While browsing around for interesting articles on Popular Science, I came across these two about geniuses: how genius needs play and curiosity in order to thrive, and how there seems to be a sore lack of geniuses lately thanks to how modern science works.
This first article talks about Erik Demaine, a computer scientist, who says that he “collects problems, which are the key to everything.” He looks for questions rather than answers, and involves himself in anything that piques his curiosity, regardless of where it may lead. For example, he proved that the box pleat, a particular kind of paper-folding, has no mathematical limits, and can therefore be applied to make what fellow colleague Daniela Rus calls “programmable matter.”
As Erik says:
“It’s got to be cool. Ultimately, everything I do I kind of view as recreational, in that I do it because I enjoy it.”
Check out the rest of the article for more! It’s a great read.
Now onto the second article, in which Dean Smith Simonton claims that scientific geniuses don’t exist anymore in because of how modern science is taught. Simonton says that true geniuses come up with “surprising ideas that are not a mere extension of what is already known” instead of having run-of-the-mill smarts. Famous geniuses of history, including Albert Einstein, Copernicus, Darwin, Galileo, and others, all have one thing in common: they completely turned entire fields of research upside down or created new fields altogether.
Thanks to how schooling works nowadays, you need more training in order to become proficient in a field. But as a result of that, you narrow your level of expertise and essentially become a “know-it-all.” Simonton compares today’s scientists to Olympian athletes: athletes win Olympic gold and beat world records by mere fractions and scientists win Nobel prizes for improving upon theoretical explanations.
Because research is now hybridizing different fields of science, there’s no room to revolutionize a field all by itself. In order for the latter to happen, that particular field or discipline needs to be “in a state of crisis that is produced by the accumulation of critical findings that continue to resist explanation.” There are some great crises that need solving, such as the origin of life, or the inability to connect gravity to the other fundamental forces of nature. So perhaps, there’s hope yet.