(William Heinemann)

THIS book was first published in 1950 and is now [1958] in its third edition. Its author, Sir William Beveridge, is Professor of Animal Pathology at Cambridge, and his work with young research scientists has prompted the writing of a widely acclaimed volume, in which he bulldozes a path through the ruins of nineteenth century rationalism to allow the student and the layman a full view of the landscape of the scientific mind.

He demolishes the nineteenth century myth not by confronting it with a new pedantry but by the more effective technique of exposure. He has taken the statements and histories of great scientists of the past and present to show that the conception of the scientific thesis is always pre-rational and comes from the unconscious and is grasped at the fringe of consciousness by a process of intuition.

Reason, he shows, functions almost exclusively as a mode of validation after the event. Thus, there are chapters on “Imagination,” on “Intuition,” on “Chance,” on the “Limitations and hazards” of logical processes, and on the “Mental resistance to new ideas” both in the individual and in society.

Professor Beveridge sees two basic types of people: those who react to external influences and those who accept and accumulate them; and this book is a plea for the “reactors,” since these are the thinkers, the researchers. Ordinary examinations are not a good guide to a student’s ability in research, since they tend to favour the accumulators rather than the thinkers. Einstein failing his Polytechnic Entrance Examination is a monument to the inadequacy of such systems; whilst still a schoolboy the living example of a truth which he later formulated: ‘There is no inductive method which could lead to the fundamental concepts of physics. Failure to understand this fact was the fundamental philosophical error of the nineteenth century.” Yet still, to return to the point of the book, “In formal education the student is led implicitly if not explicitly to believe that reason is the main or only method by which science advances.” (reviewer’s italics).

The truth, however, is more dismal even than this. Who could deny that the discursive attitude permeates not only science teaching but all teaching – all life; or that the reliance on reason, rather than imagination, is itself the rationalization of a psychic principle of which our society cannot let go. The author’s declared intention does not allow him to tackle this wider question, except by implication, and it is a pity that he did not devote a little more space to the problems of motivation and “lab. neurosis.” One of the important motives for taking up research, he says, is “esteem,” and it would be interesting to know how involved with this is the nervous anxiety which comes from constant frustration – to what extent egocentric motives abort the gestation of a new idea – and how intimately such phenomena are connected with the authoritarian roots of nineteenth century rationalism; for these are the besetting problems of all creative activity – in art and in life, no less than in science.

However, it is because Sir William sticks to his own field that his book becomes of such value to those outside; for the implications are clear, and summarized with apt economy in its title which I celebrate with my italics: amusing, poignant, eminently lucid: “The Art of Scientific Investigation” is a book no educator should neglect to read.