Monday, March 30, 2009

On Genius

A lot is being made about the heroic-heretical nature of the NYT's magisterial Freeman Dyson profile. And that's not to be dismissed. But on a broader level, it's always fascinating to see what native genius--real genius--looks like. Read about Einstein or Descartes or that sort of giant and you invariably come across stories like this one from Dyson:

His older sister Alice, a retired social worker still living in Winchester, remembers how her brother “used to lie on the nursery floor working out how many atoms there were in the sun. He was perhaps 4.”

Or this:

On his own in the school library, he read mathematical works in French and German and, at age 13, taught himself calculus from an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. “I remember thinking, Is that it?” he says. “People had been telling me how hard it was.”

Or this:

taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.”

It's depressing, but important, to realize that actual geniuses are different from mortals. They're simply different creatures.


PG said...

How is Dyson's genius any more impressive than the genius of, say, Ashton Kutcher? Kutcher has managed to parlay being unfunny (on a historic level), unattractive, unintelligent, and untalented in any meaningful way, into a hollywood career and millions of dollars.
In fact, Kutcher isn't just a genius, he's some sort of fucking magician.
Also, don't forget, Tony Dungy is a Football genius. And as ESPN tells me, that is pretty much the same thing.
Actually, I wonder what would happen if geniuses on Dyson's level went into sports. I suspect they would revolutionize the game in ways we couldn't predict.

Jason said...

Bill James is close. Not a genius, but a creative intelligence that disrupted the status quo.

And Jeff Green totally walked.

PG said...


Green jumped off his non-pivot foot. At no point in the history of basketball has this been considered traveling. Only Vandy losers still harp about this.
Get over it, Vandy lost, suck it!

Andrew said...

The reason CBS harped on the Green "travel" so much was that they'd completely ignored Greg Oden committing a flagrant foul at the end of the second round game against Xavier. He flat out pushed a player in the back, making him fly out of bounds.

The weird obsession with Green vs. Vandy was the in-studio version of a make-up call.

PG said...

Ok Jason, here is the definitive rule:
NCAA Rulebook:
Rule 4, Section 66, Article 4:
After coming to a stop and establishing the pivot foot:
a. The pivot foot may be lifted, but not returned to the playing court, before the ball is released on a pass or try for goal.

Green stopped, pivoted, then lifted his pivot foot to jump and did not bring the pivot foot back down before releasing his shot. Therefore not a travel. Vandy lost, get over it.

tom said...

So a Dyson sphere is orange?

Jason said...

Watch the video, particularly the opposite angle close up: Green, with possession, moves both his left foot and his right foot. Both feet make contact with the court, without a dribble, prior to leaving his feet for the shot.

Thereby violating rule 4, section 66, article 4.

I understand: Georgetown is a much more attractive elite 8 participant than Vanderbilt given the school's prominent BB heritage.