“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”  ~Stephen Jay Gould

Solitary Wanderer

Excerpted from The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle, © 1957:

It is curious in how great a degree human progress depends on the individual. Humans, numbered in thousands of millions, seem organized into an ant-like society. Yet this is not so. New ideas, the impetus of all development, come from individual people, not from corporations or states. New ideas, fragile as spring flowers, easily bruised by the tread of the multitude, may yet be cherished by the solitary wanderer.

 

Poles

There’s a North Pole and a South Pole, but there’s not an East Pole or a West Pole.

It would be very hard to give someone directions if you were standing at the North Pole, because every direction would be South.

If you took a compass to the North Pole, it would point South. Magnetic North is not the same as Axial North. If you took a compass to Magnetic North I like to think that it would spin around and around, but it would probably just try to point down.

If you started at the North Pole and began walking South, eventually you would find yourself walking North again. But if you started at the Equator and began walking East, you would just walk East forever.

That’s kind of disturbing.

A crystal to precipitate

Excerpted from The Great Influenza by John M. Barry,  © 2004:

All real scientists exist on the frontier. Even the least ambitious among them deal with the unknown, if only one step beyond the unknown. The best among them move deep into a wilderness region where they know almost nothing, where the very tools and techniques needed to clear the wilderness, to bring order to it, do not exist. There they probe in a disciplined way. There a single step can take them through the he looking glass into a world that seems entirely different, and if they are at least partly correct their probing acts like a crystal to precipitate an order out of chaos, to create form, structure, and direction. A single step can also take one off a cliff.

 

The Narrow Confines

“One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought. With this negative motive goes a positive one. Man seeks to form for himself, in whatever manner is suitable for him, a simplified and lucid image of the world, and so to overcome the world of experience by striving to replace it to some extent by this image. This is what the painter does, and the poet, the speculative philosopher, the natural scientist, each in his own way. Into this image and its formation, he places the center of gravity of his emotional life, in order to attain the peace and serenity that he cannot find within the narrow confines of swirling personal experience.”  ~Albert Einstein (source)

It makes you feel a little sad for him, doesn’t it?

Probe Vertically, See Horizontally

Excerpted from The Great Influenza by John M. Barry,  © 2004:

The greatest challenge of science, its art, lies in asking an important question and framing it in a way that allows it to be broken into manageable pieces, into experiments that can be conducted that ultimately lead to answers. To this requires a certain kind of genius, one that probes vertically and sees horizontally.

Horizontal vision allows someone to assimilate and weave together seemingly unconnected bits of information. It allows an investigator to see what others do not see, and to make leaps of connectivity and creativity. Probing vertically, going deeper and deeper into something, creates new information. Sometimes what one finds will shine brilliantly enough to illuminate the whole world.