Saturday, September 30, 2006

the price of intelligence

Some highly productive individuals seem to also produce a sea of garbage. In dealing with the writings of Harvard string theorist Lubos Motl, for example, one encounters a very defensive individual who characterizes people who don't see things as he does as unintelligent and protects his view of science by throwing the word "crackpot" around every chance he can get. Yet he has enormous stamina and writes prolifically on all sorts of subjects on his blog.

Consider also, Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica, who's recent book, A New Kind of Science contained vague claims, poor referencing and an attempt to claim all future concepts as derivative of his own.

I also consider Noam Chomsky to be a similar type of individual, though I tend to be more sympathetic to him because I mostly agree with his politics.

I see these people as having narrow world views and enormous intellectual energy. One can say to them: "come on: clearly [string theory, cellular automata, universal grammar] is not enough to understand everything", but to ask them to back off from using the tools of their trades in understanding the world is to ask them to not to have a complete picture.

In some sense, I view them as sick. Normally they would require the reaching out from family and friends to give them a more nuanced perspective, but because of their high profiles, a more public form of help is required. It seems unfair in a way, because there are so many people in need of help, why should the public put all this energy into helping these few. But somehow their very sickness is tied into the public private interaction and it is our duty to help them out. I really see Wolfram's book as a cry for help. He is shouting out his isolation and asking to be understood. Having given us Mathematica and a few theorems on cellular Automata, if there were such a public help mechanism available, I would say he should be a recipient.
I guess I'm saying that highly focused individuals can make great contributions to society. The price society should pay back, if it wants to make use of these contributions is to put up with the garbage of those people and find a way to fill them out as individuals. "Fame" has tried to fill this role but probably usually fails.

What do I mean by help here? I guess I mean putting out the energy to do the analysis that could help them. Not that they will read these analyses. Who of us has the benefit of hundreds of people writing psychological analyses of us? Of course there is much simple tit for tat angry responses to these people. I guess I'm hoping for peace. And that requires a public that has a large enough perspective that it can accept the gifts of its members while explaining to those individuals how those gifts fit into the larger whole.

Having said all this, however, I would say that I don't actually see these people as all that much more intelligent than average. I have in mind a sort of "conservation of intelligence" type concept where if you put all your intelligence in one direction, you lose it in another, along the lines of the line I quoted by Richard Feynman a few posts back.

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