Ragnar Granit (1972) - Discovery and Understanding

Ragnar Granit (1972)

Discovery and Understanding

Ragnar Granit (1972)

Discovery and Understanding

Comment

Ragnar Granit lectured three times at the Lindau Meetings. The other two lectures concerned his scientific interest: nerve physiology, in particular concerning vision. For the present short lecture, though, he chose to read a text on a more general topic. The text goes back to a book that he wrote 30 years earlier and which concerns how a young person can become a scientist. Granit came to Sweden from the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and the book was written for this and for the Swedish population. Its title is (in my translation) “A young man’s pathway to Minerva”, Minerva being the Italian goddess guarding, among other things, science. As a student, I was given a photocopy of the whole book by my professor, who thought that he had seen some trace of a scientist in my eyes. I never read the photocopies, but at a much older age, when I already had started working at the Nobel Museum, I bought a used copy of the book. I thus became very interested in hearing Granit lecture in 1972 on a topic mentioned in the book. What I hear is a voice that I imagine must have been heard frequently in the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet, discussing what is a real discovery worth a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Quoting from the will of Alfred Nobel, Granit puts into what he calls “the grand word discovery” that what has been found and which makes a real impact, leading to new “real knowledge” and not only adding some small piece of understanding. But he also argues that a scientist can make a good career never making such a grand discovery. The integrated knowledge added may well be enough to justify the work done.

Anders Bárány

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