Joy in Scientific Discovery

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    Abstract

    DURING the past few days, a section of the lay press has been at pains to show by word and picture apparently as a matter for commentthat scientific workers and others at the Blackpool meeting of the British Association have made use of the means of entertainment offered by that well-known resort, even as other folk do. That men of science can also feel and show emotion and pleasure in achieving success in their own special fields of work was the theme of Prof. D. F. Fraser-Harris's public lecture “Joy in Scientific Discovery” delivered at Thornton Cleveleys on September 15 in connexion with the Blackpool meeting. While it is true that scientific men must make an impersonal study of the laws of Nature, there is ample evidence from historical records of the joy they have felt on achieving their goal. Newton, it is said, was so agitated when his work on the law of gravitation approached completion that he had to beg a friend to complete his calculation. Faraday is well known to have greeted the successful conclusion of an experiment with boyish glee, and referred in writing of the life of the man of science to “the delight which the contented mind has in acquiring it [knowledge] for its own sake”. Harvey said that “the pains of discovery are amply compensated by the pleasures of discovery”. Malpighi was greatly stirred by his observation of the blood streaming through the capillaries. Jenner wrote joyfully to his friend Mr. Gardner of his first successful vaccination. Pasteur had a sleepless night of anxiety when he had completed his first inoculations for rabies on a human being. Lister, a member of the Society of Friends, could write, “I don't think any case ever excited me so much”, in referring to his first use of antiseptic ligatures. Graham Bell and Edison were delighted with the telephone and the phonograph respectively. Lord Kelvin, having devised a delicate electrical instrument, would have it brought to his drawing-room mantelpiece, so that he might exult over it at leisure. So the story continues. The joy of the creative intellect, whether in art, literature or science, is one of the most exalted human emotions.

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