Why Rohit hates being 23.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Wed, 29 Apr 1998 13:23:55 -0700

Much as I love Charles van Doren's book "History of Knowledge"


, I've never read it straight through. I just pick a page and read a
little whenever I have a little time.

(Push. Aside to those of you who were wondering about the change in
Amazon URLs that still give FoRK the credit for the buy: the URLs for
books have stayed the same, but the URLs for music have changed. For
example, if I wanted to order the soundtrack to "Crimson Tide" for a
friend celebrating his 30th birthday today, I would not type the URL as
above, but rather form it using the cryptic "ASIN" and dropping the A in
forkrecommendedr like this:


Similarly, Velocity Girl's "Simpatico" album would be


Talk to me if this confuses you, otherwise I'm popping back to van
Doren's "History of Knowledge" passage for today. Pop.)

I learned from the book today that Isaac Newton before he was 23
invented four fundamental things:
1. Proof of binomial theory
2. Calculus
3. Mechanics
4. Optics

Then he spent the rest of his life trying to turn lead into gold.
Oh well, nobody's perfect.

One could argue that any one of us going back a few centuries could have
invented something we now take for granted, but even if that were the
case, Newton was exceptionally ahead of his colleagues. I wonder what
he'd think of the world (and the world of science) in 1998.

As for me, I'm past 23, and I'm never going to invent anything on par
with calculus -- let alone those three other things. I've had my
midmidlife crisis, I've come to grips with the fact, and I've moved on.
Now I think Rohit is entering his midmidlife crisis... which is why, I
think, he dislikes being 23.

I just want to say to Rohit: you don't have to invent calculus to make
the world a better place. Sometimes subtler things have rippling
repercussions, like butterfly wings causing worldwide-scale natural
phenomena (it's a metaphor, don't tell me why the latest innovations in
chaos theory know this to be ridiculous, because you know as well as I
do that the network effects of billions of simultaneous feedback cycles
make a gesture as simple as overtipping a waitress reverberate back
manyfold -- e.g., on the way home she buys an album for her teenager
feeding the music economy but also making the teen happier so he studies
and does well on his history exam the next day, making the teacher
pleased she's done a decent job instructuing so she goes home that night
and makes wild weasel love to her husband who happens to be some NSF
director of funds [I can dream, can't I?] so the next day he's all
smiles and just rubberstamps any old proposal that has the good fortune
of appearing in his inbox, one of which is a ridiculously vague yet
sincere writeup of the good that can come from funding some research
into an Internet-scale event notification service for decentralized
workflow management, so the director rubber stamps it anyway because
he's feeling good [word!] and a certain friend of yours then gets to
travel with you to COOTS in Santa Fe today instead of being stuck in
Pasadena looking up all the various Telnet RFCs for no particular
reason, which prevents him from posting that table of Telnet RFCs to a
mailing list of 80something members, allowing each of them to get a few
more minutes of work done today, and in those few minutes one of them
invents a way to allow healthy human cells to divide indefinitely
without mutation or cancerous growth, and a few years later his Biotech
startup is able to increase the lifespans of everyone on the planet by
20%, meaning your midmidlife crisis won't show up until you're 27... or
something... :)

Okay, back to work.


Newton's Four Rules of Science (from Book 3 of _Principia_):
1. Ockham's Razor (from the 14th century): "What can be done with
fewer is done in vain with more."
2. Cause-and-Effect: "Repeatability."
3. Generalizability of Results: "Deduction."
4. Revision of Theories to Account for New Observations: "Go to nature
and refine your theory to fill in the holes."