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 by Morton Meyers M.D.
  • 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


Analogical thinking has certainly been a cornerstone of science. The seventeenth-century English physiologist William Harvey compared the heart to a pump. The physicists Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr pictured the atom as a tiny solar system. “Every concept we have,” writes the cognitive scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter, “is essentially nothing but a tightly packaged bundle of analogies.”

DDrawing analogies is one part of the creative discovery process, but an equally important one is seeing things that don’t quite make sense. Thomas Kuhn introduced the idea that revolutions in science arise from the recognition of anomalies. Kuhn observed that the accumulation of anomalies — findings that cannot be assimilated into an accepted scientific framework, tradition, or paradigm — paves the way for scientific revolution. A single anomalous observation may stimulate an initial inquiry, but most productive to an alert mind is a special sort of anomaly, one that clearly falls into a class of anomalies. Resolving just one can provide insight into a whole category of more complicated ones. For example, the era of cancer chemotherapy was initiated by the recognition of never-before-seen symptoms in sailors saturated for long periods with liquid mustard gas during a military disaster in World War II. From this came the development of alkylating chemical agents, followed by a series of different categories of anticancer drugs.

In the early 1950s Nathan Kline, a psychiatrist at Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York, exploited an anomalous reaction in patients receiving the drug reserpine for hypertension. He noticed that it tranquilized agitated, restless patients. It was later shown that reserpine affected the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline in the brain. This was truly a “Eureka!” finding because it steered psychiatry onto a whole new path that focused on brain chemistry. Kline’s pioneer efforts in introducing the use of tranquilizers to the practice of psychiatry in the United States was followed by the development of a host of psychoactive drugs influencing the brain’s neurotransmitters, culminating in today’s multibillion-dollar mood-altering-drug industry. Creative thinkers tend to take analogies and anomalies to higher levels. They have a gift for seeing similar differences and different similarities — phrases coined by the British theoretical physicist David Bohm. True creation, Bohm argues, relies upon perceiving a new fundamental set of similar differences that constitutes a genuinely new order.27 Indeed, it is the recognition of anomalies, discrepancies, inconsistencies, and exceptions that often leads to the uncovering of a truth, perhaps one of greater magnitude than the one originally pursued. Writing of Charles Darwin, his son said: “Everybody notices as a fact an exception when it is striking and frequent, but he had a special instinct for arresting an exception. A point apparently slight and unconnected with his present work is passed over by many a man almost unconsciously with some half-considered explanation, which is in fact no explanation. It was just those things that he seized on to make a start from.”

The ideal scientific mind comfortably incorporates unanticipated factors into an established body of work or, more likely, follows it in completely new directions. Such a mind handles error, inconsistencies, and accidents in a characteristic way that represents a special mark of creativity. In other words, the open mind embraces serendipity and converts a stumbling block into a stepping-stone. As Winston Churchill whimsically observed, “Men occasionally stumble across the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

When Insight Strikes
A perceptive breakthrough may be likened to grasping the “hidden” figure in a Gestalt diagram. In the 1950s Rosalyn Yalow, a biophysicist, and Solomon Berson, a physician, at the Bronx VA Hospital began using radioisotopes — radioactive forms of chemical elements — to study diseases. At that time, it was believed that the high levels of sugar in the blood of adult diabetics were due to insulin deficiency. Some researchers hypothesized that it was probably destroyed by a liver enzyme once it entered the bloodstream.

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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: If We Were Villains
    If We Were Villains
    by M L. Rio
    22 out of 28 of our reviewers rated If We Were Villains four or five stars, giving it an overall ...
  • Book Jacket: The Islamic Enlightenment
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Leavers
    The Leavers
    by Lisa Ko
    The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school. A navy blue...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Scribe of Siena
    by Melodie Winawer

    Equal parts transporting love story, meticulously researched historical fiction, and compelling time-travel narrative.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Chalk Pit

The Chalk Pit:
A Ruth Galloway Mystery

A string of murders takes Ruth underground in the newest book in the series.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T W Don't M A R

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.

 
Modal popup -