On Really Trying

What are the true limits to motivation?
transhumanism, politics
2009-06-232016-09-16 notes certainty: unlikely importance: 9


"Stu­dent: How can one re­al­ize his Self­-na­ture? I know so lit­tle about the sub­ject.

: First of all, you must be con­vinced you can do so. The con­vic­tion cre­ates de­ter­mi­na­tion, and the de­ter­mi­na­tion zeal. But if you lack con­vic­tion, if you think ‘maybe I can get it, maybe I can’t’, or even worse, ‘This is be­yond me!’ - you won’t awaken no mat­ter how much you do zazen."1

When I came across this quote, I was struck by its rel­e­vance to one of ‘beisut­sukai’ posts about find­ing the suc­ces­sor to quan­tum me­chan­ics, “The Fail­ures of Eld Sci­ence”.

I meant to write an es­say on how in­ter­est­ing it is that we in­tel­lec­tu­ally know that many of our cur­rent the­o­ries must be wrong, and even have pretty good ideas as to which ones, but we still can­not psy­cho­log­i­cally tackle them with the same en­ergy as if we had some anom­aly or para­dox to ex­plain, or have the ben­e­fit of hind­sight. The stu­dents in Eliez­er’s story know that quan­tum me­chan­ics is wrong; some­one with a well-ver­i­fied ob­ser­va­tion con­tra­dict­ing quan­tum me­chan­ics knows that it is wrong (re­place ‘quan­tum’ with ‘clas­si­cal’ as you wish). They will achieve bet­ter re­sults than a bat­tal­ion of con­ven­tional QMists.

But noth­ing quite gelled.

“—for over thirty years,” Jeffreys­sai said. “Not one of them saw it; not Ein­stein, not Schrödinger, not even von Neu­mann.” He turned away from his sketcher, and to­ward the class­room. “I pose to you to the ques­tion: How did they fail?”

Bren­nan did­n’t jump. He de­lib­er­ately waited just long enough to show he was­n’t scared, and then said, “Lack of prag­matic mo­ti­va­tion, sen­sei.”

“The Man­hat­tan Pro­ject,” Bren­nan said, “was launched with a spe­cific tech­no­log­i­cal end in sight: a weapon of great pow­er, in time of war. But the er­ror that Eld Sci­ence com­mit­ted with re­spect to quan­tum physics had no im­me­di­ate con­se­quences for their tech­nol­o­gy. They were con­fused, but they had no des­per­ate need for an an­swer. Oth­er­wise the sur­round­ing sys­tem would have re­moved all bur­dens from their effort to solve it. Surely the Man­hat­tan Project must have done so - Taji? Do you know?”

Jeffreys­sai chuck­led slight­ly. “Don’t guess so hard what I might pre­fer to hear, Com­peti­tor. Your first state­ment came closer to my hid­den mark; your oh-so-Bayesian dis­claimer fell wide… The fac­tor I had in mind, Bren­nan, was that Eld sci­en­tists thought it was ac­cept­able to take thirty years to solve a prob­lem. Their en­tire so­cial process of sci­ence was based on get­ting to the truth even­tu­al­ly. A wrong the­ory got dis­carded even­tu­ally - once the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents grew up fa­mil­iar with the re­place­ment. Work ex­pands to fill the time al­lot­ted, as the say­ing goes. But peo­ple can think im­por­tant thoughts in far less than thirty years, if they ex­pect speed of them­selves.” Jeffreys­sai sud­denly slammed down a hand on the arm of Bren­nan’s chair. “How long do you have to dodge a thrown knife?”

— They did­n’t know that they were look­ing for a bet­ter the­o­ry.

The stu­dents in this story have the in­cred­i­ble ad­van­tage that they are start­ing from a wrong the­ory and know this for cer­tain, and not merely sus­pect or hold as a gen­eral phi­los­o­phy-of-science prin­ci­ple ‘there’s prob­a­bly a bet­ter the­ory than the cur­rent one’. This gives them sev­eral things psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly:

  1. the will­ing­ness to scrap painfully won in­sights and the­o­ries in fa­vor of some­thing new and
  2. saves them from spend­ing all their time and effort patch­ing up the old the­o­ry.

I know in the past when I’ve tried my hand at prob­lems (logic puz­zles come to mind) that I am far more mo­ti­vated and effec­tive when I am as­sured that there is in fact a cor­rect an­swer than when I am un­sure the ques­tion is even an­swer­able.

And a quick note to those who think I’m echo­ing Bren­nan: I am, here, but my point differs in that I don’t think it was a mat­ter of ‘train­ing’.

I think if you ab­ducted all the old greats, gave the nec­es­sary ex­per­i­men­tal data, and gave them a few months to pro­duce the new the­ory be­fore they were dragged out to the shed and shot, then they could do it just as well as these stu­dents. It’s all about mo­ti­va­tion.

It’s not a mat­ter of com­pe­tency at par­a­digm shifts, if you will; it’s ac­cept­ing that one needs to hap­pen now and you are the one who needs to do it. But there’s no nor­mal way to con­vince a sci­en­tific com­mu­nity of this; is­n’t it true that most new par­a­digms fail to pan out?

From “Class Project”:

Jeffreys­sai took a mo­ment to look over his in­creas­ingly dis­turbed stu­dents, “Here is your as­sign­ment. Of quan­tum me­chan­ics, and Gen­eral Rel­a­tiv­i­ty, you have been told. This is the limit of Eld sci­ence, and hence, the limit of pub­lic knowl­edge. The five of you, work­ing on your own, are to pro­duce the cor­rect the­ory of quan­tum grav­i­ty. Your time limit is one month.”

Or­di­nar­i­ly, at this point, I would say: “Now I am about to tell you the an­swer; so if you want to try to work out the prob­lem on your own, you should do so now.” But in this case, some of the great­est sta­tis­ti­cians in his­tory did not get it on their own, so if you do not al­ready know the an­swer, I am not re­ally ex­pect­ing you to work it out. Maybe if you re­mem­ber half a hint, but not the whole an­swer, you could try it on your own. Or if you sus­pect that your era will sup­port you, you could try it on your own; I have given you a tremen­dous amount of help by ask­ing ex­actly the cor­rect ques­tion, and telling you that an an­swer is pos­si­ble.

http://­less­wrong.­com/l­w/qr/­time­less_­causal­i­ty/

http://www.­co­or­di­na­tion­prob­lem.org/2010/04/neu­ro­log­i­cal-f­reak­s-and-the-drive-to-ex­cel.html

once told me that as a kid, he re­mem­bered be­ing stuck on a jig­saw puz­zle. His broth­er, who was pass­ing by, said to him: “You know: I could tell you some­thing.”

That’s all his brother said.

Yet that was enough hint to help Claude solve the puz­zle. The great thing about this hint… is that you can al­ways give it to your­self.

, “Ad­vice to a Be­gin­ning Grad­u­ate Stu­dent”

One of my fa­vorite Kag­gle facts: after a long leader­board stag­na­tion pe­riod for a com­pe­ti­tion, see­ing one team make a sud­den break­through will often cause mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dent teams to quickly re­pro­duce the same break­through—with no knowl­edge of how the first team did it.

François Chol­let

After work­ing as a sta­tis­ti­cian in Seat­tle, he [] wrote in 1939 to , whose pa­pers had in­ter­ested him, and an as­sist­ant­ship was arranged for him at Berke­ley. This story from that pe­riod is a clas­sic:

Dur­ing my first year at Berke­ley I ar­rived late one day to one of Ney­man’s class­es. On the black­board were two prob­lems which I as­sumed had been as­signed for home­work. I copied them down. A few days later I apol­o­gized to Ney­man for tak­ing so long to do the home­work – the prob­lems seemed to be a lit­tle harder to do than usu­al. I asked him if he still wanted the work. He told me to throw it on his desk. I did so re­luc­tantly be­cause his desk was cov­ered with such a heap of pa­pers that I feared my home­work would be lost there for­ev­er.

About six weeks lat­er, one Sun­day morn­ing about eight o’­clock, Anne and I were awak­ened by some­one bang­ing on our front door. It was Ney­man. He rushed in with pa­pers in hand, all ex­cit­ed: “I’ve just writ­ten an in­tro­duc­tion to one of your pa­pers. Read it so I can send it out right away for pub­li­ca­tion.” For a minute I had no idea what he was talk­ing about. To make a long story short, the prob­lems on the black­board which I had solved think­ing they were home­work were in fact two fa­mous un­solved prob­lems in sta­tis­tics. That was the first inkling I had that there was any­thing spe­cial about them.

[from Al­bers 1994, More Math­e­mat­i­cal Peo­ple: Con­tem­po­rary Con­ver­sa­tions]

Tales of Sta­tis­ti­cians, E Bruce Brooks 2001

  • “In the He­brew Uni­ver­si­ty, it [the story about Dantzig] is told about Avi­noam Mann.” –Daniel Moskovich
  • “At Prince­ton, it is told about (who else) Jack Mil­nor. The re­sult is the ‘Fary-Mil­nor’ the­o­rem, on the to­tal cur­va­ture of a knot­ted curve (there is an An­nals pa­per to back up the sto­ry…)” –Igor Rivin
  • “The ver­sion I heard was that Mil­nor was late to class, and copied down sev­eral (open) prob­lems writ­ten on the board that he thought were home­work. At a later class he says, ‘That home­work was hard! I only got 2 of them.’” –Jonas Meyer
  • “Paul Co­hen used to claim that the Bergman ker­nel was dis­cov­ered this way (by Bergman).” –Dan Ram­ras
  • “The Huff­man code story I heard is that in an in­for­ma­tion the­ory class, Huff­man had a choice of writ­ing a term pa­per or tak­ing a fi­nal. His term pa­per was the dis­cov­ery of an al­go­rithm for find­ing op­ti­mal bi­nary codes (i.e., Huff­man codes).” –Peter Shor

–Math­Over­flow

  • Ron Gra­ham, pg105:

Har­vard math­e­mati­cian Persi Di­a­con­is, who has col­lab­o­rated with Gra­ham many times, de­scribes him as “a re­mark­ably ac­com­plished math­e­mati­cian. Ron is al­ways will­ing to help a strug­gling stu­dent or a col­league. He never leaves you hang­ing. He’s a ge­nius, but a nice ge­nius.”

Di­a­co­nis re­mem­bers giv­ing a talk about joint re­search that he and Gra­ham had done. He ended his talk by say­ing “This prob­lem is still un­solved.” At that point, Gra­ham, who was in the au­di­ence, stood up and gave a so­lu­tion on the spot. The au­di­ence, thor­oughly im­pressed, burst into ap­plause, an un­usual out­pour­ing of emo­tion for a group of math­e­mati­cians.

Benoit Man­del­brot, pg 224–226

MP: Klein­ian groups and it­er­ates of ra­tio­nal func­tions were re­puted to be highly tech­ni­cal math­e­mat­i­cal top­ics. When and why did you be­come in­volved?

Man­del­brot: In 1976, after I had read Hadamard’s su­perb obit­u­ary of Poin­caré (which every­one will soon be able to read - and should read - in an Amer­i­can Math­e­mat­i­cal So­ci­ety book on Poin­car­é). This obit­u­ary made it ap­par­ent that my work should be ex­tended be­yond the lin­early in­vari­ant frac­tals, to which I had re­stricted my­self up to that point. In­deed, the limit sets of Klein­ian groups and of groups based upon in­ver­sions are frac­tals al­so; the lat­ter could be called self­-in­verse. This forth­com­ing ex­ten­sion of self­-sim­i­lar frac­tals was men­tioned in a last-minute ad­di­tion to the 1977 Frac­tals, and then I set out to work, namely to play on the com­puter in or­der to ac­quire a “hand­s-on” in­tu­ition. The pay­off comes very quick­ly, in the form of an ex­plicit con­struc­tion al­go­rithm for the self­-in­verse limit sets. It took me longer to as­cer­tain that, to my sur­prise, I had solved a prob­lem that had stood for one hun­dred years.

  • pg258:

John von Neu­mann took classes from Pólya at the Ei­d­genös­sis­che Tech­nis­che Hochschule in Zürich. Pólya re­called that he once re­marked in class that he thought a cer­tain con­jec­ture was true but he had not been able to prove it. A few min­utes later the young von Neu­mann raised his hand and an­nounced that he had a proof. He went to the board and ex­plained it. Pólya agreed that it was cor­rect, but he later re­marked, “After that I was afraid of von Neu­mann.”

  • Rob­bins, pg291-292:

It was in the Navy, in a rather strange way, that my fu­ture ca­reer in sta­tis­tics orig­i­nat­ed. I was read­ing in a room, close to two naval offi­cers who were dis­cussing the prob­lem of bomb­ing ac­cu­ra­cy. In no way could I keep from over­hear­ing their con­ver­sa­tion: “We’re drop­ping lots of bombs on an airstrip in or­der to knock it out, but the bomb im­pacts over­lap in a ran­dom man­ner, and it does­n’t do any good to oblit­er­ate the same area sev­en­teen times. Once is enough.” They were try­ing to de­cide how many bombs were nec­es­sary to knock out maybe 90% of an area, tak­ing into ac­count the ran­dom­ness of im­pact pat­terns. The two offi­cers sus­pected that some re­search groups work­ing on the prob­lem were prob­a­bly drop­ping poker chips on the floor in or­der to trace them out and mea­sure the to­tal area they cov­ered. Any­way, I fi­nally stopped try­ing to read and asked my­self, what re­ally does hap­pen when you do that? Hav­ing scrib­bled some­thing on a piece of pa­per, I walked over to the offi­cers and offered them a sug­ges­tion for at­tack­ing the prob­lem. Since I was­n’t en­gaged in war re­search, they were not em­pow­ered to dis­cuss it with me. So I wrote up a short note and sent it off to one of the two offi­cers. In due course, it came to the at­ten­tion of some math­e­mat­i­cal re­search group work­ing on the prob­lem. How­ev­er, I had no clear­ance to dis­cuss clas­si­fied mat­ters, so there was a real com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lem: how were they go­ing to find out my ideas with­out telling me some­thing I should­n’t know? (What I should­n’t know was, in fact, the Nor­mandy in­va­sion plan­s.) Well, in some mys­te­ri­ous way, what I had done came to the at­ten­tion of Marston Morse, and he saw to it that my note reached the right peo­ple. Shortly after­ward, S. S. Wilks , then ed­i­tor of the An­nals of Math­e­mat­i­cal Sta­tis­tics, asked me to ref­eree a pa­per by Jerzy Ney­man and Ja­cob Bronowski (au­thor of The As­cent of Man) on this very same prob­lem. I rec­om­mended re­ject­ing their pa­per as “a rather un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt at solv­ing a prob­lem that is eas­ily solved if it’s done the right way, and here’s how to do it.” Wilks wrote back that he had to pub­lish the pa­per be­cause Ney­man was one of the au­thors. But he also wanted me to pub­lish a pa­per on what I’d writ­ten to him. So, after the war in Eu­rope end­ed, there’s an is­sue of the An­nals con­tain­ing the pa­per by Ney­man and Bronowski, fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by my pa­per which, so to speak, says, “Please dis­re­gard the pre­ced­ing pa­per. Here’s the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem that they can’t solve.” That was my first pub­li­ca­tion in the field of sta­tis­tics. But even then I had no idea that I would be­come a sta­tis­ti­cian. What I had been do­ing was not sta­tis­tics, but some rather el­e­men­tary prob­a­bil­ity the­o­ry.

Math­e­mat­i­cal Peo­ple: Pro­files and In­ter­views 2008 (ISBN 978-1-56881-340-0), edited by Al­bers

One of the in­ter­est­ing con­se­quences of the use of three­-di­men­sional in­tu­ition is that the field of low-di­men­sional topol­ogy has ad­vanced in a way that is sig­nifi­cantly differ­ent from other branches of math­e­mat­ics. One is ex­pected to “see” re­sults in this field, and once the re­sult, or par­tial re­sult, has been “seen”, it re­quires no fur­ther dis­cus­sion. I do not wish to crit­i­cize this ap­proach. I have my­self “seen” sev­eral re­sults in this field, and be­lieve them to be as cor­rect as any other math­e­mat­ic­s….On­ce, at a sem­i­nar, one of the world’s best low-di­men­sional topol­o­gists was pre­sent­ing a ma­jor re­sult. At a cer­tain point an­other dis­tin­guished topol­o­gist in the au­di­ence in­ter­vened to say he did not un­der­stand how the speaker did a cer­tain thing. The speaker gave an an­guished look and gazed at the ceil­ing for at least a minute. The mem­ber of the au­di­ence then affirmed “Oh yes, I had­n’t thought of that!” Vis­i­bly re­lieved, the speaker went on with his talk, glad to have com­mu­ni­cated this point to the au­di­ence. Such is truth in math­e­mat­ics.

–“A credo of sorts”; Vaughan Jones (Truth in Math­e­mat­ics, 1998), pg 216-218

We re­cently re­ported on a game played at the clos­ing din­ner at last De­cem­ber’s Chess Clas­sic. Dur­ing this din­ner at Simp­sons in the Strand they stage a now tra­di­tional simul by the play­ers of the Clas­sic against the guests. Most ta­bles have one or more strong chess play­ers whose job is to guide rather than di­rect. One par­tic­u­larly high­-pow­ered ta­ble had Rachel Reeves, MP, the Shadow Chief Sec­re­tary to the Trea­sury, who was a UK U14 girls cham­pi­on, Pro­fes­sor Vinayak Dravid, a lead­ing nan­otech­nol­o­gist from the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago, the In­dian High Com­mis­sioner Ra­jesh N Prasad, Jo John­son MP, brother of Boris, and Fred­eric Friedel. Their ad­vi­sor was Garry Kas­parov…After the game some of the simul mas­ters said Kas­parov had per­haps been too gen­er­ous with his ad­vice dur­ing the game. But he vig­or­ously de­nied this: “Be­fore the crit­i­cal sac­ri­fice I said one word: ‘wow!’ Fred im­me­di­ately jumped up and started to analyse with Rachel, and they worked out the sac­ri­fice to­geth­er, in less then a minute.” He then pro­ceeded to re­count the story about his 1996 game against Anand in Las Pal­mas, given above, and how at the time it had be­come clear to him that a sin­gle bit of in­for­ma­tion, passed on to a player at the right mo­ment, could have a de­ci­sive in­flu­ence on the course of a game. “If Fred was al­lowed to come in and sig­nal ‘now!’ in the crit­i­cal po­si­tion I would have worked out 20.g4 and played it!” That’s right, it often needs just one bit of in­for­ma­tion – ‘now!’ – to change the re­sult of a game.

“A his­tory of cheat­ing in chess (4)”, Fred­eric Friedel 2000

…deriv­ing a the­o­rem on the black­board, Wiener in his in­tu­itive way . . . skips over so many steps that by the time he ar­rives at the re­sult and writes it down on the board, it is im­pos­si­ble for the stu­dents to fol­low the proof. One frus­trated stu­dent . . . tact­fully asks Wiener if he might show the class still an­other proof. . . . Wiener cheer­fully in­di­cates, “Yes, of course,” and pro­ceeds to work out an­other proof, but again in his head. After a few min­utes of si­lence he merely places a check after the an­swer on the black­board, leav­ing the class no wis­er.60

–F. Con­way and J. Siegel­man, Dark Hero of the In­for­ma­tion Age (New York: Ba­sic Books, 2004), pg83 (this anec­dote has been told a num­ber of times about Wiener, and I be­lieve some other math­e­mati­cians as well)

S stands for se­cret; you can keep it forever—
Pro­vided there’s no one abroad who is clever.

, “Atom Al­pha­bet”

In the prob­lem of de­cod­ing, the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion which we can pos­sess is the knowl­edge that the mes­sage which we are read­ing is not gib­ber­ish. A com­mon method of dis­con­cert­ing code­break­ers is to mix in with the le­git­i­mate mes­sage a mes­sage that can­not be de­cod­ed; a non-sig­nifi­cant mes­sage, a mere as­sem­blage of char­ac­ters. In a sim­i­lar way, when we con­sider a prob­lem of na­ture such as that of atomic re­ac­tions and atomic ex­plo­sives, the largest sin­gle item of in­for­ma­tion which we can make pub­lic is that they ex­ist. Once a sci­en­tist at­tacks a prob­lem which he knows to have an an­swer, his en­tire at­ti­tude is changed. He is al­ready some 50% of his way to­ward that an­swer.

In view of this, it is per­fectly fair to say that the one se­cret con­cern­ing the atomic bomb which might have been kept and which was given to the pub­lic and to all po­ten­tial en­e­mies with­out the least in­hi­bi­tion, was that of the pos­si­bil­ity on its con­struc­tion. Take a prob­lem of this im­por­tance and as­sure the sci­en­tific world that it has an an­swer; then both the in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity of the sci­en­tists and the ex­ist­ing lab­o­ra­tory fa­cil­i­ties are so widely dis­trib­uted that the qua­si­-in­de­pen­dent re­al­iza­tion of the task will be a mat­ter of merely a few years any­where in the world.

–em­pha­sis added; pg124-125, Nor­bert Wiener,

Weiner was cor­rect: given the knowl­edge that atomic bombs were pos­si­ble, it is pos­si­ble to in­vent one us­ing the open lit­er­a­ture. pg 39–40, MacKen­zie & Spinardi 1995

Even with­out such pub­li­ca­tions, much could be in­ferred from rel­a­tively el­e­men­tary physics. As long ago as 1946, it was re­ported that a “Mid­west­ern teacher of high­-school physics” had used the in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the Smyth re­port suc­cess­fully to cal­cu­late the size of an atomic bomb (Friendly 1946, p. 3; see Smith 1970, p. 84). Since then, there have been re­ports that “un­der­grad­u­ates at Prince­ton and MIT have drafted roughly fea­si­ble atomic weapon de­signs, draw­ing only from un­clas­si­fied doc­u­ments” (Har­vard Nu­clear Study Group 1983, p. 219), as had sci­en­tists await­ing se­cu­rity clear­ance at the nu­clear weapons lab­o­ra­to­ries (Hersh 1991, p. 155).

The Guardian on the

To­day his ex­pe­ri­ences in 1964 - the year he was en­listed into a covert Pen­ta­gon op­er­a­tion known as the Nth Coun­try Project - sud­denly seem as ter­ri­fy­ingly rel­e­vant as ever. The ques­tion the project was de­signed to an­swer was a sim­ple one: could a cou­ple of non-ex­perts, with brains but no ac­cess to clas­si­fied re­search, crack the “nu­clear se­cret”? In the after­math of the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis, panic had seeped into the arms de­bate. Only Britain, Amer­i­ca, France and the So­viet Union had the bomb; the US mil­i­tary des­per­ately hoped that if the in­struc­tions for build­ing it could be kept se­cret, pro­lif­er­a­tion - to a fifth coun­try, a sixth coun­try, an “Nth coun­try”, hence the pro­jec­t’s name - could be avert­ed. To­day, the fear is back: with al-Qaida resur­gent, North Ko­rea out of con­trol, and nu­clear ru­mours em­a­nat­ing from any num­ber of “rogue states”, we cling, at least, to the be­lief that not just any­one could fig­ure out how to make an atom bomb. The trou­ble is that, 40 years ago, any­one did.

…They would be work­ing in a murky limbo be­tween the world of mil­i­tary se­crets and the pub­lic do­main. They would have an office at Liv­er­more, but no ac­cess to its war­rens of re­stricted offices and cor­ri­dors; they would be banned from con­sult­ing clas­si­fied re­search but, on the other hand, any­thing they pro­duced - di­a­grams in sketch­books, notes on the backs of en­velopes - would be au­to­mat­i­cally top se­cret. And since the bomb that they were de­sign­ing would­n’t, of course, ac­tu­ally be built and det­o­nat­ed, they would have to fol­low an ar­cane, pre­cisely chore­o­graphed rit­ual for hav­ing their work tested as they went along. They were to ex­plain at length, on pa­per, what part of their de­vel­op­ing de­sign they wanted to test, and they would pass it, through an as­signed lab work­er, into Liv­er­more’s re­stricted world. Days lat­er, the re­sults would come back - though whether as the re­sult of real tests or hy­po­thet­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions, they would never know…Even­tu­al­ly, to­wards the end of 1966, two and a half years after they be­gan, they were fin­ished. “We pro­duced a short doc­u­ment that de­scribed pre­cise­ly, in en­gi­neer­ing terms, what we pro­posed to build and what ma­te­ri­als were in­volved,” says Selden. “The whole works, in great de­tail, so that this thing could have been made by Joe’s Ma­chine Shop down­town.”

Ag­o­nis­ing­ly, though, at the mo­ment they be­lieved they had tri­umphed, Dob­son and Selden were kept in the dark about whether they had suc­ceed­ed. In­stead, for two weeks, the army put them on the lec­ture cir­cuit, tour­ing them around the up­per ech­e­lons of Wash­ing­ton, pre­sent­ing them for cross-ques­tion­ing at de­fence and sci­en­tific agen­cies. Their ques­tion­ers, peo­ple with the high­est lev­els of se­cu­rity clear­ance, were in­structed not to ask ques­tions that would re­veal se­cret in­for­ma­tion. They fell into two camps, Selden says: “One had been hold­ing on to the hope that de­sign­ing a bomb would be very diffi­cult. The other ar­gued that it was es­sen­tially triv­ial - that a high­-school sci­ence stu­dent could do it in their garage.” If the two physics post­docs had pulled it off, their re­sult, it seemed, would fall some­where be­tween the two - “a straight­for­ward tech­ni­cal prob­lem, but one that in­volves some rather so­phis­ti­cated physics”. Fi­nal­ly, after a vale­dic­tory pre­sen­ta­tion at Liv­er­more at­tended by a grumpy Ed­ward Teller, they were pulled aside by a se­nior re­searcher, Jim Frank. “Jim said, ‘I bet you guys want to know how it turned out,’” Dob­son re­calls. “We said yes. And he told us that if it had been con­struct­ed, it would have made a pretty im­pres­sive bang.” How im­pres­sive, they wanted to know. “On the same or­der of mag­ni­tude as Hi­roshi­ma,” Frank replied.

While still dis­puted, as it hinges on whether the Ger­man physi­cists were as morally blind & cul­pa­ble as they ap­peared, the was stalled by er­ro­neous cal­cu­la­tions that tons of ura­nium would be re­quired for a rather than 5-10kg; but when they were cap­tured and learned of the suc­cess­ful bomb­ing of Hi­roshima on 1945-08-07, the Farm Hall tran­scripts in­di­cate that with just this knowl­edge, Heisen­berg was able to find his er­ror by 1945-08-14 and cal­cu­late that a more ac­cu­rate fig­ure was 14kg. This was still off by 2x but far more fea­si­ble than tons.

To put it at its most el­e­men­tary, while ob­serv­ing oth­ers rid­ing bi­cy­cles does not en­able one to learn the skills of the cy­clist, it nev­er­the­less shows that cy­cling is pos­si­ble. Know­ing that older broth­ers or sis­ters have learned to ride can en­cour­age younger sib­lings not to con­clude from early fail­ures that the task is im­pos­si­bly hard.

…The con­fi­dence—in­deed over­con­fi­dence—of wartime An­glo-Amer­i­can physi­cists (in­clud­ing Con­ti­nen­tal refugees) in the ease of de­vel­op­ment of a nu­clear weapon does not seem to have been widely shared by their French, Ger­man, or So­viet col­leagues, and the gov­ern­ments of the last two coun­tries were un­con­vinced prior to 1945 that the task was fea­si­ble enough to be worth the kind of re­sources the Amer­i­cans de­voted to it (see, e.g., Hol­loway 1981; Gold­schmidt 1984, p. 24).24 Trin­i­ty, Hi­roshi­ma, and Na­gasaki were dra­matic demon­stra­tions that the task was not im­pos­si­bly hard, and this proof (as well, of course, as the per­ceived threat to the So­viet Union) ex­plains the sud­den shift in the USSR in 1945 from a mod­est re­search effort to an al­l-out, top-pri­or­ity pro­gram (Hol­loway 1981).

As we have seen, the British test ex­plo­sion in 1952, al­though no threat to France, con­tributed to the lat­ter’s weapons pro­gram by sug­gest­ing that de­vel­op­ing an atomic bomb was eas­ier than had pre­vi­ously been as­sumed. Like­wise, the Chi­nese ex­plo­sion in 1964 showed other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that the atomic bomb was not nec­es­sar­ily the pre­serve solely of the highly in­dus­tri­al­ized world. Fur­ther­more, pro­found ques­tions over the fea­si­bil­ity of early hy­dro­gen bomb de­signs helped de­lay the Amer­i­can move from an atomic to a hy­dro­gen bomb (Bethe 1982). By con­trast, all sub­se­quent hy­dro­gen bomb pro­grams could pro­ceed with con­fi­dence in the ba­sic achiev­abil­ity of their goal, and, in words used in an­other con­text by a group of weapons de­sign­ers (Mark et al. 1987, p. 64), “The mere fact of know­ing [some­thing] is pos­si­ble, even with­out know­ing ex­actly how, [can] fo­cus … at­ten­tion and efforts.”

http://­less­wrong.­com/l­w/g75/p­sa_­please_list_y­our_ref­er­ences_­don­t_just_link/87f1?­con­tex­t=3

One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of suc­cess­ful sci­en­tists is hav­ing courage. Once you get your courage up and be­lieve that you can do im­por­tant prob­lems, then you can. If you think you can’t, al­most surely you are not go­ing to. Courage is one of the things that Shan­non had supreme­ly. You have only to think of his ma­jor the­o­rem. He wants to cre­ate a method of cod­ing, but he does­n’t know what to do so he makes a ran­dom code. Then he is stuck. And then he asks the im­pos­si­ble ques­tion, “What would the av­er­age ran­dom code do?” He then proves that the av­er­age code is ar­bi­trar­ily good, and that there­fore there must be at least one good code. Who but a man of in­fi­nite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the char­ac­ter­is­tic of great sci­en­tists; they have courage. They will go for­ward un­der in­cred­i­ble cir­cum­stances; they think and con­tinue to think.

…So be­fore I left, I told all my friends that when I come back, that book was go­ing to be done! Yes, I would have it done - I’d have been ashamed to come back with­out it! I used my ego to make my­self be­have the way I wanted to. I bragged about some­thing so I’d have to per­form. I found out many times, like a cor­nered rat in a real trap, I was sur­pris­ingly ca­pa­ble. I have found that it paid to say, “Oh yes, I’ll get the an­swer for you Tues­day,” not hav­ing any idea how to do it. By Sun­day night I was re­ally hard think­ing on how I was go­ing to de­liver by Tues­day. I often put my pride on the line and some­times I failed, but as I said, like a cor­nered rat I’m sur­prised how often I did a good job. I think you need to learn to use your­self. I think you need to know how to con­vert a sit­u­a­tion from one view to an­other which would in­crease the chance of suc­cess.

–Richard Ham­ming,

But there was a dat­ed­ness to the prob­lems, a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with Eu­clid, and New­ton, and ex­er­cises in math­e­mat­i­cal physics - a sphere spin­ning on a cylin­der with the can­di­date asked to es­tab­lish the equa­tions gov­ern­ing its mo­tion, or a prob­lem based on Carnot’s Cy­cle in ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, and so on. They de­manded ac­cu­racy and speed in the ma­nip­u­la­tion of math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­las, a shal­low clev­er­ness, per­haps, but not real in­sight. And not even stub­born per­sis­tence; a proof de­manded by a Tri­pos ques­tion could­n’t be too long or too in­volved; so you learned to look for that hid­den Tri­pos twist. Dur­ing one Tri­pos ex­am, a top stu­dent - that year’s Se­nior Wran­gler - ob­served a less ca­pa­ble can­di­date mak­ing short work of a prob­lem over which he ag­o­nized. Must be a trick, he re­al­ized - and went back and found it him­self. The per­sonal qual­i­ties en­cour­aged by the Tri­pos, J. J. Thom­son would make so bold as to sug­gest, made it ex­cel­lent train­ing - for the bar.

The Man Who Knew In­fin­ity

More often, com­put­ers help dis­cover in­ter­est­ing pat­terns in data, about which math­e­mati­cians then for­mu­late con­jec­tures, or guess­es. “I’ve got­ten a tremen­dous amount out of look­ing for pat­terns in the data and then prov­ing them,” Bil­ley said. Us­ing com­pu­ta­tion to ver­ify that a con­jec­ture holds in every check­able case, and ul­ti­mately to be­come con­vinced of it, “gives you the psy­cho­log­i­cal strength you need to ac­tu­ally do the work nec­es­sary to prove it,” said Jor­dan El­len­berg, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin who uses com­put­ers for con­jec­ture dis­cov­ery and then builds proofs by hand.

http://www.wired.­com/wired­science/2013/03/­com­put­er­s-and-math­/all/

They’d [Yang-Mills or non-A­belian gauge the­o­ries] been in­vented in 1954 and were the last and least un­der­stood en­try in a short list of what came to be con­sid­ered the only pos­si­ble de­scrip­tions of fun­da­men­tal par­ti­cle in­ter­ac­tions. Er­ick ex­plained the defin­ing ba­sics but told me that noth­ing was known about their con­se­quences and that many of the most fa­mous se­nior par­ti­cle the­o­rists had got­ten se­ri­ously con­fused about them. (The list of such no­ta­bles in­cluded Dick Feyn­man, Shelly Glashow, Ab­dus Salam, and Steve Wein­berg.) And now it seemed that no se­nior physi­cist wanted to dis­cuss them; their ig­no­rance and con­fu­sion were too em­bar­rass­ing. …It turns out there was one brave soul, [No­belist] Tini Velt­man, who never gave up on Yang-Mills the­o­ry, and, with his best-ever grad stu­dent, [No­belist] Ger­ard ’t Hooft, cracked the case in 1971. I think it worth not­ing that I, per­son­al­ly, know of no one who claimed to un­der­stand the de­tails of ’t Hooft ’s pa­per. Rather we all learned it from Ben Lee, who com­bined in­sights from his own work (that renor­mal­iza­tion con­stants are in­de­pen­dent of the choice of ground state in such the­o­ries), from hith­erto un­no­ticed work from Rus­sia (Fad­de’ev and Popov on quan­ti­za­tion and Feyn­man rules), and from the sim­ple en­cour­age­ment from ’t Hooft ’s pa­per that it was pos­si­ble. (It is amaz­ing how much eas­ier it can be to solve a prob­lem once you are as­sured that a so­lu­tion ex­ist­s!)

“The dilemma of at­tri­bu­tion” by H. David Politzer; No­bel Lec­ture, De­cem­ber 8, 2004

“The (Al­most) Se­cret Al­go­rithm Re­searchers Used to Break Thou­sands of RSA Keys”

At first glance this seems like the whole sto­ry. Read­ing through their pa­per more close­ly, how­ev­er, re­veals some­thing strange. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thors, they were able to run the en­tire com­pu­ta­tion in a mat­ter of hours on a sin­gle core. But a back­-of-the-en­ve­lope cal­cu­la­tion sug­gests that it should take years to com­pute GCD’s be­tween 36 tril­lion pairs of keys, not hours.

So how did they do it? The au­thors hint in a foot­note that at the heart of their com­pu­ta­tion is an as­ymp­tot­i­cally fast al­go­rithm, al­low­ing them to bring the run­ning time of the com­pu­ta­tion down to nearly lin­ear; but the ac­tual de­scrip­tion of the al­go­rithm is kept a se­cret from the read­er, per­haps to guard against ma­li­cious use. Within just months of the pa­per’s pub­li­ca­tion, though, fol­low-up pa­pers had al­ready dis­cussed var­i­ous ap­proaches in de­tail, both pre­sent­ing fast al­go­rithms (see this pa­per and this pa­per), and even show­ing how to use GPUs to make the brute-force ap­proach vi­able (see this pa­per).

There’s prob­a­bly a les­son here about not brag­ging about things if you want them to stay se­cret.

“Dur­ing race, I am go­ing crazy, defi­nite­ly,” he says, smil­ing in be­mused de­spair. “I can­not ex­plain why is that, but it is true.”

The crazi­ness is me­thod­i­cal, how­ev­er, and and his crew know its pat­tern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typ­i­cal week-long race, his speech goes stac­ca­to. By Day 3, he is bel­liger­ent and some­times para­noid. His short­-term mem­ory van­ish­es, and he weeps un­con­trol­lably. The last days are marked by hal­lu­ci­na­tions: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the road­side; as­phalt cracks re­arrange them­selves into coded mes­sages. Oc­ca­sion­al­ly, Ro­bič leaps from his bike to square off with shad­owy fig­ures that turn out to be mail­box­es. In a 2004 race, he turned to see him­self pur­sued by a howl­ing band of black­-bearded men on horse­back.

“Mu­ja­hedeen, shoot­ing at me,” he ex­plains. “So I ride faster.”

His wife, a nurse, in­ter­jects: “The first time I went to a race, I was not pre­pared to see what hap­pens to his mind. We nearly split up.”

The DVD spins, and the room vi­brates with Wag­n­er. We see a se­ries of sur­real im­ages that com­bine vi­o­lence with eerie placid­i­ty, like a Kubrick film. Ro­bič’s spotlit fig­ure rides through the dark in the dri­ving rain. Ro­bič gasps some un­heard plea to a stone-faced man in fa­tigues who’s iden­ti­fied as his crew chief. Ro­bič curls fe­tus­like on the pave­ment of a Pyre­nean moun­tain road, hav­ing fallen asleep and sim­ply tipped off his bike. Ro­bič stalks the cross­roads of a name­less French vil­lage at mid­night, flail­ing his arms, scream­ing at his sup­port crew. A baffled gen­darme hur­ries to the scene, ask­ing, Quel est le prob­lème? I glance at Ro­bič, and he’s star­ing at the screen, too.

… Over the past two years, Ro­bič, who is 40 years old, has won al­most every race he has en­tered, in­clud­ing the last two edi­tions of ul­tra­cy­cling’s biggest event, the 3,000-mile In­sight Race Across Amer­ica (RAAM). In 2004, Ro­bič set a world record in the 24-hour time trial by cov­er­ing 518.7 miles. Last year, he did him­self one bet­ter, fol­low­ing up his RAAM vic­tory with a vic­tory six weeks later in Le Tour Di­rect, a 2,500-mile race on a course con­trived from clas­sic Tour de France routes. Ro­bič fin­ished in 7 days and 19 hours, and climbed some 140,000 feet, the equiv­a­lent of nearly five trips up Mount Ever­est. “That’s just mind-bog­gling,” says Pete Penseyres, a two-time RAAM solo cham­pi­on. “I can’t en­vi­sion do­ing two big races back to back. The men­tal part is just too hard.”

Hans Mau­ritz, the co-or­ga­nizer of Le Tour Di­rect, says: “For me, Jure is on an­other plan­et. He can die on the bike and keep go­ing.”

And go­ing. In ad­di­tion to races, Ro­bič trains 335 days each year, log­ging some 28,000 miles, or roughly one trip around the plan­et.

Yet Ro­bič does not ex­cel on phys­i­cal tal­ent alone. He is not al­ways the fastest com­peti­tor (he often makes up ground by sleep­ing 90 min­utes or less a day), nor does he pos­sess any tow­er­ing phys­i­o­log­i­cal gift. On rare oc­ca­sions when he per­mits him­self to be tested in a lab­o­ra­to­ry, his abil­ity to pro­duce power and trans­port oxy­gen ranks on a par with those of many other ul­tra­-en­durance ath­letes. He wins for the most fun­da­men­tal of rea­sons: he re­fuses to stop.

In a con­sid­er­a­tion of Ro­bič, three facts are clear: he is nearly in­de­fati­ga­ble, he is oc­ca­sion­ally nuts, and the first two facts are some­how con­nect­ed. The ques­tion is, How? Does he lose san­ity be­cause he pushes him­self too far, or does he push him­self too far be­cause he loses san­i­ty? Ro­bič is the lat­est and per­haps most in­trigu­ing em­bod­i­ment of the old ques­tions: What hap­pens when the hu­man body is pushed to the lim­its of its en­durance? Where does the break­ing point lie? And what hap­pens when you cross the line?

…Win­ners [of the RAAM] av­er­age more than 13 miles an hour and fin­ish in nine days, rid­ing about 350 miles a day. The ones to watch, though, are not the vic­tors but the 50% who do not fin­ish, and whose break­downs, like a scat­ter­ing of so many pis­ton rods and hub­caps, pro­vide a vivid map of the hu­man body’s built-in lim­i­ta­tions.

…The fi­nal col­lapse [of RAAM com­peti­tors] takes place be­tween the ears. Com­peti­tors en­dure fa­tigue-in­duced rounds of hal­lu­ci­na­tions and mood shifts. Mar­gins for er­ror in the race can be slim, a point un­der­lined by two fa­tal ac­ci­dents at RAAM in the past three years, both in­volv­ing au­to­mo­biles. Sup­port crews, which ride along in fol­low cars or campers, do what they can to help. For Ro­bič, his sup­port crew serves as a sec­ond brain, con­sist­ing of a well-drilled cadre of a half-dozen fel­low Slovene sol­diers. It re­sem­bles other crews in that it feeds, hy­drates, guides and mo­ti­vates - but with an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion. The sec­ond brain, not Ro­bič’s, is in charge.

… His sys­tem is straight­for­ward. Dur­ing the race, Ro­bič’s brain is al­lowed con­trol over choice of mu­sic (usu­ally a mix of tra­di­tional Slovene marches and Lenny Krav­itz), food se­lec­tion and bath­room breaks. The sec­ond brain dic­tates every­thing else, in­clud­ing rest times, meal times, food amounts and even av­er­age speed. Un­less Ro­bič asks, he is not in­formed of the re­main­ing mileage or even how many days are left in the race.

“It is best if he has no idea,” Stanovnik says. “He rides - that is all.”

…In all de­ci­sions, Stanovnik gov­erns ac­cord­ing to a rule of thumb that he has de­vel­oped over the years: at the dark mo­ment when Ro­bič feels ut­terly ex­haust­ed, when he is so empty and sleep­-de­prived that he feels as if he might lit­er­ally die on the bike, he ac­tu­ally has 50% more en­ergy to give.

…In this du­al-brain sys­tem, Ro­bič’s men­tal break­downs are not an un­wanted side effect, but rather an in­te­gral part of the process: wel­come proof that the other lim­it­ing fac­tors have been elim­i­nated and that max­i­mum stress has been placed firmly on the fi­nal link, Ro­bič’s mind. While his long-term mem­ory ap­pears un­affected (he can re­call route land­marks from year to year), his short­-term mem­ory evap­o­rates. Ro­bič will re­peat the same ques­tion 10 times in five min­utes. His mind ex­ists com­pletely in the pre­sent.

“When I am tired, Mi­ran can take me to the edge,” Ro­bič says ap­pre­cia­tive­ly, “to the last atoms of my pow­er.” How far past the 50% limit can Ro­bič be pushed? “90, maybe 95%,” Stanovnik says thought­ful­ly. “But that would prob­a­bly be un­healthy.”

In­ter­est­ingly - or un­nerv­ing­ly, de­pend­ing on how you look at it - some re­searchers are un­cov­er­ing ev­i­dence that Stanovnik’s rule of thumb might be right. A spate of re­cent stud­ies has con­tributed to grow­ing sup­port for the no­tion that the ori­gins and con­trols of fa­tigue lie part­ly, if not most­ly, within the brain and the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. The new re­search puts fresh weight to the hoary coach­ing cliché: you only think you’re tired.

…Re­searchers, how­ev­er, have long noted a link be­tween neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and ath­letic po­ten­tial. In the late 1800’s, the pi­o­neer­ing French doc­tor Philippe Tis­sié ob­served that pho­bias and epilepsy could be ben­e­fi­cial for ath­letic train­ing. A few decades lat­er, the Ger­man sur­geon Au­gust Bier mea­sured the spon­ta­neous long jump of a men­tally dis­turbed pa­tient, not­ing that it com­pared fa­vor­ably to the ex­ist­ing world record. These types of ex­er­tions seemed to defy the no­tion of built-in mus­cu­lar lim­its and, Bier not­ed, were made pos­si­ble by “pow­er­ful men­tal stim­uli and the si­mul­ta­ne­ous elim­i­na­tion of in­hi­bi­tions.”

Ques­tions about the mus­cle­-cen­tered model came up again in 1989 when Cana­dian re­searchers pub­lished the re­sults of an ex­per­i­ment called Op­er­a­tion Ever­est II, in which ath­letes did heavy ex­er­cise in al­ti­tude cham­bers. The ath­letes reached ex­haus­tion de­spite the fact that their lac­tic-acid con­cen­tra­tions re­mained com­fort­ably low. Fa­tigue, it seemed, might be caused by some­thing else.

In 1999, three phys­i­ol­o­gists from the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town Med­ical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cy­clists to ex­haus­tion dur­ing a 62-mile lab­o­ra­tory ride and mea­sured, via elec­trodes, the per­cent­age of leg mus­cles they were us­ing at the fa­tigue lim­it. If stan­dard the­o­ries were true, they rea­soned, the body should re­cruit more mus­cle fibers as it ap­proached ex­haus­tion - a nat­ural com­pen­sa­tion for tired, weak­en­ing mus­cles.

In­stead, the re­searchers ob­served the op­po­site re­sult. As the rid­ers ap­proached com­plete fa­tigue, the per­cent­age of ac­tive mus­cle fibers de­creased, un­til they were us­ing only about 30 per­cent. Even as the ath­letes felt they were giv­ing their all, the re­al­ity was that more of their mus­cles were at rest. Was the brain pur­posely hold­ing back the body?

“It was as if the brain was play­ing a trick on the body, to save it,” says Tim­o­thy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. “Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fa­tigue, it only feels like we’re go­ing to die. The ac­tual phys­i­o­log­i­cal risks that fa­tigue rep­re­sents are es­sen­tially triv­ial.”

… Fa­tigue, the re­searchers ar­gue, is less an ob­jec­tive event than a sub­jec­tive emo­tion - the brain’s clev­er, self­-in­ter­ested at­tempt to scare you into stop­ping. The way past fa­tigue, then, is to re­turn the fa­vor: to fool the brain by ly­ing to it, dis­tract­ing it or even pro­vok­ing it. (That said, men­tal games­man­ship can never over­come a ba­sic lack of fit­ness. As Noakes says, the body al­ways holds veto pow­er.)

…The the­ory would also seem to ex­plain a sports land­scape in which ul­tra­-en­durance events have gone from be­ing con­sid­ered med­ically haz­ardous to some­thing per­ilously close to rou­tine. The Iron­man triathlon in Hawaii - a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and marathon-length run - was the ne plus ul­tra in en­durance in the 1980’s, but has now been topped by the Ul­tra­man, which is more than twice as long. Once ob­scure, the genre known as ad­ven­ture rac­ing, which in­cludes 500-plus-mile wilder­ness races like Pri­mal Quest, has grown to more than 400 events each year. Ul­tra­ma­rathon­ers, de­fined as those who par­tic­i­pate in run­ning events ex­ceed­ing the offi­cial marathon dis­tance of 26.2 miles, now num­ber some 15,000 in the United States alone. The un­der­ly­ing physics have not changed, but rather our sense of pos­si­bil­i­ty. Ath­letic cul­ture, like Ro­bič, has dis­cov­ered a way to tweak its col­lec­tive gov­er­nor.

…“I find mo­ti­va­tion every­where,” Ro­bič says. “If right now you look at me and won­der if I can­not go up the moun­tain, even if you are jok­ing, I will do it. Then I will do it again, and maybe again.” He ges­tures to Mount Stol, a snowy Go­liath crouched 7,300 feet above him, as re­mote as the moon. “Three years ago, I got an­gry at the moun­tain. I climbed it 38 times in two months.”

Ro­bič goes on to de­tail his mo­ti­va­tional fuel sources, in­clud­ing his ne­glect­ful fa­ther, per­sis­tent near poverty (three years ago, he was re­duced to ask­ing for food from a farmer friend) and a lack of large-spon­sor sup­port be­cause of Slove­ni­a’s small size. (“If I lived in Aus­tria, I would be mil­lion­aire,” he says un­con­vinc­ing­ly.) There is also a psy­cho­log­i­cal twist of bib­li­cal fla­vor: a half brother born out of wed­lock named Marko, Ju­re’s age to the month. Ro­bič says his fa­ther fa­vored Marko to the ex­tent that the old man made him part owner of his restau­rant, leav­ing Ju­re, at age 28, to beg them for a dish­wash­ing job.

“All my life I was pushed away,” he says. “I get the feel­ing that I’m not good enough to be the good one. And so now I am good at some­thing, and I want re­venge to prove to all the peo­ple who thought I was some kind of los­er. These feel­ings are all the time present in me. They are where my power is com­ing from.”

…Ro­bič talks about his plans for the com­ing year. He talks about his wife, whose job has sup­ported them, and he talks about their son, who is start­ing to walk. He talks about how he will try to win a record third con­sec­u­tive RAAM in June, and how he hopes race offi­cials won’t re­act to the re­cent fa­tal­i­ties by adding manda­tory rest stops. (“Then it will not be a true race,” he says.) In a few months, he’ll do his sig­na­ture 48-hour train­ing, in which he rides for 24 hours straight, stays awake all night, and then does a 12-hour work­out.

“That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger”, New York Times

“Don’t tell me what you can’t do. You don’t want to. That’s un­der­stand­able; it’s crazy, ask­ing strangers you’ve only just met for mon­ey. But don’t con­fuse what you’re un­will­ing to do with what’s im­pos­si­ble to do. If you want to go, raise your voice and ask them, ‘Who’s will­ing to give me money to go to the next sem­i­nar?’ Or sit down.”

…He swal­lowed, think­ing it over. I don’t know what would have hap­pened if he’d sat down; I’d like to say that the sem­i­nar leader would have said, “You made an hon­est choice” and walked away, but prob­a­bly not. It was, after all, about the mon­ey. But no, Sales­man Guy said, in a wa­ver­ing voice, “Will any­one give me money to go to the next sem­i­nar?”

There was a long, un­com­fort­able si­lence. Then some­one reached for his wal­let. “I’ll give you $10 to­wards it.”

That broke the ice. Next, a woman got her purse open and said, “I’ve got $20 to spare.” And lo, once asked, the en­tire room started pulling out cash un­til he had enough to go, all fully do­nat­ed, and wham, he was in. And then the next per­son who wanted to go but was even bro­ker than Sales­man Guy stood up and asked, and the next per­son had to go out into the hall and ask est em­ploy­ees and vol­un­teers for cash, which was even more em­bar­rass­ing, but they got it.

Every­one who wanted to go got their cash that day. (And a lot of peo­ple re­mained seat­ed, or just said “no.”)

I was both squicked and en­light­ened. Be­cause the cash clearly went to­wards es­t’s ben­e­fits - but the guy was also ab­solutely right about rea­son­able efforts. We live in a cul­ture so bound by what most peo­ple are will­ing to do that we often take them as hard lim­its - “I can’t do more than that,” we say. “I’ve done the best I can.” But it re­ally is­n’t. It’s just the best we’re will­ing to do for right then.

When I was run­ning and got my side-stitch, I re­ally thought that I’d put 100% into it. But the truth was that I hated run­ning, and I hated ex­er­cise, and I was putting maybe 20% of my­self into it. If I was be­ing chased by a bear, sud­denly I’d find new re­serves within me. And though I hated math home­work, and thought that the grudg­ing half an hour I did was re­ally ball­s-out for math home­work, I’d for­get how many hours I’d spend mem­o­riz­ing PAC-Man pat­terns.

After that, I re­al­ized where my real lim­its were - they were way up there. And maybe I could stop telling my­self and oth­ers that I did my best. I did­n’t. Not even close. I did what I thought was rea­son­able.

Some­times you don’t want rea­son­able.

“On Rea­son­able Efforts”, Fer­rett Stein­metz

I have al­ways thought that one man of tol­er­a­ble abil­i­ties may work great changes, and ac­com­plish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cut­ting off all amuse­ments or other em­ploy­ments that would di­vert his at­ten­tion, makes the ex­e­cu­tion of that same plan his sole study and busi­ness.

http://­less­wrong.­com/l­w/uo/­make_an_ex­tra­or­di­nary_­effort/

http://­less­wrong.­com/l­w/un/on_­do­ing_the_im­pos­si­ble/

http://­less­wrong.­com/l­w/2p5/hu­man­s_are_not_au­to­mat­i­cal­ly_s­trate­gic/

DIY Di­ag­no­sis: How an Ex­treme Ath­lete Un­cov­ered Her Ge­netic Flaw”:

“Take . He’s a real ge­nius,” she says. Mullen is not a fig­ure from sci­ence or med­i­cine. He is, in fact, a leg­endary skate­board­er, fa­mous for in­vent­ing mind-blow­ing tricks that pre­vi­ously seemed im­pos­si­ble. One of them is ac­tu­ally called the “”. “He ex­e­cutes these move­ments that defy rea­son, films them, and pub­lishes them on YouTube,” Kim says. “And in­evitably, within a few weeks, some­one will send him a clip say­ing: This kid can do it bet­ter than you. He gave that trick every­thing he had, he’s pulling from all of his ex­pe­ri­ence, and here’s this kid who picks it up in a mat­ter of weeks. Be­cause he learned that it’s pos­si­ble to do that. Rod­ney just acts as a con­duit. He breaks bar­ri­ers of dis­be­lief.”

Mark Xu

Scene: me at office hours hav­ing worked on an al­ge­bra prob­lem for 3+ hours.

TA: The so­lu­tion in­volves ma­tri­ces

Me: <re­al­izes an­swer>

Scene: friend ask­ing me for help solv­ing a rea­son­ably diffi­cult CS prob­lem that I don’t know the an­swer to.

Friend: I tried X, Y and Z and noth­ing is work­ing.

Me: Well, can’t you just do A? Seems like it should work.

Friend: …yeah that works.

Useful child abuse

…Yet Turner de­fends and even ro­man­ti­cizes his harsh fa­ther, say­ing that he de­lib­er­ately in­stilled in­se­cu­ri­ty: “He thought that peo­ple who were in­se­cure worked hard­er, and I think that’s prob­a­bly true. I don’t think I ever met a su­per-achiever who was­n’t in­se­cure to some de­gree. A su­per-achiever is some­body that’s never sat­is­fied.”2

, in his book The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of an Ex-Ge­nius [ac­tu­al­ly, Ex-Prodi­gy: My Child­hood and Youth & I Am Math­e­mati­cian], de­tailed his un­happy fam­ily life with a dom­i­neer­ing fa­ther and enough per­sonal prob­lems to be in and out of men­tal in­sti­tu­tions. Yet, it was this Nor­bert Wiener who gave the world cy­ber­net­ics that rev­o­lu­tion­ized our so­ci­ety. What if he had had a happy fam­ily life with a warm and agree­able fa­ther? One is left to won­der whether Wiener would have had the drive and mo­ti­va­tion to make this unique con­tri­bu­tion. The same ques­tion can be posed for these Hunter Col­lege El­e­men­tary School grad­u­ates. Are many of them too sat­is­fied, too will­ing to ac­cept the su­pe­rior re­wards that their abil­ity and op­por­tu­nity have pro­vided for them? What more could they have ac­com­plished if they had a “psy­cho­log­i­cal worm” eat­ing in­side them—whether that worm was low self­-con­cept or a need to prove some­thing to some­one or to the world—that would have dri­ven these peo­ple to greater efforts. What if their ap­ti­tudes had been chal­lenged in a more hard-driv­ing man­ner, like Wiener’s ex­pe­ri­ence, into the de­vel­op­ment of a spe­cific tal­ent?3

:

For ex­am­ple, Si­mon­ton (1999, ) has noted that early parental loss…has been in­flu­en­tial in the lives of cre­ative ge­nius­es.

On the one hand, de­vel­op­men­tal processes may truly op­er­ate in a di­ver­gent man­ner. That is, the course that leads from ini­tial tal­ent to ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment may re­quire path­ways of in­tel­lec­tual and so­cial de­vel­op­ment that di­verge rad­i­cally from nor­mal per­sonal growth. For in­stance, many re­searchers have ar­gued that the emer­gence of em­i­nent achiev­ers re­quires early ex­po­sure to ex­pe­ri­ences that de­rail them from more reg­u­lar de­vel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ries (Si­mon­ton, 1987, “De­vel­op­men­tal an­tecedents of achieved em­i­nence”). These dis­rupt­ing events may in­clude or­phan­hood, parental ab­sence or al­co­holism, house­hold eco­nomic ups and downs, and var­i­ous stig­ma­tiz­ing dis­abil­i­ties. If so, then poor phys­i­cal health may be mak­ing a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to per­sonal de­vel­op­ment as a bona fide causal effect.

“De­vel­op­men­tal an­tecedents of achieved em­i­nence”:

And, in fact, nu­mer­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tors have noted the un­com­monly high in­ci­dence of parental loss among the em­i­nent. If we ex­am­ine those ge­niuses that qual­i­fied for the Cox (1926) sam­ple, be­tween 21 and 31% lost a par­ent be­fore at­tain­ing adult­hood (Al­bert, 1971; also see Wal­berg, Rash­er, & Park­er­son, 1980 [1979]). One study of fa­mous Eng­lish and French po­ets found that 30% came from fa­ther-ab­sent homes (Martin­dale, 1972), and an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion of cre­ative writ­ers found that 55 per­cent lost a par­ent prior to be­com­ing 15 years of age (Brown, 1968). Even if we con­cen­trate solely on twen­ti­eth-cen­tury per­son­al­i­ties who lived when mor­tal­ity rates were low­er, the fre­quency of or­phan­hood re­mains high. In the Go­ertzels’ sec­ond sam­ple, 10% lost their moth­ers and 18% lost their fa­thers be­fore be­com­ing adults (Go­ertzel, Go­ertzel, & Go­ertzel, 1978). In Roe’s (1952) in­ves­ti­ga­tion of em­i­nent con­tem­po­rary sci­en­tists, some 15% lost a par­ent by death be­fore age 10, and such loss oc­curred to 26% be­fore at­tain­ing adult­hood. These pro­por­tions are well above the ex­pected in­ci­dence in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion (see, e.g., Gre­go­ry, 1965).

By far the most sys­tem and ex­haus­tive em­pir­i­cal treat­ment of this phe­nom­e­non is the es­say “Parental Loss and Ge­nius” by J. Mar­vin Eisen­stadt (1978). He be­gan by de­vel­op­ing a parental loss pro­file for 699 em­i­nent cre­ators and lead­ers. He found that over 34% lost a par­ent be­fore their 16th year, 45% be­fore their 21st. As many as 21% lost both par­ents by age 30. Eisen­stadt went on to com­pare these rates with var­i­ous avail­able base lines. Only two spe­cial pop­u­la­tions ex­hibit in­ci­dences of or­phan­hood that ri­val those of his­tor­i­cal ge­nius­es, namely ju­ve­nile delin­quents and se­verely de­pressed (or sui­ci­dal) pa­tients (cf. Crook & Eliot, 1980). Eisen­stadt con­cludes that the be­reave­ment trauma as­so­ci­ated with the death of a par­ent in child­hood in­duces a cop­ing process that, un­der the proper cir­cum­stances, leads to a strong achieve­ment ori­en­ta­tion, and thus a high prob­a­bil­ity of adult­hood dis­tinc­tion. In a sense, parental loss throws the child into a dis­e­qui­lib­rium which only ex­tra­or­di­nary effort can set aright.

The Ra­dioac­tive Boy Scout:

In The Mak­ing of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes notes that the psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files of pi­o­neer­ing Amer­i­can physi­cists are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar. Fre­quently the el­dest son of an emo­tion­ally re­mote, pro­fes­sional man, he—al­most all were men—was a vo­ra­cious reader dur­ing child­hood, tended to feel lone­ly, and was shy and aloof from class­mates.

“Fam­ily in­flu­ences on the de­vel­op­ment of gift­ed­ness”, Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi & Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi 1993

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween early fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment and later cre­ative achieve­ment is rather am­bigu­ous. On the one hand, a con­text of op­ti­mal sup­port and stim­u­la­tion seems nec­es­sary. On the other hand, the lives of some of the great­est cre­ative ge­niuses con­tra­dict this no­tion, be­ing full of early trauma and tragedy. On the ba­sis of lon­gi­tu­di­nal stud­ies of young artists and tal­ented ado­les­cents, as well as a ret­ro­spec­tive study of ma­ture cre­ative in­di­vid­u­als, we ex­plore the out­comes of var­i­ous fam­ily en­vi­ron­ments. It seems that the two ex­tremes of op­ti­mal and patho­log­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence are both rep­re­sented dis­pro­por­tion­ately in the back­grounds of cre­ative in­di­vid­u­als.

Notes on a re­pug­nant Han­son­ian idea (or should that be Pe­ter Singer?):

As use­ful as in­tel­li­gence is as a pre­dic­tor of ac­com­plish­ment, it is clearly far from the whole sto­ry; as Gal­ton, Roe, Si­mon­ton, Eysenck, and many oth­ers have not­ed, per­son­al­ity and mo­ti­va­tion ap­pear to be the next biggest fac­tors - great ac­com­plish­ments or dis­cov­ers are often made by the ex­tremely hard­work­ing and mo­ti­vat­ed, who are never sat­is­fied with what they have done and go far be­yond what any rea­son­able per­son would and are ob­sessed and oc­ca­sion­ally quite un­pleas­ant and un­happy peo­ple; why, for ex­am­ple, would any­one con­tinue tak­ing the ab­surd risks that suc­cess­ful bil­lion­aires often must to be­come bil­lion­aires, go­ing to the roulette wheel and re­peat­edly bet­ting every­thing on black, when any­one else would have been am­ply sat­is­fied with tens or hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars (merely more money than they could spend in a life­time)—un­less there was some­thing at least a lit­tle bit wrong with them?

Many of these sorts of out­liers often seem to carry grudges or dis­sat­is­fac­tion at­trib­uted to ear­ly-life ex­pe­ri­ences, which while a rather Freudian thing to say, still seems to have a lot of truth to it. In par­tic­u­lar, emo­tional ne­glect and what we would con­sider child abuse show up in the bi­ogra­phies of a re­mark­able range of great peo­ple de­spite the harm that ought to be do­ing to their life prospects, even in high-SES ones where a blight­ing effect should be most vis­i­ble and a back­ground of child abuse rarest and most dis­qual­i­fy­ing, which is con­sis­tent with a ‘dan­de­lion’/‘or­chid’ sort of view of per­son­al­i­ty/­mo­ti­va­tion. A par­a­dig­matic ex­am­ple would be El­ton John who de­scribes his fam­ily life as “My dad was strict and re­mote and had a ter­ri­ble tem­per; my mum was ar­gu­men­ta­tive and prone to dark moods. When they were to­geth­er, all I can re­mem­ber are icy si­lences or scream­ing rows.”, which drove him to refuge in “my record col­lec­tion and my comics, and drift off into an imag­i­nary world, fan­ta­sis­ing that I was Lit­tle Richard or Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis” and a life­time of mono­ma­ni­a­cal mu­si­cal writ­ing & per­for­mance. (Is this like how pe­ri­ods of the great­est in­no­va­tion, like the War­ring States pe­riod or the Re­nais­sance, are so closely as­so­ci­ated with mas­sively de­struc­tive wars, de­spite the naive ex­pec­ta­tion that they would be the worst pos­si­ble con­di­tions? As the quip goes: “…in Italy for thirty years un­der the Bor­gias, they had war­fare, ter­ror, mur­der and blood­shed, but they pro­duced Michelan­gelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Re­nais­sance. In Switzer­land, they had broth­erly love, they had five hun­dred years of democ­racy and peace - and what did that pro­duce? The cuckoo clock.”) We know that child abuse is strongly cor­re­lated with a wider stan­dard de­vi­a­tion in adult ac­com­plish­ment (TODO: what’s the long-term lon­gi­tu­di­nal study about this? Not the Har­vard one? I know it’s some­where but can’t seem to re­find it in my clip­pings, seems to be one of the Si­mon­ton pa­pers) (it can de­stroy the kids, but also spur them on to great achieve­ments). This is a lit­tle odd, since one might ex­pect child abuse to be purely de­struc­tive and not grant in­trin­sic mo­ti­va­tion. But since great achieve­ments are so much more valu­able than medi­oc­rity (one ge­nius can ‘make up for’ thou­sands or even mil­lions of gut­less won­der­s), this sug­gests that if we just care about util­i­ty, and we can’t shift the whole bell curve over to the right hand side (to greater achieve­men­t), then we want to widen the stan­dard de­vi­a­tion as much as pos­si­ble. (The in­creased vari­ance does­n’t need to be much wider to, by tail effects, greatly in­crease rates, and given that this is about large differ­ences, it is con­sis­tent with small shared-en­vi­ron­ment vari­ance com­po­nents, as­sum­ing that these mo­ti­va­tional effects are not non­shared to be­gin with; hard to say be­cause it’s so much eas­ier to study some­thing com­mon, like in­tel­li­gence, than some­thing by de­fi­n­i­tion rare…) Given that child abuse is one such widen­ing, then this sug­gests that we as a so­ci­ety tak­ing the long view over­pri­or­i­tize re­duc­ing child abuse. An­other con­sid­er­a­tion is Nick Bostrom’s ‘sta­tus quo bias’, which sug­gests that the cur­rent sta­tus quo may be in­cor­rect; if some­thing in the air caused a 1% in­crease in child abuse and this gave us, say, 10 ex­tra No­bel Prizes’ worth of work a year, (TODO: is this plau­si­ble based on the mo­ti­va­tion re­search? Crunch the or­der sta­tis­tic­s), and we would per­mit this, then we ought to be will­ing to cause such a 1% in­crease as well as per­mit it.

Pos­si­bly rel­e­vant links:

Dog Inc.:

In that book, Sper­ling por­trays his up­bring­ing as both mis­er­able and mea­ger. His fa­ther could­n’t keep a job, and whipped him reg­u­lar­ly. His moth­er’s over­bear­ing na­ture left him never again want­ing “to have any­one with a hold on me. At what­ever cost, I try to stand alone rather than be be­holden to some­one to whom I must ac­knowl­edge su­pe­rior sta­tus.” At fifteen, when his fa­ther died in his sleep, Sper­ling says he cel­e­brated with aban­don. “I could hardly con­tain my joy. I raced out­side, rolled in the grass squeal­ing with de­light. There I lay look­ing up into a clear blue sky, and I re­al­ized that this was the hap­pi­est day of my life. It still is.”

“Re­think­ing Gift­ed­ness and Gifted Ed­u­ca­tion: A Pro­posed Di­rec­tion For­ward Based on Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence”

Many em­i­nent in­di­vid­u­als ex­pe­ri­enced fam­ily tragedies early in life (e.g., death of a par­ent or sib­ling, loss of fam­ily home), or lived in dys­func­tion­al, chaotic, and chal­leng­ing fam­ily sit­u­a­tions (e.g., al­co­holic or men­tally ill par­ents; Al­bert, 1978; Go­ertzel & Go­ertzel, 2004). It has been sug­gested that these en­vi­ron­ments fa­cil­i­tate cre­ative pro­duc­tiv­ity by en­gen­der­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics that help in­di­vid­u­als meet the de­mands of cre­ative ca­reers or jobs that in­volve tack­ling il­l-de­fined, un­struc­tured, and com­plex prob­lems. These char­ac­ter­is­tics in­clude early psy­cho­log­i­cal in­de­pen­dence, self­-suffi­ciency (Al­bert, 1994), an abil­ity to cope with high lev­els of stress, re­silien­cy, emo­tional strength, a tol­er­ance for am­bi­gu­i­ty, in­tel­lec­tual risk tak­ing, and a pref­er­ence for chal­lenge (Ochse, 1990; Ol­szewski-Ku­bil­ius, 2000, 2008a; Si­mon­ton, 1994). Diffi­cult child­hoods, child­hood trau­ma, or ex­pe­ri­ences of mar­gin­al­iza­tion may also cre­ate com­pelling psy­cho­log­i­cal needs that are ame­lio­rated or com­pen­sated for through cre­ative pro­duc­tiv­ity in adult­hood (C­sik­szent­mi­ha­lyi, 1993; Ochse, 1990; Pi­ir­to, 1992; Si­mon­ton, 1994; Van­Tas­sel-Baska, 1996). It is also clear that some em­i­nent in­di­vid­u­als did not grow up in dys­func­tional en­vi­ron­ments and that many in­di­vid­u­als from such en­vi­ron­ments never be­come em­i­nent. We need to un­der­stand more clearly whether these en­vi­ron­ments serve as cat­a­lysts for in­di­vid­u­als with tremen­dous po­ten­tial in a do­main, and if so, why and how.

  • Al­bert, R .S. (1978). “Ob­ser­va­tion and sug­ges­tions re­gard­ing gift­ed­ness, fa­mil­ial in­flu­ence and the achieve­ment of em­i­nence”. Gifted Child Quar­terly, 28, 201-211.
  • Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi, M. (1993). The evolv­ing self: Psy­chol­ogy for the Third Mil­len­nium. New York, NY: Harper­Collins
  • Go­ertzel, V., & Go­ertzel, M. G. (2004). Cra­dles of em­i­nence (2nd ed.). Scotts­dale, AZ: Great Po­ten­tial Press.
  • Ochse, R. (1990). Be­fore the gates of ex­cel­lence: The de­ter­mi­nants of cre­ative ge­nius. New York, NY: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press
  • Ol­szewski-Ku­bil­ius, P. (2000). “The tran­si­tion from child­hood gift­ed­ness to adult cre­ative pro­duc­tive­ness: Psy­cho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics and so­cial sup­ports”. Roeper Re­view, 23, 65-71. doi:10.1080/02783190009554068
  • Ol­szewski-Ku­bil­ius, P. (2008a). “The role of the fam­ily in tal­ent de­vel­op­ment”. In S.I. Pfeiffer (Ed.), Hand­book of gift­ed­ness in chil­dren: Psy­cho-e­d­u­ca­tional the­o­ry, re­search, and best prac­tices (pp. 53-70). New York, NY: Springer
  • Pi­ir­to, J. (1992). Un­der­stand­ing those who cre­ate. Day­ton: Ohio Psy­chol­ogy Press
  • Si­mon­ton, D. K. (1994). Great­ness: Who makes his­tory and why. New York, NY: Guil­ford
  • Van­Tas­sel-Baska, J. L. (1996). “The tal­ent de­vel­op­ment process in women writ­ers: A study of Char­lotte Bronte and Vir­ginia Woolf”. In K. Arnold, K. D. No­ble, & R. F. Sub­ot­nik (Ed­s.), Re­mark­able wom­en: Per­spec­tives on fe­male tal­ent de­vel­op­ment (pp. 295-316). Cresskill, NJ: Hamp­ton Press

“Agree­ment Be­tween Prospec­tive and Ret­ro­spec­tive Mea­sures of Child­hood Mal­treat­ment: A Sys­tem­atic Re­view and Meta-analy­sis”, Bald­win et al 2019

“What does­n’t kill you will only make you more risk-lov­ing: Ear­ly-life dis­as­ters and CEO be­hav­ior”, Bernile et al 2017:

The lit­er­a­ture on man­age­r­ial style posits a lin­ear re­la­tion be­tween a CEO’s past ex­pe­ri­ences and firm risk. We show that there is a non-mo­not­o­nic re­la­tion be­tween the in­ten­sity of CEOs’ ear­ly-life ex­po­sure to fa­tal dis­as­ters and cor­po­rate risk-tak­ing. CEOs who ex­pe­ri­ence fa­tal dis­as­ters with­out ex­tremely neg­a­tive con­se­quences lead firms that be­have more ag­gres­sive­ly, whereas CEOs who wit­ness the ex­treme down­side of dis­as­ters be­have more con­ser­v­a­tive­ly. These pat­terns man­i­fest across var­i­ous cor­po­rate poli­cies in­clud­ing lever­age, cash hold­ings, and ac­qui­si­tion ac­tiv­i­ty. Ul­ti­mate­ly, the link be­tween CEOs’ dis­as­ter ex­pe­ri­ence and cor­po­rate poli­cies has real eco­nomic con­se­quences on firm risk­i­ness and cost of cap­i­tal.

CEO Traits and Firm Out­comes: Do Early Child­hood Ex­pe­ri­ences Mat­ter?”, Hen­der­son & Hut­ton 2019:

This pa­per ex­am­ines the im­pact of early child­hood char­ac­ter­is­tics of top cor­po­rate de­ci­sion mak­ers on firm poli­cies and val­ue. Us­ing a unique dataset, we study the effect of CEO birth or­der, fam­ily size, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus, par­ent oc­cu­pa­tional choices and child­hood trau­ma, all of which have been shown to affect per­son­al­ity de­vel­op­ment and so­cial cap­i­tal. Over­all, we find that first­born CEOs, CEOs from fam­i­lies with higher so­cioe­co­nomic re­sources and those with less child­hood trauma pre­fer safer in­vest­ment and lever­age poli­cies, which also lead to lower firm val­ue. So­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus dom­i­nates other child­hood char­ac­ter­is­tics as a de­ter­mi­nant of firm poli­cies. Though our analy­ses in­di­cate a mod­er­ate effect of birth or­der, it in­ten­si­fies in CEO fam­ily owned firms where fam­ily dy­nam­ics fa­cil­i­tate ex­pres­sion of per­sonal risk tak­ing.

On the absence of true fanatics

Moved to “Ter­ror­ism is not Effec­tive”.

See Also


  1. pg 126, , ISBN 8070-5979-7↩︎

  2. pg21, Me­dia Man: Ted Turn­er’s Im­prob­a­ble Em­pire.↩︎

  3. Ge­nius Re­vis­ited↩︎