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Dr. Michael Wigler has made wide-ranging contributions to biomedical research in genetics, cancer, and cognitive disorders. Dr. Wigler attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, majoring in Mathematics, and Columbia University[…]

Why it’s “almost as much fun to destroy an idea as to create one.”

Question: Have you ever been completely rnsurprised by thernoutcome of your research?


Michael Wigler: Well, science is a very—it’srn actually a veryrndifficult field because you need probably above everything else, rnextraordinaryrnpatience.  And what keeps you goingrnis discovery.  And sometimes in arnlifetime, you may have one outstanding discovery.  Einsteinrn used to say that he was unusual in that he had hadrntwo.  But any one would have beenrnenough to have kept him going. rnMost scientists are not in that league, but we’ve all had at somern scalernthings that we’re really very proud of if discover them. rn Often, we are looking for them.  The idea rnthat a lot of discovery isrnserendipitous and accidental is tremendously, tremendously overplayed.  I think it’s much more likely that onernsees something, almost in everyday life that puzzles you and you carry rnitrnaround with you for some period of time, and then you see some way ofrnconnecting to it.  You could sayrnour discoveries in autism as an example of that.  Atrn a very early age, I was impressed by this child and laterrnsaw an opportunity and I struck when the opportunity was there to rnsatisfy myrncuriosity.  So, most discovery isrnof that type. 


Sometimes you see things that you can’t explain.  And I shouldn’t say sometimes, a lot ofrntimes you see things that you can’t explain.  And rnsometimes you come up with explanations that are reallyrnexciting.  And 99% of the time,rnthose are wrong and there’s really some trivial explanation of the thingrn that’srngotten you excited. 


Early in my career I used to hate those things and Irn used tornsay, only a manic depressive would love living like this. rn You see something that’s weird, yourncome up with some great encompassing idea that will explain it, it’s rngoing tornchange how people think, and then the next day you realize that you werern reallyrna dumbass.  Nowadays when thosernthings happen, I actually really enjoy them because there are so few rnreal "Eureka!" momentsrnin one’s life that you have to almost have to enjoy the fake ones.  I mean, after all, the feeling isrnjust as good.  So, I’ve actuallyrngotten to enjoy those weird results that we can’t explain, come up withrnfanciful ideas, and then try to batter them.  And rnthen you get double satisfaction because you end uprndestroying the idea and it’s satisfying to destroy the idea.  Almost as much fun to destroy an idearnas to create one.

Recorded April 12, 2010