[extropy-chat] Fwd: Francis Crick

Patrick Wilken Patrick.Wilken at Nat.Uni-Magdeburg.DE
Thu Jul 29 15:19:01 UTC 2004

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Ned Block <ned.block at NYU.EDU>
> Date: 29 July 2004 16:23:32 GMT+02:00
> Subject: Re: Fwd: Francis Crick
> Reply-To: n.block at verizon.net
> Francis Crick, 1916 – 2004
> []
> Nobelist, colleagues cracked DNA code
> By Scott LaFee
> 7:01 a.m. July 29, 2004
> The man who helped discover the secret of life is dead.
> Francis Crick, who was 88, died last night at Thornton Hospital in San 
> Diego after a long battle with colon cancer. Along with James Watson, 
> Crick was best known for discovering the structure of DNA – the 
> mysterious molecule that defines and determines every form of life.
> Crick's name became scientific legend in 1953 when he and Watson, then 
> just 36 and 24 years old, respectively, cracked the DNA code, 
> revealing the structure and nature of the now-famous double helix of 
> deoxyribonucleic acid.
> The discovery, reported in the journal Nature, earned the two men the 
> 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine, which they shared with Maurice Wilkins. 
> More profoundly, it arguably altered the state of human existence, 
> inevitably touching almost every aspect of modern life.
> The biotechnology industry, for example, is based largely upon Crick's 
> and Watson's discovery. So, too, are genetically engineered foods like 
> bigger tomatoes and innovative medical technologies like gene therapy. 
> Law enforcement agencies now routinely collect and test DNA from crime 
> scenes, either to convict the guilty or set the innocent free. Social 
> issues such as whether to have children are now often affected by 
> expanded knowledge of DNA and its role in heredity.
> "History will judge him certainly as one of the influential biologists 
> of the 20th century, if not the most influential," said Richard 
> Murphy, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La 
> Jolla, which Crick joined in 1976.
> "He set the standard, not only the importance of the DNA work, he set 
> the standard for being a true scientist, just totally dedicated to 
> understanding science and the truth about biology."
> For many years before his death, Crick devoted his scientific life to 
> understanding the biological foundations of consciousness.
> He had been playing a significant role in the development of a new 
> research center at Salk that will bear his name. The Crick-Jacobs 
> Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology, which is also named 
> for its benefactor, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs family, will study how 
> genes in human DNA regulate brain activity, as well as how networks of 
> nerve cells influence the way the brain works.
> "He felt that this was going to be a center with tremendous potential 
> for understanding the brain," Murphy said, "and he was thrilled with 
> the planning of that."
> In the beginning, of course, he was just Francis Harry Compton Crick, 
> born June 8, 1916, in Northampton, England, to Harry Crick, a shoe 
> factory owner, and Anne Elizabeth Wilkins Crick. Early in life, the 
> young Crick chose a life in science. His first recorded experiment, at 
> age 10 or 12, was an attempt to create artificial silk, which failed. 
> He had more success electrically igniting bottles of a homemade 
> explosive. His parents eventually ordered him to at least first put 
> the bottles in pails of water, lest he destroy himself or their home.
> Asked once about how best to teach science in schools, Crick said: 
> "It's really important to appeal to the imagination. I taught myself a 
> lot of science when I was a kid because that's the best way in some 
> ways."
> In 1937, Crick graduated from University College in London with a 
> bachelor of science degree. His continued studies, however, were 
> interrupted by World War II, which Crick spent in the British navy. In 
> 1940, he married Ruth Doreen Dodd. (They were divorced seven years 
> later.) After the war, he resumed research at Cambridge University in 
> England, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1954. He married Odile Speed, an 
> artist, in 1949, and met a visiting American biologist named Watson.
> The names of Crick and Watson are permanently intertwined. Their story 
> is a sort of literary double helix and the telling of it recalls a 
> time when science was still pursued by individuals rather than biotech 
> corporations with acronyms that usually included the letter X.
> Crick and Watson were distinctively different individuals. Crick was 
> older, English to the core and, according to Watson, something of a 
> know-it-all physicist. Watson was American, boisterous and, according 
> to Crick, a biologist prone to Yankee overstatement. Yet somehow, the 
> two hit it off. In fact, their ability to communicate with each other 
> was so effective and so profuse that colleagues eventually stuck them 
> in an office together so they would stop disturbing everyone else.
> Conversation was Crick's and Watson's chief scientific tool. By 
> talking endlessly and building many models, they solved first the 
> structure of DNA, a question that had attracted the attention of many 
> others, including Linus Pauling at Caltech and a group of English 
> researchers that included Wilkins.
> Crick's and Watson's answer took the shape of a twisting ladder with 
> backbones of sugar and phosphate atoms and rungs of hydrogen linking 
> four chemical bases: adenine with thymine, cytosine with guanine. Thus 
> each single strand of DNA represented a template for the other, a 
> critical necessity for reproduction.
> When it came time to announce their findings, however, it was the 
> boisterous Watson who balked. Recalling that time, Crick said Watson 
> was worried they might be wrong. The less said, the better, he advised 
> Crick.
> "Jim was very nervous about saying anything," Crick recalled. "And I 
> said, 'Well, we've got to say something!' Otherwise people will think 
> these two unknown chaps are so dumb that they don't even realize the 
> implications of their own work."
> Thus, Crick penned one of the great understatements of literature, 
> scientific or otherwise, said the journal Science. It was just 900 
> words long, not much more than what you've read so far. In the paper, 
> he wrote: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we 
> have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for 
> the genetic material."
> The illustration for the double helix, now instantly recognizable, was 
> drawn by Crick's wife, Odile. "I tell her it's her best-known work," 
> he joked in 1993. "She normally draws nudes."
> Crick was not content to rest on the laurels of his DNA work. In fact, 
> he mentioned it in public only reluctantly, joking that people never 
> knew what to say to a Nobel laureate. He was content to reduce DNA 
> references to his license plate, which read ATCG – the initials of 
> adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine.
> While Watson remained in molecular biology, eventually becoming the 
> longtime director of the respected Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 
> New York and first head of the Human Genome Project, Crick chose to 
> explore the brain, with side trips to outer space and elsewhere.
> In the 1970s, for example, he postulated that Sigmund Freud was wrong 
> about dreams, that dreams did not possess deep psychological meaning 
> but rather were simply the result of some middle-of-the-night cerebral 
> housecleaning, the reshuffling of thoughts and images so that the 
> memory could store information more efficiently.
> In 1981, Crick wrote "Life Itself," a controversial book that 
> introduced the theory of "directed panspermia," which suggested that 
> life on Earth may have been introduced as microorganisms planted by a 
> more advanced alien civilization. Panspermia means "seeds everywhere."
> The book aroused much comment, some of it caustic, though he noted 
> repeatedly that directed panspermia was just an hypothesis.
> "In a way, it was probably a mistake to write the book," Crick said in 
> a 1995 interview. "Not everybody really read it, which if you did 
> pointed out that directed panspermia was just an idea, something to be 
> considered. The book was actually quite reserved about the whole 
> thing. Of course, if you only glanced at it, you could have gotten the 
> idea that I was a bit nutty."
> Not that he regretted the fuss. Ideas, he said, were the currency of 
> science.
> "The important thing is that you have lots of ideas and that you learn 
> most are going to be wrong," he said. "The trick is to figure out 
> which are the most promising and work on those. A man who is right 
> every time is not likely to do very much. It's the person with just 
> one idea who is a menace because he won't give his idea up."
> In 1994, Crick created a new intellectual ruckus by writing "The 
> Astonishing Hypothesis," in which he and colleague Christof Koch, a 
> neurobiologist at Caltech, proposed that all manifestations of the 
> human "soul" – a person's joys, sorrows, memories, ambitions, sense of 
> self and free will – were in fact the result of complex chemical 
> reactions in the brain.
> "Most people are aware of consciousness," Crick said in a 1993 
> interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. "They can see the 
> difference. At a crude level, it can be described as what's going on 
> in your brain when you see something. The real questions are: Which 
> nerve cells produce this consciousness? How are they firing?"
> Human behavior, he suggested, probably doesn't involve a higher 
> authority, a mystical god. It is more likely the cumulative effect of 
> 100 billion interactive neurons and associated molecules.
> Crick was, according to New York Times columnist Nicholas Wade, "an 
> unabashed reductionist, confident that no insurmountable barrier 
> exists to stop scientists from understanding the mind in terms of the 
> properties and organization of its neurons."
> The "Astonishing Hypothesis," of course, remains to be proved – or 
> disproved. And doing so, he conceded, will be difficult.
> "My work with DNA was much easier and that wasn't really accepted for 
> many years," he said. "There, we were looking at what was happening at 
> the molecular level, basic processes of life. This is far more 
> complicated, involving whole systems we don't fully understand."
> Despite his penchant for raising eyebrows and uproars, Crick was 
> famously publicity-shy.
> "It's just the way I am," he told Time magazine in 1993 on the 40th 
> anniversary of the discovery of DNA's structure. "For a long time, I 
> refused to let people put my photo in textbooks. Unfortunately, I have 
> a very good press agent (referring to Watson, who is markedly less shy 
> of publicity). Now it's hopeless."
> Nonetheless, he steadfastly declined attempts to honor him, refused 
> all honorary doctorates and preferred to stick close to home, either 
> at his house in La Jolla or his getaway in Borrego Springs. It was 
> only reluctantly that he traveled to England in 1991 to accept the 
> Order of Merit from the Queen, an honor greater than knighthood and 
> limited to only 24 people at any time.
> He said he went only because his wife and secretary insisted.
> Nonetheless, if cornered in an interview, Crick was invariably 
> charming, witty and courtly. His voice was soft, cultured and 
> distinctly English. He loved to talk, to startle listeners with ideas, 
> then follow up with a wide, knowing smile that made his blue eyes 
> crinkle and lifted great, bushy white eyebrows heavenward.
> Except for a short stint at Harvard, Crick never taught as a full-time 
> university professor. He avoided the traditional classroom, which he 
> found stultifying, and in later years, the laboratory, which he said 
> was best left to "better experimentalists."
> Scientific method for Crick involved thinking, pure and simple. He was 
> a theorist who preferred to look at the big picture in search of big 
> answers. He liked to develop ideas, propose experiments, predict 
> outcomes and then try to figure out what they all meant.
> His usual methodology involved inviting colleagues to stay with him 
> for a week, a month, perhaps several months. Most of that time was 
> spent in discussion, intensive talks that dominated the days and often 
> the nights.
> A colleague, one Crick story goes, asked Odile once whether her 
> husband worked a lot. "No," she replied, "I don't think he works a 
> lot. But he thinks a lot."
> Crick kept his door – and mind – open to everything. Scientists often 
> bounced ideas off him. He was a voracious reader and a great 
> assimilator, consuming huge amounts of information, then processing it 
> in new ways.
> Contrarily, he never gave much thought to how he worked – or why it 
> was successful.
> "People who do this sort of thing are not very keen on examining very 
> carefully how they do it. They're afraid it will interfere with the 
> process. There are lots of things going on in the brain that you're 
> not aware of, so it's probably better to adopt a sort of Zen attitude: 
> Don't press. Don't try too hard. Let it happen. Don't analyze it too 
> much."
> Some critics of Crick – he had his share – dismissed this way of doing 
> business (though rarely publicly). They said thinking about a problem 
> wasn't the same as solving it, that he had become an outsider, 
> irrelevant because he wasn't actively doing his own research.
> Crick was unmoved by such observations. He worked this way, he said, 
> because he had earned the right by lasting so long.
> Plus, it was cheaper.
> It was Jonas Salk's offer of research resources and room to think that 
> drew Crick to La Jolla and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies 
> in 1976. There, ensconced in a large, book-cluttered office with an 
> expansive view of the Pacific Ocean, he spent most of his time 
> reading, writing and, of course, thinking.
> He also served when needed. Occasionally he acted as host for high 
> school tours of science students, many of whom, he ruefully noted, 
> were surprised to find their textbook icon was still alive. In 
> addition, Crick served as interim president of the Salk Institute, 
> from October 1994 to September 1995, when he stepped down due to 
> health problems.
> The reduced duties, he said, gave him more time to think – something 
> he always did well.
> Crick is survived by his wife; their two daughters, Gabrielle and 
> Jaqueline, and a son, Michael, from his previous marriage.
> []
>   Staff writer Bruce Lieberman contributed to this story.
> At 04:44 AM 7/29/2004, you wrote:
>> Begin forwarded message:
>>> From: giedrius at salk.edu
>>> Date: 29 July 2004 09:42:49 BST
>>> To: Geraint Rees <g.rees at fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk>
>>> Subject: Fwd: Francis Crick
>>> ----- Forwarded message from Richard Murphy <murphy at salk.edu> -----
>>>     Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 21:25:55 -0700
>>>     From: Richard Murphy <murphy at salk.edu>
>>> Reply-To: Richard Murphy <murphy at salk.edu>
>>>  Subject: Francis Crick
>>>       To: all_science at salk.edu, all_admin at salk.edu
>>> It's with the greatest sadness that I inform you that Francis Crick,
>>> who has
>>> been suffering with cancer, died this evening.
>>> Francis will be remembered as one of the most brilliant and 
>>> influential
>>> scientists of all time. He will be missed as a gentleman, a role
>>> model, and
>>> a person who has contributed so much to our understanding of biology
>>> and the
>>> health of mankind. For those of us privileged to know him at Salk, he
>>> will
>>> also be remembered as a dear friend.
>>> I know you join me in expressing deepest sympathy to Odile Crick and
>>> their
>>> family.
>>> Rich
>>> ----- End forwarded message -----
>> ---
>> Geraint Rees MRCP PhD,
>> Wellcome Senior Clinical Fellow
>> Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London,
>> 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR
>> voice +44-20-7679-5496 cell +44-7951-967357 fax +44-20-813-1420
>> http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/~grees
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