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.


'The function of Chicago was to prepare you for greatness'


Courses at Indiana and my thoughts on philosophy
James Watson Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I took courses the whole time I was there, but the first year was... yeah, I think my first time was Luria, Mower, a course in developmental biology or embryology, and advanced calculus, and then the second term, I think I took differential equations, advanced calculus two. I might have had a term of research, because I began to work in Luria's lab. I took ecology one, even though it was, you know, I liked the field trips. I didn't take Sonneborn's course, which was really protozoan genetics, I took my second year, and I probably took my chemistry in my second year.

But then they, you know, realized I had never learned anything at all about metabolism, so in my third year they made me try, and then they... in my third year, they thought I should learn some organic synthesis, so you know, I had some faith thing to try and be broad, but I think that was a good thing. I think students focus too much on their PhD thesis to the exclusion of staying interested in other things, but the theses are harder and more complicated now, and you can see why, you know, it was sort of taken for granted, you know, you'd get through. If you didn't get through in three and a half years, you'd get through it in four.

[Q] When did you pick Luria, was that in your first year?

I picked him at the end of the first term. Sonneborn had... it was running a sort of evening one, on Friday evenings, his students would go to his house and they'd talk science, and he asked me to come because I hadn't yet chosen what I did, and I continued to go to Sonneborn's things, I think, the whole time I was in Indiana. I found it... I liked him, I found it interesting.

The nice thing about Indiana was I never worried about whether I was any good, whereas in Chicago, that dominated me. One, because in the college, the people who are the best were those who could do philosophy, so the number one intellectual discipline in Chicago was... in the college, was philosophy. And I never could quite understand it, you know, what was the meaning of the words, so much was word meaning, and that was slightly arbitrary, who taught it to you so, you know, so it was hard to win. And everyone who would get to... you know, we had to determine philosophy. I never understood what I was reading. You know, they'd have you read Aquinas, but it... all these terms and then there would be these two students, one of whom ended up very well, and one badly. You know, the A students in philosophy... it was... loved this sort of truth through words. And afterwards I just thought this was crap, and it's not a real truth, and who is the famous, oh, head of the MRC, oh, Harold Himsworth. After he retired he wrote a little book on three types of truth: religious truth, philosophical truth and scientific truth. And I'd never seen them laid out in this way, to realize that all these people thought that philosophical truth was worth pursuing. And I just thought it's... it's not real, it's... it's a game, and who wins is arbitrary, depending on the whim of the instructor, you could be a B student or you could be an A student, merely because you didn't seem to catch on to one of their ideas.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Martin Raff Walter Gratzer

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Tags: Indiana University, Salvador Luria, Harold Himsworth

Duration: 5 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010