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Social interactions among scientists


The two areas of biology I chose to work in
Francis Crick Scientist
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The borderlines between the living and the non-living, what we would now call molecular biology, and the action of the brain, in particular what we call consciousness or awareness, because those, at the time, seemed deeply mysterious and didn’t look as if you could easily explain them. They seemed to be… and after some struggling, I decided I’d work on the… on the borderline between the living and the non-living, and essentially that’s been cleaned up, in principle. There’s an enormous amount of work in working out the details and so on, but in principle we now understand that. It’s no longer mysterious. But the other one, which I then took up when I came to California, how the brain works, on the other hand is still very mysterious. And for a long time I didn’t bother about the problem of consciousness. I just wanted to know what was known about the brain and about the… parts of psychology and so on, so I could really begin to see the problem from inside the subject rather than looking at it from outside. And in the last few years I’ve got the… the feeling now is the time we should come to grips with this problem, in the visual system anyway, of how we see things. And I’ve begun to notice that other people are now saying the same thing. I think they might have done anyway, but I expect that Christof Koch and I – he’s the man I’ve mainly worked with – have given them a little push in that direction because it really wasn’t respectable to talk about it before. It was thought to be either a problem which you had to leave to philosophers or one you couldn’t do experiments on and how we would define it and a lot of things which we think are irrelevant. So are… are really… are… what we’ve been hoping to introduce is a new approach to the problems. Of course, we’ll be very much happier if we had not only a new approach, but a solution. But so far, most of the ideas we’ve come up don’t look what I would call specially convincing. Maybe one of them is right; we don’t know yet. So, we have to keep going on working a little harder.

The late Francis Crick, one of Britain's most famous scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. He is best known for his discovery, jointly with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, of the double helix structure of DNA, though he also made important contributions in understanding the genetic code and was exploring the basis of consciousness in the years leading up to his death in 2004.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: California, Christof Koch

Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: 1993

Date story went live: 24 January 2008