Of Books in Neurobiology

Over the last few weeks, we the Neuro class have finished our last book and we began Time, Love, Memory by Jonathan Weiner. The theme of this book is experiments on behavior on fruit flies, drosophila.

I’m beginning to see why fruit flies would be such a good choice. They are low maintainance and are offer much more statistic data potential. T. H. Morgan was known for his early work on fruit flies. From my understanding, he’s the first one to use them as a model species. Seems much more economical than the classic mice or dogs.

I also find it pretty cool that Seymour Benzer, a pioneer in molecular biology, was previously a physicist who helped develop the transistor. After working on the transistor, he became a biologist. It seems like quite a shift. Since the 40s/50s, has there been a change in the ability of people to change fields at such an advanced level? If we turn the clock back to the 1600s, the time of our previous book: Soul Made Flesh, there was much more of an interplay between fields. I guess all sciences are united by the Scientific Method, but it does seem like kindof a jump.


  1. #1 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 3, 2007

    What is the “scientific method”? Is there actually a method or steps one takes to “do” science?

    The term has several connotations.

    It is often used as a description of the overall process that has developed, including such parts as publications and peer review (the market of ideas) and conferences and chats over a cup coffee (a scientific community). As such, it is a description of what we observe to work at a given time.

    Then we have the attempts, often by philosophers, to analyze what makes it work. In addition they may want to identify a special set of characteristics that would identify theories developed by such means. (The demarcation problem.)

    FWIW, I think there is a marked difference between say Linnaeus’ science and Darwin’s. Linnaeus relied on descriptions, in principle he looked at the data and then found an adaptable description for it. And while he came to suspect that there was something funny going on between species (hybrids) AFAIU he didn’t promote it as a challenge.

    Darwin worked from the other end, he found early on a specific set of mechanisms which could then be tested against later data. Anything that couldn’t be explained or remained unexplained was a challenge.

    What characterized the method is such terms as “descriptive”, “no mechanisms”, “no targeted testing”, “challenges avoided as problems”, and the later “predictive”, “theories”, “testing predictions”, “challenges promoted as opportunities”.

    [Personally, I think we, or at least some of us, are still much educated in the old tradition. It took me a long while to stop seeing challenges as problems, and even longer to make statistically conclusive tests on models and mechanisms alternatives.

    Yep, I started out researching in a small and shielded area (a small part of semiconductor material and processing) - any result was a success. :-P And the shortcomings of that work is my current motivation behind discussing this. Oh, most of the results have remained solid. But it seems to have been more technical skill than an understanding of the larger skill, if you get my drift.]

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    November 3, 2007

    Like all scientific names except species names, Drosophila begins with a capital letter.

    Scientific method… falsification and parsimony. You’re doing science as long as you can answer the question “if I were wrong, how could I know?”.