is less a matter of perspiration than of cultivation. You give the hunch enough nourishment to keep it growing, and plant it in fertile soil, where its roots can make new connections. And then you give it time to bloom.” – Johnson, p78

This quote stuck out to me because I liked the visual it provided of the slow hunch. Johnson talked a lot about the slow hunch and how great ideas usually take time to develop, but after reading this particular passage I was really able to visualize exactly what Johnson was talking about. I especially like the statement, “where its roots can make new connections,” since Johnson really tries to emphasize throughout this chapter that hunches will stay hunches if they do not connect with other peoples ideas. By picturing the slow hunch as a plant, I can see how the plant must be given time in order for its roots to grow and connect with other plants.

Sustaining the Slow Hunch

Slow Hunch app

I did a quick Google search of “slow hunch” and found that someone actually created a web app called SlowHunch inspired by the chapter Slow Hunch in Johnson’s book.

http://slowhunch.com/

“The goal is simple: Provide an open environment where ideas can connect and grow…Users can now log in, create hunches, add tags and post comments. This allows us to develop the site further. In other words, the site will unfold from itself.”

Basically, anyone can create an account on this website and write a ‘hunch’ that will be added to the growing pool of other hunches, and people can add to or comment on other’s hunches. The idea is that the site will just keep growing as more people’s ideas are connected together.

Slow Hunch app

Connections are better than separation

I thought it was interesting how the lack of connection between certain hunches proved to be a disastrous problem, if hunches about the 9/11 attack had be intertwined, maybe the attack could have been prevented. There are also many ideas contradicting to this. When certain hunches are connected and eventually work to get together to get to one implementation it could cause problems like who gets the credit for the one hunch. This result can bring us to other conclusions and ideas that hunches could be better off forming individually in order to avoid future problems between the innovators of these hunches.

Connections are better than separation

Slow Hunch

“… no attempt to collapse the evolution of his marvellous idea into a single epiphany. The Web came into being as an archetypal slow hunch” (Johnson 89)

I like how Tim Berners-Lee was able to have so many epiphanies that eventually led up to the creation of the Internet. He had the ultimate goal of the World Wide Web, but he followed the adjacent possible and was able to discover the steps leading up to the Internet (thus, several epiphanies known as the slow hunch.)

Slow Hunch

The Slow Hunch

After reading Chapter 3, “The Slow Hunch” in Where Good Ideas Came From I found many of the ideas presented by Johnson very insightful. I thought it was really interesting how everything discussed related back to using others’ ideas, networks, connections, and the adjacent possible. Essentially, everything builds on one another and while individuals can have hunches, those hunches aren’t relevant until they are combined with the thoughts of others. Johnson states,

“Most great ideas first take shape in the in a partial, incomplete form. They have the seeds of something profound, but they lack a key element that can turn the hunch into something truly powerful” (p75).

Johnson is suggesting that hunches while they can be good need to be nurtured by connections and thoughts of other people. The missing piece becomes complete when it is combined with a similar hunch that another individual has. In essence, complete ideas come about through the connections and networks made from a slow hunch instead of one lone idea trying to be proven. In the example of predicting the 9/11, that slow hunch was not complete because it was not built upon by other hunches or other individuals. Thus, this chapter is very important because it emphasizes the role of networks, connections, and the adjacent possible in making a hunch into a complete idea – everything is related and relevant to one another.

I also thought these ideas were really interesting because they related to the reason why we believe in evolution and natural selection. Darwin observed and made hunches, but until those ideas were coupled with other observations and predictions, they were not complete. In understanding evolution and even the scientific method, it is important to understand the role of hunches and ideas that were made to make theories and ideas real. As I learned in my Evolution course, Darwin kept a journal of everything he saw and observed while on his trip to the Galapagos. These ideas and hunches contributed to his theories once he made connections and networks between them.

The Slow Hunch

Intro: Paradox’s to Theories

In chapter 1, I thought it was interesting how Johnson includes many factors of how Darwin’s Paradox came to be, from reading this I can see the how the love Darwin had for the workings of nature and its inhabitants lead up to his most societal influential theory of Darwinism. This can relate to the commonplace book mentioned in chapter 3 because if darwin had not written all this ideas and theories on paper, it would have been likely that his own spectrum of idea would have been too large for his mind to fathom. Every little thing adds to a bigger theme, accounting for each of those little things lies of great importance in constructing the bigger picture.

Intro: Paradox’s to Theories