Archive for the ‘boat’ 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?

Intellectual swing

October 12, 2007

In his 1985 book about Olympic rowing, The Amateurs, David Halberstam writes:

When most oarsmen talked about their perfect moments in a boat, they referred not so much to winning a race but to the feel of the boat, all eight oars in the water together, the synchronization almost perfect. In moments like that, the boat seemed to lift right out of the water. Oarsmen called that the moment of swing.

Similarly, consider a small group of people in a meeting. A successful face-to-face group is more than just a collection of individuals; it is more than the sum of the individuals. Everyone

  • works harder,
  • thinks smarter, and
  • reaches better conclusions

than they would have on their own.

When a boat has swing, its motion seems almost effortless. Although there are eight oarsmen in the boat, it’s as if there’s only one person — with perfect timing and perfect strength — rowing.

A small group which works well has intellectual swing.

— Extracted from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki