This is from David Hubel, although the citation is not to hand.
Most importantly, today’s organization of science tends to deprive a young scientist of one of the most important learning experiences, that of thinking up a project of one’s own and carrying it through; deciding for oneself, independently, whether to persist or to give up and switch over to something else.
I read this book so long ago I cannot remember when. But Perutz had a way with words ( as well as molecules).
What is Life? helped to make influential biologists out of several physicists: Crick, Seymour Benzer and Maurice Wilkins, among others. But there’s no indication from contemporary reviews that many biologists grasped the real significance of Schrödinger’s code-script as a kind of active program for the organism. Some in the emerging science of molecular biology were critical. Linus Pauling and Max Perutz were both damning about the book in 1987, on the centenary of Schrödinger’s birth. Pauling considered negative entropy a “negative contribution” to biology, and castigated Schrödinger for a “vague and superficial” treatment of life’s thermodynamics. Perutz grumbled that “what was true in his book was not original, and most of what was original was known not to be true even when the book was written”.
He finds the current art scene disturbing in its voracious focus on acquisition. “It is not so different from bitcoin. Art is the ultimate cryptocurrency. What the art world is doing is engineering the consensual value of something, very quickly. It only needs two people, a buyer and a seller.”
“And often the learned men of our time are only dwarfs on the shoulders of dwarfs.”
The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco
“The more you regard college as a credentialing exercise, the less likely you are to get the benefits.”
the problem is that education has become the default solution to everything.
Andrew Keen, in How to Fix the Future. A speaker at last year’s OEB meeting. Worth a read.
‘True science thrives best in glass houses where everyone can look in. When the windows are blacked out, as in war, the weeds take over; when secrecy muffles criticism, charlatans and cranks flourish’.
Max Perutz (1914-), Austrian born biochemist. Shared 1962 Nobel Prize for X-ray crystallography of haemoglobin.
Hype is not fading, it is cracking.
I like the turn of phrase. It is from a post on the coming AI winter. Invest wisely.
It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?”
Fine thoughts, with words and a life to match
The departure of scientific reality from what common sense suggests is going on (the sun going round the Earth, for example) no longer threatens political institutions, but it threatens the human psyche just as much as it did in Galileo’s day. Dr Hawking’s South Pole of time was 13.7 billion years in the past—three times as old as the Earth. His mathematics showed that the universe, though finite in time, might be infinite in space.
No philosophy that puts humanity anywhere near the centre of things can cope with facts like these. All that remains is to huddle together in the face of the overwhelmingness of reality. Yet the sight of one huddled man in a wheelchair constantly probing, boldly and even cheekily demonstrating the infinite reach of the human mind, gave people some hope to grasp, as he always wished it would.
The Economist’s obit of Stephen Hawking
The day-to-day weary battle to counteract the exaggerations and misinformation that corporations spend so much time creating. Including universities. Those seeking to subvert the intention of regulators, have more money, more time, and abuse the externalities that society has allowed them.
This is some text I recognise, but I had forgotten its source: Bruce Schneier.
Technology magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. Criminals, dissidents, the unorganized—all outliers—are more agile. They can make use of new technologies faster, and can magnify their collective power because of it. But when the already-powerful big institutions finally figured out how to use the Internet, they had more raw power to magnify.
This is true for both governments and corporations. We now know that governments all over the world are militarizing the Internet, using it for surveillance, censorship, and propaganda. Large corporations are using it to control what we can do and see, and the rise of winner-take-all distribution systems only exacerbates this.
This is the fundamental tension at the heart of the Internet, and information-based technology in general. The unempowered are more efficient at leveraging new technology, while the powerful have more raw power to leverage. These two trends lead to a battle between the quick and the strong: the quick who can make use of new power faster, and the strong who can make use of that same power more effectively.
“politics, and not economics, will be the key driver of human progress and prosperity in years to come”
Just look at the NHS. Dambisa Moyo quoted in the Lancet.
Vargas Llosa tells me he is starting a new novel, and I wonder if he will ever stop writing, as Philip Roth did as he approached 80. “Writing is what I do. It is my life,” he replies immediately. “To be alive but dead is the worst possible thing, although it happens to many people.” Vargas Llosa then bows his head low to the table in a gesture of the abundant grace and humanity that I had not expected to see two hours earlier. “In fact, I hope to die writing.”
John Paul Rathbone in the FT
“he rose because of the widespread but baseless hunch that people with little outward charisma must possess great depth by way of cosmic balance.”
As anyone who has worked in a large organisation knows, people who are put in charge of a complex activity that would be better left alone, never do nothing; they seek to justify their existence by simplifying and restricting that activity so that it can be controlled.
This article (‘Humans may not always grasp why AIs act’) in the Economist gets to the right answer, but by way of a silly example involving brain scanning. The issue is that people are alarmed that that it may not be possible to understand how AI might come to a certain decision. The article rightly points out that we have the same problem with humans. This issue looms large in medicine where many clinicians believe they can always explain to students how they come to the correct answer. The following is one of my favourite Geoff Norman quotes:
Furthermore, diagnostic success may be a result of processes that can never be described by the clinician. If the right diagnosis arises from pattern recognition, clinicians are unlikely to be able to tell you why they thought the patient had gout, any more than we can say how we recognize that the person on the street corner is our son. Bowen claims that “strong diagnosticians can generally readily expand on their thinking”; I believe, instead, that strong diagnosticians can tell a credible story about how they might have been thinking, but no one, themselves included, can really be sure that it is an accurate depiction.
We are Strangers to Ourselves, as Timothy Wilson put it.
The result, he says, is not only a meek student population but also “the biggest Ponzi scheme in British history” – a comparison famously made by Theresa May’s former adviser Nick Timothy.
“The great thing about a Ponzi scheme”, Professor Sutherland continued, “is that you can keep expanding it.”
(All the way to jail, some might say).
“People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.”
Pedro Domingos, The Master Algorithm1, (2015)
via John Naughton
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
”Davos specialises in projecting a future from a recent past that took it by surprise,” Edward Luce quoting himself
This reminds me of a proof of calculus I learned all those years ago: infinitesimals, and all that.
The endless concern about stamps of approval and achievement distorts education and can even rob an interesting career of its joys. A professor friend introducing students at an East Coast college to Beethoven was greeted with a dead-eyed question from the back of the class: ‘Excuse me professor, will this be in the test?
“For example, I studied Physics, so I learned about how physicists think… and it is not how most people think. They have these tricks which turn difficult problems into far easier problems. The main lesson I took away from Physics is that you can often take an impossibly hard problem and simply represent it differently. By doing so, you turn something that would take forever to solve into something that is accessible to smart teenagers.”
But the opposite is now much more common. I think there are whole swathes of modern institutional and corporate life, that are designed to make the simple, complicated. At best, simple may sometimes be wrong, but complicated is usually useless — or much worse. I seem to remember Paul Jannsen, when asked why we do not seem to be able to discover revolutionary new drugs like we once did, respond: ‘in those days the idea of obviousness still existed’.
When asked why he had made so few films—thirteen features over a period of forty years—Robert Bresson invariably answered that it was hard to get funding for the sort of work he wanted to do. “Money,” he memorably said, “likes to know everything in advance.”
Science fiction writer William Gibson coined the phrase, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” It’s a well-known and oft-repeated line.
I’m proposing a slight variation, or perhaps a corollary principle:
The dystopia is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.
The finite speed of light ensures that no bureaucratic authority can be effective over large distances.
I am happy to hear views contrary to my own. I hope there will always be clashes of cultures. I hope there will always be Malvolios to engage Sir Toby’s wits. With thanks to my critics.
“In the harshest single sentence of an otherwise gentlemanly book, he calls the French educational system “a vast insider-trading crime”.
Seems a nice term of phrase for what the academy might once have been (and still should be). But I guess the the definition of the Fourth Estate in a networked world is broad.
[Barry] John ran in another dimension of time and space. His opponents ran into the glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches
He is one of 10 case studies in Black Tudors, an enlightening and constantly surprising book about the men and women of African origin who found themselves on a cold island on the fringe of Europe amid a pale and pockmarked people.