Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Decay of Science or a mere statistical curiosity?

Nobel Prize Winners Age Statistics.

In 1965 Richard Feynman, prescient as always, prophesied that science would reach its impasse. “The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again.” After the great truths are revealed, Feynman continued, “there will be a degeneration of ideas, just like the degeneration that great explorers feel is occurring when tourists begin moving in on a new territory.”

Indeed, by 1970s, the researchers have already mapped out the entire universe, from the microrealm of quarks and electrons to the macrorealm of galaxies and quasars. Physicists have shown that all matter is composed of a few elementary particles ruled by a few basic forces. Scientists have also woven their knowledge into an impressive, albeit incomplete, narrative of how we came to be. The universe exploded into existence 15 billion years ago, give or take five billion years, and is still expanding. Some 4.5 billion years ago, the detritus of a supernova condensed into our solar system. During the next few hundred million years, single-celled organisms bearing an ingenious molecule called DNA emerged on this planet. These primordial microbes gave rise, by means of natural selection, to an extraordinary array of more complex creatures, including Homo sapiens.

 

Everything that could be discovered has been discovered; everything that needed to be explained has been explained; there is nothing left for science to do but to slowly decay or, as Feynman would put it, “degenerate.” Case closed.

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What has Silicon Valley got that we haven’t got?

What Americans do have however, is one place with a different culture. A place with a history of innovation and success in technology. A place that attracts not just technologists but the capital that they need. A place where someone like Steve Jobs could grow up and meet Steve Wozniak.

I don’t think producing more Science and Technology graduates is going to be enough by itself for Ireland to emulate Silicon Valley. Sure there are plenty of R&D and other high-skilled opportunities in the Irish operations of US companies.  But how many Irish engineers take their bonus (or severance payment) and sink it into a garage startup?  Who are the angel investors who encourage and support them?  How do we develop a culture of try, fail, and try again?  Do we need more technology graduates, or more imagination?

What has Silicon Valley got that we haven’t got?

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