Friday quote – Freeman Dyson on Wikipedia
“Even in the noisiest system, errors can be reliably corrected and accurate information transmitted, provided that the transmission is sufficiently redundant. That is, in a nutshell, how Wikipedia works. … Science is the sum total of a great multitude of mysteries. It is an unending argument between a great multitude of voices. It resembles Wikipedia much more than it resembles the Encyclopaedia Britannica.”
I have long been a fan of Freeman Dyson’s. His writings, and the motto “i would rather be wrong than vague” really strike a nerve. As a math prodigy he was of course in a very different position than most of us when he grew up. He was super smart. And as his son, and father noted, that made his situation different. So how did he handle it? How did he think about this gift of his, that he was supersmart and us others just ordinary? In a fantastic article by Kenneth Brower in the Atlantic he gives an answer that is kind of awesome:
The prodigy in question, Freeman Dyson, now middle-aged, stared ahead, his incessant concentration on the road unbroken. He seemed mesmerized by the oncoming pavement, or by some idea or formulation glimpsed in the immateriality beyond the pavement. I asked him whether as a boy he had speculated much about his gift. Had he asked himself why he had this special power? Why he was so bright?
Dyson is almost infallibly a modest and self-effacing man, but tonight his eyes were blank with fatigue, and his answer was uncharacteristic.
“That’s not how the question phrases itself,” he said. “The question is: why is everyone else so stupid?”
That is both sad, and funny in its own way, at the same time. Perspective. Now let’s wrap this Friday up.