Unnatural Obsessions

A farewell post.

Natalie Angier -a nonfiction writer and a science journalist for the New York Times– wrote a 1988 book published with the title “Natural Obsession”, chronicling the one year-period spent by the author in two of the most prominent laboratories involved at that time in the rat-race research which was aimed at discovering the first cancer-causing and/or cancer suppressing gene (these labs were those of Robert A. Weinberg at MIT and of Michael Wigler at CSHL). In particular, the title of the book refers to the words of a third famous scientist –David Baltimore– who admitted during an interview to Angier that perhaps the most important characteristic a scientist should be endowed with is the natural obsession he carries towards his research subject. Well, although I appreciate the intrinsic truth of this –still- I never became really convinced of its necessity. Doing research requires an incredible amount of energy and time, it’s a full-time job, an all-accomplished (hopefully) lifelong experience (we need lifelong dedication to penetrate a subject from all the needed point of view). But I feel that whenever it becomes obsessive it immediately looses its beautiful essence. It becomes an excuse, a pretext – it looses its virginity. I fear this is particularly true in our business-driven world, where scientific discoveries often pave the way to economical investments. So –in my present opinion- scientific obsession is rather un-natural and obliterates the genuine intuition that brings to knowledge.


Thinking that a different science is possible and that this kind of science is deeply and harmoniously connected to a rich and interesting life, I would like to wish to Mario –leading editor of educeX- and Stefania –his wife and a researcher herself- my best wishes and an extraordinary big “Good Luck” for their imminent post-docs. My friends, this is gonna be another incredible adventure: Don’t forget that –in spite of all- the most important thing is having fun! Better than mine, the words of Joseph E. Murray describes the beauty of a life in science:

“My only wish would be to have ten more lives to live on this planet. If that were possible, I’d spend one lifetime each in embryology, genetics, physics, astronomy and geology. The other lifetimes would be as a pianist, backwoodsman, tennis player, or writer for the National Geographic. If anyone has bothered to read this far, you would note that I still have one future lifetime unaccounted for. That is because I’d like to keep open the option for another lifetime as a surgeon-scientist.” [Excerpt from JEM autobiographical sketch for the Nobel Prize website – link: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1990/murray.html%5D


One Response to Unnatural Obsessions

  1. Thank you Davide for the dedicated post about my future challenges and about life in science. A scientist not only works as a scientist but lives science. The obsession for the natural questions may often hide the extreme complexity of a life as human being, a life that does not only follow the objective natural law but rather an heterogeneous world governed by emotions and instinct (two things completely irrational). Science fulfills rather the curiosity of human being, a fundamental need for smart beings. The limitless curiosity (or natural obsession) to natural questions is what drive scientist in looking for answers. Curiosity is what drives every human being in discovering the world he/she is living in. Curiosity is what allows human being to describe the reality of this world.

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