A feeling for the organism summary
A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox KellerQuotes I love---
The word understanding and the particular meaning she attributed to it, is the cornerstone of Barbara McClintocks entire approach to science. For her, the smallest details provided the keys to the larger whole. It was her conviction that the closer her focus, the greater her attention to individual detail, to the unique characteristics of a single plant, of a single kernel, of a single chromosome, the more she could learn about the general principles by which the maize plant as a whole was organized, the better her feeling for the organism. (101)
The crucial point of this story, to her, is the state of mind required in making such judgments. It is done with complete confidence, complete understanding. I understood every plant. Without being able to know what I was integrating, I understood the phenotype. What does understanding mean here? It means that I was using a computer that was working very rapidly and very perfectly. I couldnt train anyone to do that. (102-103)
Her virtuosity resided in her capacity to observe, and to process and interpret what she observed. As she grew older, it became less and less possible to delegate any part of her work; she was developing skills that she could hardly identify herself, much less impart to others. /The nature of insight in science, as elsewhere, is notoriously elusive. And almost all great scientists--those who learn to cultivate insight--learn also to respect its mysterious workings. It is here that their rationality finds its own limits. In defying rational explanation, the process of creative insight inspires awe in those who experience it. They come to know, trust, and value it. (103)
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A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock Summary & Study Guide
Evelyn Fox Keller shows how science is both highly personal and a communal endeavor. What for others is interpretation, or speculation, is for her trained direct perception. For McClintock, the smallest details provided the keys to the larger whole. It was her conviction that the closer her focus, the greater her attention to the unique characteristics of a single plant, the more she could learn about the general principles by which the plant as a whole was organized. For Barbara McClintock, reason at least in the conventional sense of the word is not by itself adequate to describe the vast complexity of living forms. Organisms have a life and order of their own that scientists can only partially fathom.
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A Feeling for the Organism is the story of the rise, marginalization and rediscovery of Barbara McClintock and her crucially important work in cytology and genetics, which ultimately led to a revolution in the understanding of the human genome. The author of the book, Evelyn Keller, is a geneticist herself who learned of McClintock's pivotal work as she passed through graduate school. She decided to explore the life of this unusual woman and scientist, telling McClintock's story in her own words and the words of those who knew her. The book begins with a historical overview of the culture of the genetics community and related sciences from the s through the s, the vast stretch of time over which McClintock's work took place. We discover that early in the s, genetics was a kind of standalone science. It was only rediscovered after Mendel in , two years before McClintock was born. She entered Cornell in , studying the chromosomes of the Drosophila fruit fly and corn, the only two species whose chromosomes were regularly studied at the time.
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In , McClintock decided it was time to leave Cornell; she simply could not receive a faculty appointment there due to her gender. She won a fellowship, however, and divided her time between the University of Missouri and Caltech, continuing the use Cornell as her home base. Ithaca was something of a second home to her. She collaborated with a variety of scientists during this time and during the s she and others found that X-Rays could be used to study chromosomal structures. McClintock was able to place genes on chromosomes as a result.