Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Rules and Advice on Scientific Investigation

Chapter II
Daunting worries of the novice


(1) I believe less today in the power of natural selection than I did when I wrote these lines thirty years ago. The more I study the organization of the eye of vertebrates and invertebrates, the less I understand the causes of its marvelous and exquisitely adapted organization.

(2) In a recent book, Ostwald corroborates this reflection, noting that almost all the great discoveries were the work of youth. Newton, Davy, Faraday, Hertz, Mayer are good examples.

(3) The brilliant series of electrical discoveries that followed Volta's discovery of the battery at the beginning of the last century; the plethora of histological works provoked by Schwann's discovery of cell multiplication, and the profound repercussions that the not too distant discovery of the Röntgen rays has produced in all physics (discovery of radioactivity, discovery of radium, of polonium, of the phenomenon of emanation, etc.), are good examples of that creative and in a certain way automatic virtue that every great discovery possesses, which seems to grow and multiply like a seed thrown at random on fertile ground, like a seed thrown on a fertile soil.

(4) The popular opinion here contested has been eloquently repudiated by almost all scholars. I cannot resist, however, the temptation to quote a comparison presented under various and brilliant ways by our incomparable scientific promotor José Echegaray, whose disappearance has left Spanish science orphaned of a great talent:

"Pure science is like the proud cloud of gold and scarlet that expands in the Occident, between flashes of light and marvelous shades: it is not illusion, it is the brightness, the beauty of the truth. But that cloud rises, the wind drags it over the fields, and it already takes darker and more severe colors; it is going to work and changes its festive clothes, let's say it like that, for the smock. And then it condenses into rain, and waters the land, and toils in the soil, and prepares the future harvest, and at last gives men our daily bread. That which began as beauty for the soul and for the intelligence, concludes by being food for the poor bodily life." — Academy of Sciences, solemn session of March 12, 1916.

(5) This was written in 1896. Today, the Jena optical instrument factory counts at the head of its sections no less than 33 mathematical, optical, mechanical and chemical researchers, all first class. Legions of chemists also work in the large German chemical factories, proving that the only way for industry to avoid routine and stagnation is to turn the laboratory into an antechamber to the factory.

(6) "It is common sense working at high voltage", according to the graphic phrase of our Echegaray.

(7) The coincidence of this teaching with the classification into classics and romantics (talents of slow reactions and talents of fast reactions), given by Ostwald in his recent and interesting book Los grandes hombres [Wilhelm Ostwald. Erfinder und Entdecker. Literarische Anstalt Rütten & Loening, Frankfurt. 1908], is remarkable. end-black


Translation: © 2022 by TRTF.

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Santiago Ramón y Cajal:
Reglas y Con­se­jos sobre In­vesti­ga­cion Cien­ti­fica.

6th edition. Madrid 1923.


Chapter II: Daunting worries of the novice

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Capítulo II: Pre­ocu­pacio­nes ener­va­do­ras del princi­pi­ante

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