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Getting into the philosophy of science


Joe Gillman's philosophy of science
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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From the other side, and the two things led together, as you will see, I became very interested in… in looking at cells under microscopes and what could you learn from this, and so I'd become very excited by the ability to do histochemistry – cytochemistry as it was called – and I thought somehow between the system that you grind up and the system that you can actually look at, you had to have some synthesis. Now of course, in those days, no one knew much about anything and so the questions that one always debated were: can you really find out about a living cell by taking it apart? And this is a great philosophical problem, and of course what one had come to realise, because of other things there, that Joe was a Marxist and so he believed in things…

[Q] This is Joe Gillman?

Joe Gillman. So he believed in things called dialectical synthesis, which I never understood… but anyway, is that you learn nothing from the mechanical disintegration of this. Later I understood where all these ideas came from by actually reading Lenin's book Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Now, you may say that how does one get to read all of this, and now I have to tell you that one of the great things we did is we did a third subject; we had to do, it was compulsory for everybody doing a BSc degree – that you had to do the history and philosophy of science... as a formal subject.

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: Marxism, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Joseph Gillman, Vladimir Lenin

Duration: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 24 January 2008