The art of science

The Spaniard Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 – 1934) was a famous neuroscientist, earning a Nobel prize in 1906. He was also an avid artist and his drawings of brains structures and neurological connections are works of art in their own right – mysterious yet luminous.

In 1887 he wrote a wonderful little treatise on the art of science, entitled Advice for a Young Investigator. Many of his remarks qualify as useful aphorisms. Some of those I have side-lined include:

“I believe that all outstanding work, in art as well in science, results from immense zeal applied to a great idea”.

He summarises in brilliant sentences what others have laboured over in lengthy tomes, as in:

“It is well known that a discovery is simply the joining of two or more pieces of information to a useful end”. The art of connecting the dots.

And he provides a salutary admonition about the shaping of an intellect:

“Let books be our masters – wise mentors, serene, no bad temper, and no momentary lapses in ability. We shall happily give them our major commitment – which is to discover ourselves before discovering scientific truth, to mould ourselves before moulding nature”.

This little book is a sheer delight to read, and a wonderful companion to his extraordinary books of drawings. Any emerging researcher would benefit from reading this.

"The Beautiful Brain" by Sanitago Ramon y Cajal

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