Kary Mullis was the eccentric scientist who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Mullis’s book, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, is the autobiographical story of his life and his eccentricities.
Mullis was the quintessential scientist. He questioned everything and was open to anything. He discovered PCR while driving his car to his cabin in California. He saw the reactions dancing in his head. He had to pull over to think things through. He tried to explain it to his girlfriend at the time, but she didn’t quite understand. He knew that if he could get it to work like his daydream had told him, it would change history. Back in the lab, he made it work. He told his employer and colleagues about it, and they didn’t think much of it.
Mullis gave presentations about it and no one cared. He wrote a scientific paper about it and couldn’t get it published. But he knew he was on to something important. A friend told him to quit his job and start his own company. But, Mullis was worried that once everyone caught on to his discovery, the company he was working for would claim it was theirs since he discovered it while working for them. Once people caught on to the importance of PCR, that is what they did. He didn’t make much money from the discovery, but he did win the Nobel prize which opened up other doors for him.
The Eccentric Scientist
Psychotropic drugs were just another way to run experiments for Mullis. He was a fan of LSD, nitrous oxide, and other compounds. Once, he passed out after inhaling nitrous oxide through a long tube. He woke up with frostbite on his lips, but the tube was placed far away from him. He couldn’t believe he was still alive. He was thankful to have only gotten frostbite.
After a hook-up with one of his random lovers, she told him that she had used astral projection to take the tube delivering nitrous out of his mouth and place it on the table next to him so that he would live. He was astounded because he’d never told anyone the story before. He came to believe that traveling through space and time with astral projection was what saved him that day.
During his undergrad years, Mullis got a paper published in the prestigious journal, Nature, by waxing philosophical about time travel and astrophysics. Topics that he says he knew nothing about. Yet when he tried to publish his paper on an actual scientific achievement, PCR, he couldn’t get it published anywhere! He came to the conclusion that much of what passed as science was bullshit.
Much to the chagrin and embarrassment of those around him, Mullis questioned everything. When he was working on a test for AIDS, he was looking for a scientific reference that tied HIV to AIDS. He couldn’t find it. He began asking around. No one else had it either. He realized that the HIV-AIDS hypothesis had never been shown to have much solid evidence, much less a scientific paper showing the connection. HIV had simply been assumed to be the cause, through some very flimsy connections. Later he found out that many scientists questioned the connection. Most prominently was the scientist, Peter Duesberg, who wrote the excellent book, Inventing the AIDS Virus. Incredulous, Mullis began shouting his learnings from the rooftop. Needless to say, he wasn’t invited to speak at many conferences after that and had some creative ways of dealing with his dis-invitations.
Dancing Naked in the Mind field invites the reader to think a bit differently. Mullis’s creative ramblings encourage the reader to think for themselves and ask questions. It takes someone a bit outside the norm to come up with really great ideas. He wasn’t embarrassed to share his crazy ideas about alien abduction, astral projection or to question the cause of global warming or the veracity of the HIV-AIDS hypothesis. His book is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the true scientists of our time.