The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The Eurekronomicon
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Tell me this has never happened to you waiting for a red light:

Like me, you probably don’t associate the traffic lights on Southampton Row with the end of the world.

But it was while waiting there in 1933 that the Hungarian polymath Leo Szilard conceived the idea of a nuclear chain reaction, and thus the creation of the atomic bomb.

In the Telegraph, Tibor Fischer continues:

The car contains Szilard and his de facto chauffeur, Wigner (only Szilard would use a future Nobel Laureate as his taxi service). They are trying to find Albert Einstein to convince him of the need to urge the US government to start building an atomic bomb before the Nazis do.

When they finally locate Einstein and outline how chain reactions can be achieved, Einstein comments: “Daran habe ich gar nicht gedacht” (I hadn

July 3, 2007 / Uncategorized

5 comments

Laura says…

ahem. why don’t yooooouuuuu write it? or at the very least illustrate it? i would buy it in a second, and i’m sure you could convince publishers of the same.

Dan says…

Turns out that David Perkins, a professor in Project Zero (think: Howard Gardner) at Harvard, has written a variety of this book. It’s called “Eureka: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking”—probably more law of light bulbs than you’d want, but there are quite a few stories.

When I stopped into the bookstore yesterday I found an ominous black volume staring at me. Called “The Myths of Innovations.” Written by a guy I ought to despise (helped build MS IE), but who I’m coming to love as I read.

In the second chapter he argues that our fascination with “Eureka moments” is an attempt to make innovation look easy. Our perspective: “It just came to him!” The real story: “It just came to him… after many thousands of hours (and weeks and months and years) of toil and failure.”

Neat book… worth picking up.

It’s a fair point. But at the same time — insights DO occur, and sometimes all of a sudden. Not that they are without causes: In part the goal of the Eurekronomicon(tm) would be to trace out the antecedents for breakthrough thinking — the years of toil, etc.

For there is a difference between toil that leads to eureka and toil that leads nowhere. The problem is we don’t KNOW the difference very well. (Unless it’s just luck, which I am not yet ready to accept.)

Also noted: This book looks relevant. Eagerly await the trade paperback.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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