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ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

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How to be a good scientist: The advice of Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on June 16, 2011

“Science is most impaired by certain diseases of the will, which are as follows: contemplators or dilletantes, erudites or bibliophiles, organophiles, megalophiles, decentered ones, and theorizers.

1. Contemplators are people who are essentially aesthetic. They care about getting pleasure from their work, not for the reality of things.

2. Bibliophiles are those who don’t understand that erudition only matters if it is background and preparation for great personal effort.

3. Megalophiles wish to rise, from the first combat, from soldier to general. They work hard but their ambition is too large. They look for the miracle that will give them their dream. They pass through life planning and drawing, constructing and reconstructing, and in the end, their many followers are embarrassed by the continued silence of the great man. Their great error is to ignore the best tactic which is also common sense: start with small problems first, so that perhaps later, if success smiles upon us and our powers gather strength, we can reach the great miracles of research. Perhaps we won’t reach glory, but at least with this approach we’ll obtain the esteem of the learned.

4. Organophiles – This variety is immediately recognized by a species of a fetishistic cult of the instruments of observation. They are fascinated by the shine of metal like the light shining of a mirror. They worship their technology and gadgets, like idols; their laboratories are new, clean, business like. These maestros chose the wrong vocation: they would have made excellent housewives.

5. The decentered ones – An English colleague from Cambridge once told me that their success grew from everyone knowing their place. In Spain it’s the reverse: no one knows their place. And wherever they happen to be, they stay there, not because they have something to offer, but to keep someone more competent away. These people hardly work, only doing the minimum necessary to keep their position, and this in bad faith. These are abulic people, failing to have enough energy to change their career.

6. Theorizers – When faced with a difficult problem, they have the irresistible temptation, not of interrogating nature, but of formulating a theory. The method is legitimate in principle, but they abuse it….At root, they are lazy pretending to be diligent; they obey the law of minimal effort, because it is much easier to construct a theory than to discover a phenomenon. …Here the reader might accuse me of inconsistency. We have to distinguish between working hypotheses and scientific theories. The hypothesis is the repetitive interrogation of nature; it is part of the investigative process, its initial phase, an almost always necessary antecedent. But continuous speculation, that is, theorizing for theorizing, without recourse to the objective analysis of phenomena, is to lose oneself to inconsistent idealism, is to turn one’s back on reality.”

-Translated and modified by Nassir Ghaemi,Professor of Psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and Director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center.

(May be the title should have been how not to be a bad scientist 🙂 )


One Response to “How to be a good scientist: The advice of Santiago Ramon y Cajal”

  1. Rhombha difficult to understand brother! Any chance of translation to English?!!

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