Austin, James H. Chase, Chance, and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1977.
The author is a neurologist who has contributed significantly to his field. In this personal
account, he tries to tell the story of his creativity. This is an account of what he did, when, to
whom, why, and what happened. It is an account which verifies his personal view of science, a
view not often told in textbooks. In his doing of science, he intellectually wanders all over the
place and he thinks his meanderings are typical of all scientists. Therefore, he tells his personal
story to compensate for the image of science obtained elsewhere that scientists use a very
His major point is probably that "chance" plays a very important part in the process of discovery.
He distinguishes between four different kinds of chance: 1) dumb luck; 2) good fortune which
befalls the active worker, (the guy who is "looking" gets lucky); 3) good fortune which befalls
the individual because he is well trained (Pasteur's "prepared mind"); and 4) the individual who
creates his own luck.
There are some wonderful recognitions in this book: "Completing a manuscript is like giving
birth to a cactus that has bloomed long before." (p. 171) In a discussion of the artificiality of
grant application writing: "In writing the application for funds the researcher must tread several
narrow lines. How much documentation should he include at the risk of boring the reader or
revealing ‘trade' secrets? How much enthusiasm can he convey about fresh ideas still to be tested
without appearing ‘far out' and ‘unscientific'? Should he apply to several agencies for support or
only to one; for two years' support or for three?..." (p. 170)
Austin is best when describing the unknowns of research, the steps in the research process which
are unknowable at the beginning. He writes good personal history. However, his trained
incapacity surfaces toward the last half of the book and he falls hopelessly into the pit of
biologism and creativity. He is really suggesting that the ultimate source of creativity is the brain.
The only departure from the usual claptrap about creativity is that he sees it as akin to the mental
experiences of Buddhists and those who meditate frequently. The same synapses, he suggests, are
operating at the level of meditation and creativity. He provides a useful bibliography on