May. 8th, 2009

shirou: (Default)
I noticed on CNN a link for an article titled "Will right-brainers will rule this century." I thought to myself that some right-brained person was certainly creative with his grammar, and out of amusement I clicked the link. Fortunately the typo was on the main page only, and the actual article was titled "Why right-brainers will rule this century." It turned out to be a transcript of a conversation between Oprah and the author of a book with the same title as this article.

In this interview, Oprah describes a left-brained person as a "linear, logical number cruncher." I hate that. I get the impression that most of the world has no idea what it takes to do well in logical disciplines like physics and mathematics. Certainly it does require a facility with numbers, but that's just the starting point. That's arithmetic. Success in a quantitative field requires the ability to think abstractly; simple linear progression won't get you there.

Research requires an enormous amount of creativity. Creativity is not an "artistic" trait. Of course a good artist needs to be creative, but creativity is not confined to the artistic realm. There is no single method for solving logical puzzles; as new problems are encountered one needs to be creative and invent new techniques.

Take, for example, the theorem of Pythagoras which everybody learns in grade school. According to Wikipedia, the theorem was known by the Babylonians and the Indians, but it was not until Pythagoras (and/or one of his students) that a proof was constructed. The proof is trivial; even without trigonometry, one can use dimensional analysis to write it in just a few lines. The Babylonians and the Indians had the mathematical tools to find the proof, and they surely would have understood it had it been presented to them, but they didn't find it because it took a spark of creativity.

Today we are trying to prove theorems that are much more complicated than anything Pythagoras encountered, and we are trying to develop an understanding of systems far more complex than triangles in flat space. The answers we seek will not come to us by virtue of computational power alone. If that were the case, we could put up our heels, have a drink and let computers do the work for us (nevermind who is going to program those computers, which also takes creativity!). The rules of logic constrain what is possible, but they will not guide us on a linear course toward the solutions we desire. It takes innovation, imagination and inspiration to explore the space of possibilities -- many of which haven't even been thought of yet! -- and make progress in our understanding of the world.


shirou: (Default)

November 2011


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