Wednesday, June 16, 2010

718 A Feeling For The Organism

718 A Feeling For The Organism

Today, June 16, 2010 would be the 108th birthday of one of the most important people you never heard of. Barbara McClintock, winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine had in her 90 years given important lessons to us all, even those of us who eat corn instead of studying it to death. She was a leader in the field of cytogenics, figuring out cell structure and function and spent most of her career at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a private research lab and now a degree granting institution on New York's Long Island.

Her most important scientific work probably was her discovery of how genes transport from one place to another and turn on and off the characteristics or conditions they control; the theory of "jumping genes." For most of us, that's obscure stuff for which she took gobs of ribbing and bigger gobs of her era's anti-woman mind set. Her Nobel Prize came decades after her discoveries. But her great general lesson for the rest of us was coining or at least popularizing the phrase "a feeling for the organism."

That came in answer to frequent questions that can be paraphrased as "Why do you keep staring at all that corn and all those microscopic thingies." No one knew corn like Dr. M. And there's the concept many of us miss today. She developed a feeling for the organism. Do we?

If BP had a sufficient "feeling for (its) organism," they might have avoided the disaster now plaguing the Gulf Coast and vicinity. If we develop a feeling for another organism, the Tea Party movement, we might be able to stop it. If energy "regulators" had some feeling for THEIR corn, we might not be paying so much for the vegetable today while wasting megatons of it on ethanol. If the cops had developed a feeling for an organism, they might have caught and convicted John Gotti much earlier. If the Pentagon and State Department had developed a feeling for an organism, we might have prevented 9/11.

There are all kinds of things we should be staring at until we can anticipate the next step. How did McClintock know what she knew? Her biographer, Evelyn Fox Keller, who wrote a book with the same title as this posting, quotes her as saying she didn't really know, and going on to add that there are limits to explicit and concrete reasoning, that it's imperative to get inside whatever it is your studying.

As Constantin Stanislavsky told his acting students, "be an orange." It might land you a Nobel Prize.


--So the Pentagon Panners-for-gold have struck or at least found possible trillion dollars in minerals under Afghanistan. This raises two questions: (a) why are the Pentagonistas going prospecting while there's a war to get out of and (b) is this why we're there in the first place? Also, don't get too excited because UN standards mandate a digging process that could mean ten years before they come up with the first rock.

--Things in threes, including the need for repairs: the car, the living room ceiling and now the washing machine. Thank goodness the third one reared its head. Its absence was starting to become worrisome.

--Everyone who bills you wants to be paid electronically. They say it saves you stamps and saves the environment. It certainly doesn't save YOU time, but it gets them their money a lot faster than old fashioned USPS.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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