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If you like Jonas Salk's story, you might also like:
Tenley Albright,
Elizabeth Blackburn,
Francis Collins,
Gertrude Elion,
Paul Farmer,
Judah Folkman,
Susan Hockfield,
Eric Lander,
Robert Langer,
Barry Marshall,
Linus Pauling,
George Rathmann,
Thomas Starzl,
John Sulston,
Bert Vogelstein,
Dennis Washington,
James Watson,
Elie Wiesel and
Shinya Yamanaka

Jonas Salk's recommended reading: The Island Within

Related Links:
The Jonas Salk Trust
Time
Global Polio Eradication

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Jonas Salk
 
Jonas Salk
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Jonas Salk Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Developer of Polio Vaccine

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  Jonas Salk

How do you seethe role of teamwork in science? You've certainly gone your own way and had tremendous courage in your personal convictions, but you can't do it all yourself. How do you balance that?

Jonas Salk Interview Photo
Jonas Salk: It was possible to do what I've done simply because others did see what I saw. You can have a team of unconventional thinkers, as well as conventional thinkers. If you don't have the support of others you cannot achieve anything altogether on your own. It's like a cry in the wilderness. In each instance there were others who could see the same thing, and there were others who could not. It's an obvious difference we see in those who you might say have a bird's eye view, and those who have a worm's eye view. I've come to realize that we all have a different mind set, we all see things differently, and that's what the human condition is really all about.

Therefore, since whatever we do has to be part of a team, part of a community, we have to attempt to bring together those who have the same conviction, see the same things. Then it becomes a matter of time, when one or the other will prevail. Fortunately, there is all this diversity, and if not for that, problems would not be solved. If everyone saw things in a certain way, and it was the -- quote-- wrong way, it would not lead to the path of solution. If we were to study the anatomy of success, then a great deal would be learned about the human attributes are associated with success. I think a great deal about that.

What are those attributes?

Jonas Salk: Well, I play with words. And at the moment, for some time now, I've been playing with the words that distinguish between what I call "evolvers" and "maintainers of the status quo."


The evolvers are people who cause things to change. The maintainers of the status quo do everything to keep things from changing. And, there I see differences in perception, differences in vision, differences in interpretation, and differences in temperament, in personality. The number of evolvers are much fewer than the maintainers of the status quo. And, amongst the evolvers, there are some who are initiators, some who go along with what other people recognize to be new or different.



I have come to associate the kind of success that you're referring to, to individuals who have a combination of attributes that are often associated with creativity. In a way they are mutants, they're different from others and they follow their own drummer. We know what that means. And, either you are like that or you're not like that. If you are, then it would be well to recognize that there were others before you. And, people like that are not very happy or content, until they are allowed to express, or they can express what's in them to express.


We know what that means. Are we all like that? We are not like that. If you are, then it would be well to recognize that there were others before you. People like that are not very happy or content, until they are allowed to express what's in them to express. It's that driving force that I think is like the process of evolution working on us, and in us, and with us, and through us. That's how we continue on, and will improve our lot in life, solve the problems that arise partly out of necessity, partly out of this drive to improve.

What role does instinct play in decision making? Has your gut ever sent you in a surprising direction?

Jonas Salk: I call that intuition. My last book is called The Anatomy of Reality; the subtitle is Merging of Intuition and Reason.


Reason alone will not serve. Intuition alone can be improved by reason, but reason alone without intuition can easily lead the wrong way. The both are necessary. The way I like to put it is that I might have an intuition about something, I send it over to the reason department. Then after I've checked it out in the reason department, I send it back to the intuition department to make sure that it's still all right. For myself, that's how my mind works, and that's how I work. That's why I think that there is both an art and a science to what we do. The art of science is as important as so-called technical science. You need both. It's this combination that must be recognized and acknowledged and valued.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


What led you to make the tremendous investment of time in founding your own institute here in San Diego?

Jonas Salk: It was not founding my own institute, just to put it into perspective.


In the mid-'50s, soon after the work on polio was done, I put it then, "All of the problems of man would not be solved in the laboratory." Which was another way of saying that there is a human dimension to science. From what you've already heard, or what we've already talked about, you gather that I've had experiences that led me to that strong conviction. I also saw the need for fundamental studies in biology to help give us the basic background on which to understand about the problems of cancer, for example, or autoimmune disease.


Eventually I knew that the neuro-sciences were going to be terribly important. I also recognized that it would be necessary to address the human dimension as well, appreciating how much more morbidity and mortality is associated with war, with crime, drug abuse and so forth. And so, I thought that it would be well to consider establishing an institution that would be concerned not merely with nature, but with the human side of nature, not only with the molecular, cellular dimension, but what I call the human dimension. I thought if such individuals were to work together in the same context that we would begin to understand a great deal more, much more about these different realms by their commingling.

This is a unique institution in that regard, is it not?

Jonas Salk: It's a unique idea. And it was an idea that was articulated before its time. But now, it is so obvious that this is what's needed, that others are moving ahead in this respect. The institute has not addressed the human dimension directly, in the work it is doing at the present time, although it did in the beginning. But that will probably change. However, that was addressed in the establishment of the institute and the creation of this marvelous architectural setting, where people could do scientific work in a work of art, to see what would happen if you set up what I call a crucible for creativity.

Jonas Salk Interview Photo
It was set up on the basis of an evolutionary philosophy, acknowledging that it would be here long into the future. It was designed to invite change both structurally and in the laboratories and spaces, and also organizationally, and in subject matter. So, without my being conscious of what I was doing, intuitively I was expressing something that might be thought of more in the realm of a work of art, which I attempted to do in a scientific and rational way as well.

The institute has been quite successful, in its way. I think it will be successful in other ways in the future if this philosophy continues to prevail. When I attempted to do what I did, people questioned it, and said, "Scientists work in laboratories, they look into microscopes, they work in basements." And I said, "Yes that's true. I did all that myself but I want to see what happens if you do the experiment the other way. How will we know what might happen, unless we try? That was part of the motivation.

Jonas Salk Interview Photo
I also felt the need myself to lead a double life, because of my dual interests in nature and the human side of nature. I see myself as having some artistic and philosophical inclinations. And I tried to create a place for people like myself. I didn't find too many who fit those specifications, but a great many who liked being here, and who I think have been strongly influenced by the interactions that take place. It's only 30 years now since the institution began. It's still rather young in a long future, and all that will be revealed in time.

You certainly have attracted many of the greatest scientific minds of the time here.

Jonas Salk: Yes, but I would say that was part of the design. I was looking for people of size, of quality. The selection process at the beginning I was hoping would continue. That's how nature works, you might say, through the process of natural selection. Well, this process of selection is also part of natural selection.

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This page last revised on Aug 06, 2010 13:23 EDT
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