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Saturday, March 03, 2012

"Only he was fully awake"

A great quote from this review of George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral. Despite the title, von Neumann is the central character.

... mathematician John von Neumann, ... was incomparably intelligent, so bright that, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner would say, "only he was fully awake."

More Wigner quotes:

I have known a great many intelligent people in my life. I knew Planck, von Laue and Heisenberg. Paul Dirac was my brother in law; Leo Szilard and Edward Teller have been among my closest friends; and Albert Einstein was a good friend, too. But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jansci [John] von Neumann. I have often remarked this in the presence of those men and no one ever disputed me.

... But Einstein's understanding was deeper even than von Neumann's. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann's. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jansci's brilliance, he never produced anything as original.

Von Neumann in action.

I'm doing my best to increase the number of future humans who will be "fully awake" ;-) My current estimate is that one or two hundred common mutations (affecting only a small subset of the thousands of loci that influence intelligence) are what separate an ordinary person from a vN. There's plenty of additive variance to be exploited, and many desirable human phenotypes that have never been realized. (Also some dangerous ones.)

... The most extensive selection experiment, at least the one that has continued for the longest time, is the selection for oil and protein content in maize (Dudley 2007). These experiments began near the end of the nineteenth century and still continue; there are now more than 100 generations of selection. Remarkably, selection for high oil content and similarly, but less strikingly, selection for high protein, continue to make progress. There seems to be no diminishing of selectable variance in the population. The effect of selection is enormous: the difference in oil content between the high and low selected strains is some 32 times the original standard deviation.

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