At primary school, we didn’t do any science at all, other than a weekly lesson with the headmaster at which the word ‘science’ was mentioned a couple of times. I was the first person in my entire extended family to make a career of science, or even to take a degree. My parents were not at all scientific, and were rather religious. An abiding memory is of my reading a book about dinosaurs, and my mother very huffily saying: ‘I don’t suppose that book says much about God having anything to do with it.’
At secondary school, I was pitched into the conventional triad of physics, chemistry and biology. I immediately found these subjects interesting, especially the latter two. I was filled with wonder at the incredible complexity of biological systems on such a tiny scale. But I was still dominated by religion, which badly dampened my drive for truth, so that for many years I didn’t really understand what science was as a method. 40 or 50 years ago, science was largely taught as facts.
Much later in life, I developed an understanding of the scientific method, and Richard Dawkins was the first author to help me with that. I then rapidly read other authors such as Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Charles Medawar, Steve Jones and Stephen Jay Gould, as well as the philosopher Daniel Dennett.
Once I reached the stage of even thinking about a career, I knew that this career would be in science, and nothing else occurred to me. I just wish I had got serious about science much earlier. I suppose I could say that originally, I inspired myself.