Chase, Chance, and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty

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MIT Press, Aug 15, 2003 - Self-Help - 267 pages
A personal story of the ways in which persistence, chance, and creativity interact in biomedical research.

This first book by the author of Zen and the Brain examines the role of chance in the creative process. James Austin tells a personal story of the ways in which persistence, chance, and creativity interact in biomedical research; the conclusions he reaches shed light on the creative process in any field. Austin shows how, in his own investigations, unpredictable events shaped the outcome of his research and brought about novel results. He then goes beyond this story of serendipity to propose a new classification of the varieties of chance, drawing on his own research and examples from the history of science—including the famous accidents that led Fleming to the discovery of penicillin. Finally, he explores the nature of the creative process, considering not only the environmental and neurophysiological correlates of creativity but also the role of intuition in both scientific discoveries and spiritual quests. This updated MIT Press paperback edition includes a new introduction and recent material on medical research, creativity, and spirituality.


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A great book on creativity by a prominent neurologist. He details his research paths in the tracking down of the etiology of MLD, GLD
, and other dystrophy diseases. Particularly intriguing is how he was led into looking for neurological disorders in urine. He is at his best when he describes the typical branching off of research projects whenever an "un"-successful experiment is done. He injects a compound into a rat to create disease 'X' and gets a reaction which looks like disease 'Y' and this leads to his uncovering the etiology of disease 'Y'. The neurological and biochemical material, while appearing forbidding due to the diagrams of the book, are really easily approachable by the interested layman.
There is some useful material for my planned essay on the etiology of laughter and inspiration for a novel. (Working titles are: "Convulsions for Fun and Profit" and "The Mad Scientist and the Deaf Mute Artist.")
In the last few chapters there is abundant useful material on the benefits of meditation - but you will have to read about them to find out, meditation won't do it for you. Suggest you try meditating before you read it. How about listening to a comedy album before taking a test on creativity? Works great according to a study he cites. Austin's book is well footnoted and an entire appendix is devoted to credits: from his father to his MLD patients.
Austin is a gentle, caring scientist with a fondness for the chase. He credits Peter Rabbit for that love. He gave that name to real rabbits he chased and caught as a teenager. He includes a newspaper clipping of his own arrest as a mad man one day - he was released when he released the rabbit. No doubt both he and Peter Rabbit are still running today. As an adult he chased diseases to their warrens as assiduously as he chased Peter Rabbit and in his lifetime he's plunked many of them into his gunny sack of discoveries. James is probably still out there chasing a rabbit right now and, with the luck of chance, will catch one as you're reading this.
Bobby Matherne


Of Nerves and Neurologists Boston 1950
Enlarged Nerves Oakland 1951
Metachromasia New York City 1953
Microscopic Studies New York City 1953
Sulfated Lipids Portland Oregon 1955
Molecules and Meanderings 1957
Controls and the Experimental Globoid Response 1960
Enzymes and India 1961 19621963
Never on Monday The Unhappy Accidents
The Roots of Creativity
Some Dimensions of Creativity
The Creative Personality Pro
The Creative Personality Pro and Con
Motivations Underlying Creativity
Flashback Life with Father 1941
The Search for Novel Stimuli

Flashback The Chase 1942
Tom and Lafora Bodies 1965
Finger Prints on the Window Filling in the Hole
Overview What Next? So What?
The Varieties of Chance
Chance and the Creative Adventure
On the Trail of Serendipity
The Kettering Pasteur and Disraeli Principles
Personal Encounters with Chance IIV
The Spanish Connection
The Fleming Effect Examples of Chance in Biology and Medicine
Right BrainLeft Brain One Brain
The Quest The Quests
The Creative Setting
The Creative Prelude
Moments of Creative Inspiration
Follow Through A More Personal View
All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
Prescription for Creativity
In Closing

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About the author (2003)

James H. Austin, a clinical neurologist, researcher, and Zen practitioner for more than three decades, is Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Courtesy Professor of Neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He is the author of Zen and the Brain, Chase, Chance, and Creativity, Zen-Brain Reflections, Selfless Insight, Meditating Selflessly, and Zen-Brain Horizons, all published by the MIT Press. For more information, please visit

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