The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

By Daniel Bor | Go to book overview

2
A Brief History of the Brain:
Evolution and the Science of Thought

THE FIRST LESSON IN NATURE IS FAILURE

Soon after I started my PhD at Cambridge’s Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in 1998, the director of the department, William Marslen-Wilson, came into my office. A tall man with dark, slightly graying hair and a kindly face, he chatted amiably with me for a few minutes, welcoming me to the department, which I was touched by— aside from the fact that he kept calling me various wrong names (he turns name confusion into an art form). Then, as he turned to go, he paused at the door and, with a whimsical smile, said, “Remember, David, the first lesson in science is failure.” I took little notice of this rather mysterious piece of advice until I carried out my first ill-fated experiment, when, sure enough, my first lesson in science was failure.

Failures are an inevitable part of the process of doing science. As scientists, we are professionally trying to track the truth. We need to explore many different options in a creative, directed way in order to inch closer to what’s really occurring in nature. Quite a few of those ideas have to be wrong, particularly if you take the scientific community as a whole, with its millions of competing scientists, many with differing views.

Consider, for instance, that for much of scientific history, it was believed that the universe was bathed in an amorphous substance known as the ether. Even by the end of the nineteenth century there was near universal acceptance

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