Jonas Salk dream realized

By Charlotte Jacobs
When most hear the name Jonas Salk, the man about whom I am writing a biography, they think about the polio vaccine.  In 1959, however, Sir Charles Percy’s “The Two Cultures,” became his bible. “We are living in the middle of two cultures,” Snow proclaimed, “which have scarcely any contact at all--the traditional non-scientific culture and an up-and-coming scientific one.  They are startlingly different, not only in their intellectual approach, but even more so in their climate of thought and their moral attitudes.”  These two groups—literary intellectuals and scientists—rarely communicated, and when they did, the tone was unreceptive, often antagonistic.  Lawmakers, for example, seldom took into account the implications of science when determining public policy, and scientists didn’t always consider the best interests of mankind when conducting research.  “I felt there ought to be a place,” Salk said, “for biological studies but which also contained the conscience of man.”  He set out to create at place whose natural splendor engendered an atmosphere conducive to harmony and creativity.  He chose La Jolla where architect James Kahn built an architectural masterpiece—the Salk Institute.  Today the Salk Institute is considered one of the premier research institutes in the world, but despite Salk’s enormous efforts, science trumped humanism. As I have experienced three weeks of “Scientific Delirium Madness” at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, co-sponsored by Leonardo, I keep thinking, “This is Salk’s dream being realized.”  I can almost feel him walking between the Artist’s Barn an the Middlebrook Writing Studios, saying, “Yes, this is what I was striving for.”