Excerpt from Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers M.D., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Happy Accidents

Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs

by Morton Meyers M.D.

Happy Accidents
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 408 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2008, 408 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The heroes of the stories told in this book are not scientists who merely plodded rationally from point A to point B, but rather those who came upon X in the course of looking for Y, and saw its potential usefulness, in some cases to a field other than their own. Chance is but one element, perhaps the catalyst for creativity in scientific research. And, yes, the process of discovery is indeed creative. It involves unconscious factors, intuition, the ability to recognize an important anomaly or to draw analogies that are not obvious. A creative mind is open and can go beyond linear reasoning to think outside the box, look beyond conventional wisdom, and seize on the unexpected. Most important, a creative scientific mind recognizes when it is time to start viewing something from a whole new perspective.

Turning Reality on Its Side
One day in 1910, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky returned to his studio at dusk and was confronted with an object of dazzling beauty on his easel. In the half-light, he could make out no subject but was profoundly moved by the shapes and colors in the picture. It was only then that he realized the painting was resting on its side. Like an epiphany, this experience confirmed his growing belief in the emotional powers of colors and in the ultimate redundancy of the traditional subject of a picture. Kandinsky, who broke through to what he called “nonobjective” painting, is widely acknowledged as the father of abstract art.

By dipping into the world of art, and especially into visual illusions, scientists can gain perspective on illusions of judgment, also known as cognitive illusions. Gestalt psychologists have elaborated on such things as the balances in visual perception between foreground and background, dark and light areas, and convex and concave contours. The gist of their message is that too-close attention to detail may obscure the view of the whole — a message with special meaning for those alert to serendipitous discovery.

To readily appreciate this phenomenon, consider the paintings of the contemporary artist Chuck Close. Viewed at the usual distance, they are seen as discrete squares of lozenges, blips, and teardrops.


Viewed from a much greater distance, they can be appreciated as large, lifelike portraits.


In a Gestalt figure, such as the M. C. Escher drawing on the next page, one can see the devils or the angels, but not both at the same time. Even after you know that there is more than one inherent pattern, you see only one at a time; your perception excludes the others.

The same holds true for W. E. Hill’s My Wife and My Mother-in- Law. It’s easy to see his dainty wife, but you have to alter your whole way of making sense of the lines to see the big-nosed, pointy-chinned mother-in-law.

Certainly, if one’s perspective is too tightly focused, gross distortion may result. This phenomenon has broad implications for medical research. So does the human tendency to believe that one’s partial view of an image — or, indeed, a view of the world — captures its entirety. We often misjudge or misperceive what is logically implied or actually present. In drama this may lead to farce, but in science it leads to dead ends.

Excerpted from Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers, M.D. Copyright © 2007 by Morton Meyers, M.D. Excerpted by permission of Arcade Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...
  • Book Jacket: A Gentleman in Moscow
    A Gentleman in Moscow
    by Amor Towles
    It is June 21, 1922, and 33-year-old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is convicted of being a class ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.