Quote of the Week: April 29

From "Scientific Success: What's Love Got to Do With It?" via gnxp.com:
Several years ago, Satoshi Kanazawa, then a psychologist at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, analyzed a biographical database of 280 great scientists--mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists. When he calculated the age of each scientist at the peak of his career--the sample was predominantly male--Kanazawa noted an interesting trend. After a crest during the third decade of life, scientific productivity--as evidenced by major discoveries and publications--fell off dramatically with age. When he looked at the marital history of the sample, he found that the decline in productivity was less severe among men who had never been married. As a group, unmarried scientists continued to achieve well into their late 50s, and their rates of decline were slower.

"The productivity of male scientists tends to drop right after marriage," says Kanazawa in an e-mail interview from his current office at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom. "Scientists tend to 'desist' from scientific research upon marriage, just like criminals desist from crime upon marriage."

Kanazawa's perhaps controversial perspective is that of an evolutionary psychologist. "Men conduct scientific research (or do anything else) in order to attract women and get married (albeit unconsciously)," he says. "What's the point of doing science (or anything else) if one is already married? Marriage (or, more accurately reproductive success, which men can usually attain only through marriage) is the goal; science or anything else men do is but a means. From my perspective, scientists are no different than anybody else; evolutionary psychology applies to all humans equally," he adds.


Quote of the Week: April 22

I'm going to make a strong statement-- I think Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near" was probably the most important book written in 2005. If you're at all curious about what sorts of- and what degree of- technology the future may hold, I suggest you pick it up. I think most readers of this blog would find it at least thought-provoking, and possibly world-changing. However, as I mentioned in my review, I do find it incomplete-- it gets at the economic, scientific, and technological aspects of technological change, but (in my opinion) gets the social, political, and human implications very wrong. As a hardcore geek, Kurzweil understands technology and has all sorts of thoughts on how he'd augment his body with advances in biotechnology and nanotechnology. But how geeks deal with technology is going to be a lot different than how the rest of the world- especially on the level of societies- does.

I'm convinced that the futurist community is really on to something and in fact has a type of wisdom about the future that the rest of society doesn't. For instance, I buy their argument that there is likely to be more technological and social change in the next twenty years than the last hundred, and I find Kurzweil's "law of accelerating returns" to be at once a simple yet awe-inspiring insight. But a community of technology geeks is really only prepared to offer half the story about the future, and until the insights of the futurist community really seep into public consciousness and "people geeks" join the discussion (define that as you will), that's how things will stand.

With that in mind, here's a quote from 10zenmonkeys.com's "Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity":
I think male geeks in the futurist community assume that human nature is the same as the nature of male geeks in the futurist community. And it’s kind of become a little religion; we have our own Rapture and our own eschatology and all that sort of stuff. But I think the idea of merging with machine intelligence is not appealing to lots of different kinds of people. And so when we talk about it, we talk as if this tiny sector of human experience –- and the kinds of enhancements male geeks want — is all that there is. But when you describe these kinds of things to most people, they’re not necessarily enthused. They’re more often afraid. So I think we need a clearer idea of what is universal in human needs to be able to explain The Singularity.


Quote of the Week: April 15

Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be and he adopts an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn, because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare.
Sir Peter Medawar, 1960 Nobel Laureate in Medicine


Quote of the Week: April 8

Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet (via John Hawks):

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it [that] there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
I plan on returning to this topic-- it's interesting and important.

If you'd like to read what else I've written today, I'd point you toward my post on the Citizendium Blog about our coverage in the L.A. Times. Though I have some issues with the Times' coverage, they quote me to finish off the article, which- to this midwesterner- is kinda exciting.


Quote of the Week: April 1

Netvibes recently opened a San Francisco office, and Mr. Krim acknowledged that he was fond of the Silicon Valley culture in which everyone seems to live and breathe computing and technology.

“I miss the fact you can start an interesting company just by talking to someone you meet while you are doing your laundry,” he said.
The New York Times, 1/24/2007: Move Over Silicon Valley, Here Come European Start-Ups