The speaker did not give a talk so much on physics but rather on his personal experiences up through physics grad school at the University of Oregon, many years ago. His father was a famous physicist, but he was more interested in math as a young boy, especially number theory. He majored in math at Stanford, and then started working on a degree in theoretical particle physics at Berkeley. But he found the work being done there "ugly" and way above his abilities. Moreover, this was during the Vietnam War, and the politics on campus back then was too intense for him, although he was sympathetic. He ended up transferring to the UO physics department, where he at least found the atmosphere much more laid back. But he still found theoretical physics to be too hard for him, and too "ugly" (too many unjustified assumptions motivated merely by flimsy mathematical justifications). At one point he was so disgusted with his field that he quit. He ended up doing theoretical solid state physics, even though he had originally felt like this was little more than engineering. To cut to the chase, he started his talk recounting some experimental mathematics he did while still a teenager, using what was then Stanford's only computer. And he connected in telling part of his life story, he ended up coming full circle to explain how his earlier interests as a boy connected to a significant paper he published towards the end of his graduate career. This paper concerned how the energy bands of crystals in a magnetic field depend on the strength of that field. A graph summarizing his results has been reproduced many times on the covers of solid state physics texts and physics journals, making him a kind of physics celebrity. What he discovered is known as the Hofstadter Butterfly and his name is Douglas Hofstadter.
This was a fascinating talk, not only because his experiences mirrored mine (and probably many of yours) to some extent, but also because he wrote the PulitzerPrize winning book GĂ¶del, Escher, Bach, which came out and I ready while studying math in college. But he did not talk about his book, at least not directly, but rather about many of his failures proceeding his subsequent success with the book, become a professor of cognitive science, publishing other books, and succeeding Martin Gardner as the mathematics columnist for Scientific American. But afterwards I asked him about GEB, as the introduction to the book explains that he wrote a first version of the book while still a grad student at UO. It was a passion of love for him, but one that he saw was interfering with getting a doctorate, which he felt he needed to do in order to have a membership card into academia. So for a time he found ways to forbid himself from working on the book. (He would reduce his small food allowance for every hour he worked on the book, which could easily have led him to starvation.) Subsequently, he totally rewrote the book to be in the form that was published, but that is all sequel to the "failed" period of life he was describing.
If there was a moral to his talk  it certainly wasn't about any deep physical or mathematical principles  it was about how luck plays an important role in life, perhaps as much as innate ability, skill and hard work.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Douglas Hofstader at UO
A former physicist I went to grad school with, who now lives in Eugene, writes about a talk given by Doug Hofstader yesterday. Unfortunately I missed the talk, although I read Hofstader's autobiographical I am a Strange Loop a few years ago. Godel, Escher, Bach made a big impression on me in high school. I actually considered going into AI, until I discovered there was no there there ;)
Subscribe to:
Post Comments (Atom)
Blog Archive

▼
2011
(266)

▼
02
(24)
 James Salter
 BJ Penn forever
 Fear and loathing and hollowing out
 In transit
 Caltech basketball
 Lunch with Razib
 In search of brainpower
 Caltech photos 2
 Sociobiological implications of the (historical) r...
 The Great Stagnation
 Demography and destiny
 Silva  Fedor MMA
 Caltech photos
 Bobos and the brain
 Berkeley photos 2
 Shooting Through the Wormhole
 Through the wormhole
 Feynman and magic
 You say you want a revolution
 Ron Unz and wealth inequality
 Berkeley photos
 Douglas Hofstader at UO
 Berkeley from above
 Eugene, Oregon

▼
02
(24)
Labels
 physics (315)
 finance (257)
 genetics (251)
 globalization (237)
 brainpower (223)
 technology (164)
 economics (151)
 american society (148)
 photos (146)
 China (145)
 science (145)
 psychometrics (143)
 genomics (125)
 innovation (124)
 psychology (122)
 travel (118)
 credit crisis (115)
 higher education (106)
 universities (105)
 human capital (104)
 biology (97)
 iq (88)
 startups (87)
 genetic engineering (84)
 credit crunch (78)
 cognitive science (77)
 careers (75)
 ai (74)
 gilded age (71)
 evolution (69)
 income inequality (69)
 elitism (68)
 autobiographical (65)
 statistics (60)
 books (58)
 quantum mechanics (58)
 social science (54)
 caltech (53)
 genius (53)
 machine learning (48)
 bgi (47)
 talks (47)
 kids (46)
 mma (46)
 cdo (45)
 history of science (45)
 geopolitics (43)
 sci fi (43)
 silicon valley (43)
 derivatives (42)
 education (42)
 harvard (39)
 mathematics (39)
 behavioral economics (38)
 bounded rationality (38)
 podcasts (37)
 bubbles (36)
 mortgages (36)
 academia (35)
 intellectual history (35)
 MSU (34)
 literature (33)
 hedge funds (32)
 jiujitsu (32)
 history (31)
 foo camp (30)
 political correctness (30)
 realpolitik (30)
 expert prediction (29)
 quants (29)
 ufc (29)
 bjj (28)
 efficient markets (28)
 many worlds (28)
 physical training (28)
 computing (27)
 sports (27)
 black holes (26)
 economic history (26)
 film (26)
 politics (26)
 entrepreneurs (25)
 subprime (25)
 housing (24)
 taiwan (24)
 google (23)
 obama (23)
 berkeley (22)
 athletics (21)
 feynman (21)
 movies (21)
 race relations (21)
 singularity (21)
 ultimate fighting (21)
 von Neumann (21)
 wall street (21)
 affirmative action (20)
 cds (20)
 neuroscience (20)
 nuclear weapons (20)
 scifoo (20)
 music (19)
 biotech (18)
 goldman sachs (18)
 internet (17)
 meritocracy (17)
 security (17)
 treasury bailout (17)
 university of oregon (17)
 venture capital (17)
 conferences (16)
 freeman dyson (16)
 gender (16)
 autism (15)
 blogging (15)
 cryptography (15)
 japan (15)
 personality (15)
 quantum field theory (15)
 algorithms (14)
 new yorker (14)
 smpy (14)
 cosmology (13)
 happiness (13)
 oppenheimer (13)
 probability (13)
 aspergers (12)
 hedonic treadmill (12)
 height (12)
 india (12)
 television (12)
 wwii (12)
 dna (11)
 fitness (11)
 geeks (11)
 malcolm gladwell (11)
 neanderthals (11)
 net worth (11)
 nobel prize (11)
 government (10)
 italy (10)
 les grandes ecoles (10)
 mutants (10)
 olympics (10)
 social networks (10)
 string theory (10)
 ability (9)
 chess (9)
 christmas (9)
 dating (9)
 entropy (9)
 eugene (9)
 flynn effect (9)
 football (9)
 nerds (9)
 pseudoscience (9)
 blade runner (8)
 complexity (8)
 crossfit (8)
 encryption (8)
 keynes (8)
 pca (8)
 pop culture (8)
 research (8)
 robot genius (8)
 usain bolt (8)
 Einstein (7)
 aig (7)
 alpha (7)
 art (7)
 ashkenazim (7)
 basketball (7)
 data mining (7)
 determinism (7)
 game theory (7)
 harvard society of fellows (7)
 hugh everett (7)
 james salter (7)
 manhattan (7)
 philip k. dick (7)
 qcd (7)
 real estate (7)
 turing test (7)
 alan turing (6)
 anthropic principle (6)
 energy (6)
 environmentalism (6)
 france (6)
 free will (6)
 fx (6)
 games (6)
 nassim taleb (6)
 nsa (6)
 philosophy of mind (6)
 privacy (6)
 success (6)
 teaching (6)
 volatility (6)
 Fermi problems (5)
 Go (5)
 academia sinica (5)
 bayes (5)
 bobby fischer (5)
 class (5)
 climate change (5)
 econtalk (5)
 luck (5)
 noam chomsky (5)
 paris (5)
 poker (5)
 prostitution (5)
 renaissance technologies (5)
 russia (5)
 sad but true (5)
 software development (5)
 tail risk (5)
 war (5)
 warren buffet (5)
 100m (4)
 Iran (4)
 Poincare (4)
 borges (4)
 cambridge uk (4)
 charles darwin (4)
 creativity (4)
 fake alpha (4)
 feminism (4)
 global warming (4)
 godel (4)
 hormones (4)
 humor (4)
 inequality (4)
 intellectual property (4)
 iraq war (4)
 kerviel (4)
 markets (4)
 microsoft (4)
 mixed martial arts (4)
 monsters (4)
 moore's law (4)
 nonlinearity (4)
 patents (4)
 perimeter institute (4)
 soros (4)
 trento (4)
 video (4)
 vietnam war (4)
 200m (3)
 babies (3)
 bill gates (3)
 brain drain (3)
 censorship (3)
 charlie munger (3)
 chet baker (3)
 cold war (3)
 correlation (3)
 democracy (3)
 demographics (3)
 ecosystems (3)
 equity risk premium (3)
 facebook (3)
 fannie (3)
 fst (3)
 information theory (3)
 intellectual ventures (3)
 jim simons (3)
 judo (3)
 kasparov (3)
 lee kwan yew (3)
 lewontin fallacy (3)
 lhc (3)
 michael lewis (3)
 nathan myhrvold (3)
 neal stephenson (3)
 new york times (3)
 olympiads (3)
 path integrals (3)
 quantum computers (3)
 rationality (3)
 risk preference (3)
 search (3)
 sec (3)
 sivs (3)
 society generale (3)
 solar energy (3)
 thailand (3)
 alibaba (2)
 assortative mating (2)
 bear stearns (2)
 bruce springsteen (2)
 charles babbage (2)
 cheng ting hsu (2)
 cloning (2)
 david mamet (2)
 digital books (2)
 donald mackenzie (2)
 eliot spitzer (2)
 empire (2)
 exchange rates (2)
 freddie (2)
 gaussian copula (2)
 industrial revolution (2)
 james watson (2)
 language (2)
 ltcm (2)
 magic (2)
 mating (2)
 mba (2)
 mccain (2)
 monkeys (2)
 national character (2)
 nicholas metropolis (2)
 no holds barred (2)
 offices (2)
 oligarchs (2)
 palin (2)
 population structure (2)
 prisoner's dilemma (2)
 skidelsky (2)
 socgen (2)
 sprints (2)
 supercomputers (2)
 variance (2)
 virtual reality (2)
 abx (1)
 anathem (1)
 andrew lo (1)
 antikythera mechanism (1)
 athens (1)
 atlas shrugged (1)
 ayn rand (1)
 bay area (1)
 beats (1)
 book search (1)
 bunnie huang (1)
 car dealers (1)
 carlos slim (1)
 catastrophe bonds (1)
 cdos (1)
 ces 2008 (1)
 chance (1)
 children (1)
 cochranharpending (1)
 cpi (1)
 david x. li (1)
 dick cavett (1)
 dolomites (1)
 drugs (1)
 dune (1)
 eharmony (1)
 epidemics (1)
 escorts (1)
 faces (1)
 fads (1)
 favorite posts (1)
 fiber optic cable (1)
 francis crick (1)
 gary brecher (1)
 gizmos (1)
 greece (1)
 greenspan (1)
 heinlein (1)
 hypocrisy (1)
 igon value (1)
 iit (1)
 inflation (1)
 information asymmetry (1)
 iphone (1)
 jack kerouac (1)
 jaynes (1)
 jfk (1)
 john dolan (1)
 john kerry (1)
 john paulson (1)
 john searle (1)
 john tierney (1)
 jonathan littell (1)
 las vegas (1)
 lawyers (1)
 lehman auction (1)
 les bienveillantes (1)
 lowell wood (1)
 lse (1)
 mcgeorge bundy (1)
 mexico (1)
 michael jackson (1)
 mickey rourke (1)
 migration (1)
 mit (1)
 money:tech (1)
 myron scholes (1)
 netwon institute (1)
 networks (1)
 newton institute (1)
 nfl (1)
 oliver stone (1)
 phil gramm (1)
 philanthropy (1)
 philip greenspun (1)
 portfolio theory (1)
 power laws (1)
 randomness (1)
 recession (1)
 sales (1)
 simulation (1)
 singapore (1)
 skype (1)
 standard deviation (1)
 star wars (1)
 starship troopers (1)
 students today (1)
 systemic risk (1)
 teleportation (1)
 tierney lab blog (1)
 tomonaga (1)
 twitter (1)
 tyler cowen (1)
 ussr (1)
 venice (1)
 violence (1)
 virtual meetings (1)
 war nerd (1)
 wealth effect (1)
1 comment:
I saw him last year at Uppsala University in Sweden, where the talk was all about language and translation. The UO lecture sounds more interesting.
Post a Comment