a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Expect the unexpected


The Daedalus Factor
Baruch Blumberg Physician
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I've always been interested in myths, you know, you'll learn a lot from myths, you learn a lot from, you know, many sources, because a myth is another way of explaining nature. It's not consistent with the testable model that we use in science, but certainly, it's very colorful, and very dramatic, and, you know, it tells you the whole story in very complicated ways, new ones, too. So, I got interested in...in Daedalus. Now Daedalus was a mythic figure, and he… he was, he did a lot of things; he was, he invented forms of sculpture — the lost wax method was attributed to him. He was a kind of engineer. He was a… he was a sort of problem-solver. And… and to my mind, he was a kind of model of contemporary technology and engineering science.

So the story is a rather long-winded one, but an interesting one. He was from Athens, but he got into trouble there because he defenestrated his nephew, threw him out a window, and he was accused of murder. It was a kind of complicated case; he said there had been incest involved. Typical kind of Greek myth. So he flees to Crete and he is, goes to work in the court of King Minos and his wife, Queen Pasiphae. So the king had a kind of problem, you know, so he turned to… to Daedalus, the big time problem-solver. And the problem was that his… that the guards had presented them with this white ox, and which they, in time, expected to have sacrificed to the gods. And, but she, his wife developed a hopeless love for the… for this bull, and so they appealed to Daedalus how to deal with this issue. So he constructed a model, a life size hollow, upholstered cow. And she gets into the cow and is put into a field; she's impregnated by the bull, and it satisfies her ardor. But there's another problem, because the offspring was the Minotaur, you know, this terrible half-beast, half-man. And it was going around causing, you know, killing people, causing destruction. So they call on… they call on Daedalus again to solve the problem. So he builds a labyrinth and — it's actually a sort of maze, you know, there’s a difference between a labyrinth and a maze; a labyrinth, if you… if you kind of  follow it you eventually get to the centre, in a maze, there are blind alleys. So he actually built, I guess, a maze. And they put the… they put the Minotaur in it, and he's saved, I mean, the country. Now the problem arises, because the Cretans had had a war with the Athenians; they won them, and every year they had to send a tribute of young men and women, who are sacrificed to the Minotaur; they were put into the labyrinth, you know, to die there. So naturally, Daedalus - he was an Athenian himself - so he was very upset by that, and the… the Athenians sent a kind of undercover agent to kill the… kill the Minotaur, and that was Theseus, a born killer, if you ever want to see one. So he allies with the daughter of Midas and Pasiphae, who was Ariadne, and she falls for him, and she promises to help him with the Minotaur if he would take her away with him after that happens. And she was already married to somebody else. And... mind you, she's the half-sister of the Minotaur, right? Okay, so she gets this magic spool from Daedalus, and he... there's a little door and they can get inside, and they go and kill the… and kill the Minotaur, and they escape using this golden thread — a theme that comes up in the Daedalus myth quite often. And they flee, and they go to Naxos, where Theseus, not unexpectedly, abandons Ariadne, hence the opera, you know.

Okay, the story goes, I mean, that's not the end of the story, but I’m not going to spend… so there's… there's a constant theme, you know; you solve a problem and you create another one. Well, the next part, what happens is that Daedalus gets imprisoned in the maze with his son Icarus, the ill-fated Icarus, and so, okay, he solves that. He develops a vertical solution to the problem. He develops a theory of aerodynamics, invents wings, and makes them; cautions his son not to fly too low to the ground where the aerodynamics will be poor — too much moisture — or go too high and get it melted. The son, in his exuberance, flies too high, the wings fall off and he falls into the Ionian Sea, named after him — Icarian Sea, the Icarian Sea. And, but Daedalus escapes and he ends up in Naples, near Naples, in Cumea, or, he eventually ended up in Sicily. And it goes on. There are other parts of the story.

All right, so there's this notion that there are no perfect solutions. Every time you solve a problem, you cause another one. The other thing is you can never know everything, because every time you know something, you know more about what you don't know. You keep creating problems. And that's what science is good at. The big thing that drives science is not the answers to the questions, but generating the questions, because if you answer all the questions, there's no place to go. But fortunately, you always... you always generate more questions than… than answers. You know, everybody writes a paper, and they said, well there's more questions than answers — that's how you can tell you're doing a good job! It's not that that's surprising; that's what you expect. So that was a, we refer to that as the Daedalus, the Daedalus factor, or something like that.

American research physician Baruch Blumberg (1925-2011) was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 along with D Carleton Gajdusek for their work on the origins and spread of infectious viral diseases that led to the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. Blumberg’s work covered many areas including clinical research, epidemiology, virology, genetics and anthropology.

Listeners: Rebecca Blanchard

Dr Rebecca Blanchard is Director of Clinical Pharmacology at Merck & Co., Inc. in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. Her education includes a BSc in Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. While at Utah, she studied in the laboratories of Dr Raymond Galinsky and Dr Michael Franklin with an emphasis on drug metabolism pathways. After receiving her PhD, Dr Blanchard completed postdoctoral studies with Dr Richard Weinshilboum at the Mayo Clinic with a focus on human pharmacogenetics. While at Mayo, she cloned the human sulfotransferase gene SULT1A1 and identified and functionally characterized common genetic polymorphisms in the SULT1A1 gene. From 1998 to 2004 Dr Blanchard was an Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. In 2005 she joined the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Merck & Co., Inc. where her work today continues in the early and late development of several novel drugs. At Merck, she has contributed as Clinical Pharmacology Representative on CGRP, Renin, Losartan, Lurasidone and TRPV1 programs and serves as chair of the TRPV1 development team. Dr Blanchard is also Co-chair of the Neurology Pharmacogenomics Working Group at Merck. Nationally, she has served the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics on the Strategic Task Force and the Board of Directors. Dr Blanchard has also served on NIH study sections, and several Foundation Scientific Advisory Boards.

Tags: Athens, Crete, Daedalus, King Minos, Queen Pasiphae, Minotaur, Theseus, Ariadne, Icarus

Duration: 7 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2007

Date story went live: 28 September 2009