The Art of Science by Joseph L. Goldstein
The Surprise Element: A Hallmark of Creativity in Scientists, Artists, and Comedians
Truly creative works of science and art produce unexpected and surprising results–just like the punch line of a good joke that generates an unfamiliar twist on a familiar idea. Surprise stimulates curiosity, which triggers a search to reveal the mystery of things unknown.
Nothing is more thrilling to a scientist than to obtain an unexpected and surprising result—a result that makes us think in ways we have never thought before. Over the last 75 years, Lasker Awards have been given for many basic discoveries and clinical advances that came as total surprises. To name a few of these surprises—there’s the double helix, cyclic AMP, recombinant DNA, gene splicing, monoclonal antibodies, Helicobacter causing ulcers, prions, in vitro fertilization and drugs that cure hepatitis C.
Surprise is closely related to creativity, and creativity is closely related to surprise (Koestler, 1964; Boden, 2010; Luna and Renninger, 2015). Anything that is truly creative produces surprise, and surprise produces creativity by stimulating curiosity, which triggers a search to reveal the mystery of things unknown. Many such mysteries are solved when the scientist or the artist—like the comedian—generates unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas (Asimov, 2014). Successful standup comedians are endowed with a creative knack for thinking outside the box. They can put two and two together to make five—the punch line of their joke, which occurs suddenly when the comedian abruptly changes course, steering the audience to a totally different context (Koestler, 1964; Rosenfield, 2017).
2021 Lasker Medical Research Awards Jury
Top row, left to right Joseph Goldstein, Chair of the Jury, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center ● Leslie Vosshall, Rockefeller University ● Dan Littman, New York University ● Bruce Stillman, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory ● Christopher Walsh, Harvard University
2nd row J. Michael Bishop, University of California, San Francisco ● Robert Lefkowitz, Duke University ● K. Christopher Garcia, Stanford University ● Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University ● Charles Sawyers, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
3rd row Erin O’Shea, Howard Hughes Medical Institute ● Michael Brown, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center ● Craig Thompson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center ● Laurie Glimcher, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
4th row Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford University ● Jeremy Nathans, Johns Hopkins University ● Richard Locksley, University of California, San Francisco ● Richard Lifton, Rockefeller University ● James Rothman, Yale University
Bottom row Harold Varmus, Weill Cornell Medical College ● Xiaowei Zhuang, Harvard University ● Michael Hall, Biozentrum, University of Basel ● Jeffrey Friedman, Rockefeller University