When the course began, Harvey started out by drawing a great, big
picture of a cell on the blackboard and labeling all the things that are in
a cell. He then talked about them, and I understood most of what he said.
After the lecture, the guy who had invited me said, "Well, how did you
"Just fine," I said. "The only part I didn't understand was the part
about lecithin. What is lecithin?"
The guy begins to explain in a monotonous voice: "All living creatures,
both plant and animal, are made of little bricklike objects called
"Listen," I said, impatiently, "I know all that; otherwise I wouldn't
be in the course. What is lecithin?"
"I don't know."
I had to report on papers along with everyone else, and the first one I
was assigned was on the effect of pressure on cells -- Harvey chose that
topic for me because it had something that had to do with physics. Although
I understood what I was doing, I mispronounced everything when I read my
paper, and the class was always laughing hysterically when I'd talk about
"blastospheres" instead of "blastomeres," or some other such thing.
The next paper selected for me was by Adrian and Bronk. They
demonstrated that nerve impulses were sharp, single-pulse phenomena. They
had done experiments with cats in which they had measured voltages on
I began to read the paper. It kept talking about extensors and flexors,
the gastrocnemius muscle, and so on. This and that muscle were named, but I
hadn't the foggiest idea of where they were located in relation to the
nerves or to the cat. So I went to the librarian in the biology section and
asked her if she could find me a map of the cat.
"A map of the cat, sir?" she asked, horrified. "You mean a zoological
chart!" From then on there were rumors about some dumb biology graduate
student who was looking for a "map of the cat."
When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off
by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles.
The other students in the class interrupt me: "We know all that!"
"Oh," I say, "you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast
after you've had four years of biology." They had wasted all their time
memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.