My own short illustrious collaboration with Francis Crick

by David Ng


CRICK: Is that your Ford Escort?

ME: Yes it is.

CRICK:  It’s in my parking spot.  Can you move it?

ME: Yes, definitely.  Sorry about that.

CRICK:  No worries.

– – –

I met Dr. Crick at San Diego’s Salk Institute during a summer trip in my graduate student days – although “met” is perhaps a verb with too much significance in this case.  I was actually there to touch base with some old friends of mine and was told to park in his spot since we would only be 15 minutes or so.  In truth, we were en route to Anaheim, Disneyland specifically, and bumping into scientific legends was the last thing on our minds.

Dr Crick, of course, is well known for his discoveries in the world of DNA, being one of the individuals responsible for figuring out how the A, T, C and G’s of genetic code stacked up.  But later in life, he took an interest into the mysteries of consciousness.  In particular, he was intrigued at how the brain so quickly generates visual awareness upon viewing a scene (or something like that).  It’s an interesting biological question, in that I know I’m curious to understand what goes on when you look upon the world – or perhaps in more profound instances, what happens when a child first sees the Magic Kingdom, when a soldier stares down the barrel of a gun, or when you first meet the person with whim you will, unbeknownst to you, fall in love with.

Almost the minute we parked our Ford Escort, Dr. Crick pulled up in a large stately white car, a Mercedes or a Cadillac I think.  He got out, dressed I can only describe in a manner that approximated most perfectly his vehicle, and politely asked that I move.  I obliged immediately.

Looking back, I often wondered what his consciousness was telling him when he saw me that day.  It’s probably quite different from what my own brain was experiencing: I just thought it was cool that his license plate read “ATCG.”