Imagine previous scientific discoveries and insights being represented as the visibility cast by a lone street light in a vast and dark arena. We conduct modern science by utilizing what we already know—that is, we are almost always limited to the small circular point of light in this metaphor. Who knows what kinds of phenomena or answers lie in the murky waters of dark forests far separated from the street light!
I am fascinated by human limitation. From our perceptions potentially not matching objective reality to the linguistic limitations we face in communicating big ideas, we must understand that we are a fundamentally flawed species. Although we are clearly limited by our senses, biological computing power (let’s say IQ), and what has been previously uncovered using the scientific method, an occasional outlier manifests in our world. That is, about once or twice a century, a human is born that seems to loosen the shackles of limitation. They walk seemingly without direction into the pitch darkness and come back with a new light bulb that doubles the diameter of our light. God only knows how they do this.
These words have been inspired by my recent reading into the life and intellectual contributions of Dr. John von Neumann. Von Neumann is widely cited as one of the smartest humans to ever live. A polymath in the truest sense of the word, he made significant and foundational contributions to mathematics, physics, economics, computer science, statistics, and philosophy. At eight years old, he was comfortable conducting differential and integral calculus in his head and was fluent in five languages, including Ancient Greek. When he began his PhD at age 15, his professors were unsettled by his grasp of mathematics that far exceeded their own. Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe has a particularly powerful quote that I will leave you with. He said, “I have sometimes wondered whether a brain like von Neumann's does not indicate a species superior to that of man", and later he wrote that "[von Neumann's] brain indicated a new species, an evolution beyond man".
Where do these abilities come from? And will we actually evolve to a point where they are the norm? ...