Archive for the ‘Albert Einstein’ Category

Would Albert Einstein read New York Times bestsellers?

December 4, 2009

I am reading this book:

“Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely

It is a very interesting read. It describes some of the author’s research findings in the (new) field of behavioral economics. And it is a New York Times bestseller.

For a book to be a bestseller it must appeal to a large number of people, i.e., it must appeal to the masses. What are the implications of that? Clearly the average person doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of every field. So a bestselling author must present his material in a way that requires little or no understanding of the field. Research results are oftentimes rather dry. “Dry” doesn’t lend itself well to “bestselling.” So the author must spice things up-emotionalize the material, appeal to the readers emotions. What are the implications of that?

Several years ago, as I was beginning to learn about the field of complex systems, I read a pop-sci book on the topic. The book was very exciting and-to my thinking-it provided profound insights into the field of complex systems. I attended a class at the New England Complex Systems Institute. The instructor was a world-renowned scientist. Being so excited about this book, I approached the instructor to get his opinion about it and, in particular, a certain section of the book. Much to my surprise the instructor had never read the book. I was shocked, “How could he have not read this wonderful book, especially when it’s in his field of expertise?” I asked him to read a certain section because I wanted his feedback. He was gracious enough to do it on the spot. I don’t recall his comments. I only recall feeling that his comments were very controlled, he didn’t want to hurt my feelings. He was clearly not impressed by the book.

I wonder if it may actually be damaging to read bestsellers? Do they lead the reader into ideas and beliefs that are simply wrong?

If Albert Einstein were alive today, would he read New York Times bestsellers?

From food production to Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein

February 4, 2008

“By enabling farmers to generate food surpluses, food production permitted farming societies to support full-time craft specialists who did not grow their own food and who developed technologies.” [Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond]
Thus food production enabled humankind to explore art and philosophy and science.  Without the ability to generate a food surplus there would have been no Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein.

Here’s how Einstein judged a scientific theory

December 12, 2007

When judging a scientific theory, his own or another’s, he asked himself whether he would have made the universe in that way had he been God.

Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel by Banesh Hoffmann

The world is comprehensible

December 11, 2007

“The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

— Albert Einstein

Antidote for the “not invented here” syndrome

September 28, 2007

Want to discover something or invent something? Discovering or inventing something that is completely new, that no one has ever conceived, is very unlikely (virtually zero probability). You are much more likely to succeed by taking an existing idea and applying it in a novel way.

Below is a quote from the book Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. They are talking about the benefits to companies of using old ideas in new ways. However, I think this benefit applies to all of us, not just companies.

I have always (mistakenly) thought that research meant discovering/inventing something totally new. If I were Albert Einstein then perhaps I could do that. Since I’m not, I now realize that a better approach is to expand my learning to many different areas and then apply ideas from other areas to my area of research.

“Creativity is mostly sparked by old ideas. Both major creative leaps and incremental improvements come from fiddling with ideas from other places and blending them in new ways.”

“Better ideas result when people act like nothing is invented here and seek new uses for others’ ideas.”

“Unfortunately, too many companies are plagued by the not invented here syndrome, where people insist on using homegrown ideas, especially ideas that can be ballyhooed as new and different.”

Not everything that can be counted counts …

September 16, 2007

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  [Albert Einstein]

Example: when researching a species these things are important, but cannot be counted: the texture of the skin, the color, the smell.

So, it’s not only quantitative data that is useful when collecting evidence and information.

— Extracted from Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

The hallmark of science is its ability to explain things

August 7, 2007

“The hallmark of science is not its ability to forecast the future, but its ability to explain things – to increase our understanding of the workings of the universe. The role of predictions in science is to help us distinguish competing explanations.”

“Science is full of examples of fields where researchers can explain phenomena and test the validity of their explanations, without necessarily being able to make accurate forecasts. For example, biologists can explain but not forecast the folding of proteins, and physicists can explain but not forecast the exact motion of a turbulent fluid.”

“Science is a continuous learning process in which the logical implications of competing explanations are tested and a body of evidence is accumulated over time. As Karl Popper showed in the 1930s, there is no ‘final proof’ that a theory is correct, but one can say whether a theory is disproved by data. For example, one cannot say that Einstein’s theory of relativity has been proven, but one can say that its predictions have been well tested, it has yet to be contradicted, and it fits the data better than any alternative explanation proposed thus far. Science thus goes through a process of proposing various explanations, rigorously articulating them in ways that can be tested, eliminating theories that fail the tests, and building on the ones that succeed.”

— Origins of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker