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How do I deal with a saturated memory?


Reading rots the mind
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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Francis had... one day came and put in the office a rather large text which said Reading Rots The Mind. I think he saw it somewhere and had it enlarged, copied and enlarged and pinned it up there. I don't know what it was intended for, but I think it must have been the... very similar to many of the people's quoting to us of Rutherford's famous remark that there are two kinds of science, there is stamp collecting, there is... there are some kinds... there is real science, and that's physics, and everything else is stamp collecting. To which I once replied, well it turns out there are some stamps worth collecting. It's true most of them aren't interesting. However, this may have been related to this because biology was a subject in which you had to read extensively and, in... in my opinion. That is, there was... everything is specific. Animals differ from each other, they differ from plants, their bacteria, the whole diversity of life and the diversity of investigation into this is enormous. And of course I just felt you just had to know a lot, you had to know a lot and especially I think if you were going to do experimental work you had to know a lot about the living world, because I've always felt that somewhere there is the ideal organism to do the work, and if only we... we could find it we could cut years out of this. I think Francis... himself read a lot. I don't know why he put this up, but he didn't want to... he wanted I think to say that science is not a scholarly enterprise, which of course embedded, as we were in an ancient university where there were still people writing books on cells by... which were just compendia... Francis I think wanted to emphasise that you had to think as well. And that was fine. In other words, reading was not enough. I agreed with him. Reading's not enough. But sometimes thinking isn't enough eith... as well, because in the end it's doing what counts and so doing is what... what was our business. I never took it seriously. I mean, I didn't become a secret reader because of this. I just read all the time. If there was anything on a piece of paper I read it. And of course I spent a lot of time reading this, and it's the one thing I do like, is it's... it's something I... I always do and I still do it. I like to go to libraries and browse. I spend a lot of time doing this. At the Scripps I spend two hours every day just going to the library and looking at the journals, just seeing what's there, reading a bit of this or, if I pick up something in Bone and Joint Surgery, I like to see what... what are these people doing. So I spend a lot of time browsing, a lot of time... and a lot of time reading.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Tags: Reading Rots The Mind

Duration: 4 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010