Tag Archives: impossible is nothing

Discoverer Of Impossible Crystals Gets Last Laugh

Israeli Daniel Shechtman won this year’s nobel prize in chemistry for his discovery of “quasi-crystals”. You can read about it here.

When he made his discovery people thought he was mad. When he finally told colleagues about his discovery, he was met with dismissal and ridicule. His claims caused such embarrassment that his boss asked him to leave the research group.

His discovery was thought to be mathematically impossible.

But who’s having the last laugh? Daniel Shechtman – this year’s nobel laureatte.

What do we learn from this?

Don’t put total faith in science. Don’t be so certain that everything you know to be true is true. Don’t be scared to push boundaries.

This brings a quote from Warren Buffett to mind:

Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

I’m studying maths at university, but I agree. I have little faith in mathematicians when it comes to the real world. Not that mathematics is useless; only a fool would think that, but all too often people come up with mathematical models that are supposed to be complete models of the real world. They tell you what is “supposed to be”. They make “certain” predictions, but when it comes to reality their models fail. “Oh, I forgot to take account of that one small detail”. Read The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nicolas Taleb if you’re interested in this. Sometimes mathematicians get ahead of themselves. Sometimes scientists speak with more confidence than they should. Some might call it arrogance.

As Laurence J. Peter says:

An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today.

Another pertinent quote from George Bernard Shaw:

You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’

This is who Avraham was. The Torah calls him “Avraham ha-Ivri” (Abraham the Hebrew). The source of the word ‘ivri’ is ‘ever, ‘meaning ‘over’ or ‘on the other side’. The Midrash interpret his name as “Avraham who stands opposite” – “the whole world stood on one side and he stood on the other.” The world goes their way – and he goes his.

And to complete today’s random quotations with one more, from the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, that will inspire you to new reach heights:

Christopher Gardner (Will Smith): Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. All right?
Christopher (Will’s son): All right.
Christopher Gardner: You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.

Or as Adidas say:

Impossible is nothing.

Post-script: The more science books I read the more it seems like every scientific discovery starts with everyone saying the new discovery is ridiculous until eventually there’s enough evidence that the discovery is accepted as true. It’s seems to often that people aren’t willing to accept change. I’ve been reading The Brain That Changes Itself recently and this talks about how scientists were unwilling to accept the idea of plasticity – the idea that the brain can change itself. Discoverers of new ideas always seem to be ridiculed until eventually their ideas are accepted as true. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn is an entire book about this concept. Kuhn coined the phrase “paradigm shift” to describe this phenomenon.

Also, I would just like to point out that although I believe in a healthy skepticism of accepted “facts”, I do in general have faith in the scientific enterprise. I believe the theory of evolution to be true despite some questions about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some details of the theory are completely revamped in the next century but the general idea seems to be true. It seems to be an elegant way for the Creator to have designed us.


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Filed under Academics, Nobel Prize