The Art of Science
Opening remarks by Joseph Goldstein
Balzac’s Unknown Masterpiece: Spotting the next big thing in art and science
An expanded version of these remarks originally appeared in Cell.
There is no shortage of advice on how to become a creative writer, a creative artist, or a creative scientist. Just in the last decade, hundreds of books and articles have been written on the subject, and in hundreds of TED lectures inspired thinkers have revealed their secrets for creative success. Despite this flood of contemporary advice, my favorite insight on creativity goes back over 100 years to the Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde. Wilde famously proclaimed that the most creative individuals are those who have taught their minds to misbehave.
One of the virtues of a misbehaving mind is that it endows one with the ability to spot the next big thing — whether it be in art or in science. A great example of a famous literary figure who passes the Oscar Wilde-‘misbehavior test’ with flying colors is the 19th century novelist Honoré de Balzac. In the 1830s, Balzac conceived the idea of writing a series of works that would describe the sweep and panorama of French society in all its splendor and squalor — from the highest aristocrats and politicians to the lowest swindlers and prostitutes. Over a 16-year period, he published a total of 91 novels and short stories, and shortly before his death in 1850, he organized his 91 works into a multivolume collection that he titled The Human Comedy. Balzac chose this title to contrast it with Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which portrayed the afterlife of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven and had nothing to say about the realism of the earthly life that Balzac presented. Balzac’s The Human Comedy contained many astute insights into human behavior. One of the most original and popular — and a prime example of his misbehavior — was his discussion about how certain people get ahead in life through advantageous marriages rather than hard work.
2014 Lasker Medical Research Awards Jury
First Row, left to right: J. Michael Bishop, University of California, San Francisco ● Charles Sawyers, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center ● Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University ● Joseph Goldstein, Chair of the Jury, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center ● Diane Mathis, Harvard University ● Robert Horvitz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ● Paul Nurse, The Royal Society
Second Row, left to right: Craig Thompson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center ● Richard Lifton, Yale University ● Huda Zoghbi, Baylor College of Medicine ● Eric Kandel, Columbia University ● Titia de Lange, The Rockefeller University ● Dan Littman, NYU Langone Medical Center
Third Row, left to right: Gregory Petsko, Brandeis University ● Jeremy Nathans, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine ● Marc Tessier-Lavigne, The Rockefeller University ● Stanley Cohen, Stanford University ● James Rothman, Yale University ● Martin Raff, University College London ● Michael Brown, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Not pictured: Tom Maniatis, Columbia University