I'd call this post "The Merlin Factor" or somesuch, but then it would be so trite and cliche.
Besides, barahirion could use the notoriety! ;-D
Did the Wright Brothers fly because they were bachelors?
One of my grad school professors and Ph.D. committee members was David E. Goldberg, the famous genetic algorithmist touted by the Whole Earth Review as "the man who taught computers to have sex" 1 and known for his many contributions to the fields of engineering and computer science (particularly intelligent systems). David is fond of quoting Gary Bradshaw's biography of the Wright Brothers, which considers the following theories for why these two bicycle mechanics from Ohio were able to acheive powered flight in four years (1899-1903), starting from scratch:
- They were bicycle mechanics
- It was part of the zeitgeist
- They were bachelors
- They were better inventors
Apropos of the third theory (which was put forth in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion by both Dr. Bradshaw and Dr. Goldberg, a man with two young sons who are now teenagers): I came across and commented on this theory of "the mating mind" in auriam's journal today.
... the book we're reading for this class is The Mating Mind, by Geoffrey Miller, if anyone wants to look it up [...] his thesis is, to summarize it bluntly, that the human mind evolved to attract, impress, and woo potential mates, not simply for 'survival' reasons - in the past, it seems, evolutionary theory tried to explain things like art, music, performance (and, of course, science) as simply 'byproducts' of 'evolved intelligence', which was presumed to have evolved solely for doing things like catching game, avoiding predators, making survival adaptations like tools, group behavior, etc... but, so the new argument goes, the mind is primarily used by humans like the flamboyant peacock uses its tail, the bighorn sheep uses its, well, big horns, and the miserable human uses goth poetry - to impress others and attract mates, whether or not it's done consciously [...]
...I do remember that study earlier this year that surveyed 'major scientific contributions' and found that almost all of them were made before the scientist in question got married.. not sure, at present, whether it was looking over male or female scientists, but I'd wager it cuts both ways.. (more so for males, though, as in most species.. [...])
This theory suddenly evoked a fact I had learned years ago (in a neurobiology course I took in fall, 1996):
Male canaries that have reached sexual maturity can, in subsequent years, learn new song repertoires. Two telencephalic song control nuclei, the hyperstriatum ventrale, pars caudale, and nucleus robustus archistriatalis are, respectively, 99 and 76 percent larger in the spring, when male canaries are producing stable adult song, than in the fall, at the end of the molt and after several months of not singing. It is hypothesized that such fluctuations reflect an increase and then reduction in numbers of synapses and are related to the yearly ability to acquire new motor coordinations.
How embawwassing. Shrinking brains when they're knot thrying to meet grils!
So there you have it. Yes? No? Elves?
(FWIW, I don't believe the conjecture regarding the Wright Brothers for a second. :o)
Well, unless you want to talk about motivation as opposed to concentration or lack of distraction. Certainly, though, it cuts both ways.)
Edit, 06:30 CST: I'd like opinions from single, married, or otherwise attached people - and I believe there are some from each category reading this.
While we are on the subject of oddball academic celebrities:
Here's a story that came up in a discussion thread with hfx_ben today.
Karl Pribram is a well-known Austrian-born neuropsychologist (bio) who has been at Stanford for decades, and has often achieved notoriety for his controversial holonomic and quantum theories of mind/brain and consciousness.
At WCNN-1996 Dr. Pribram and I shared a taxi to the San Diego airport. It was a little after 0500, IIRC and not yet light - we were both sleepy and preoccupied. The driver asked us what we were there for. I replied that we had just attended a neural networks conference and the driver asked excitedly: "oh, you guys are, like, building the Terminator?"
Now, you may know that Pribram is a famous pacifist who decries defense funding at many of his invited talks and even after technical talks. At this point, though, we could both see the taxi driver getting ready to launch into an SF speculation-fest. Pribram looked at me for a second, blinked, and - turning back to the driver - replied in a dead-serious voice: "yes, like that". :-)
That's another one of those "oh, man, that was cool... I've got to become a university professor" moments. ;-)
In other news: Please welcome my new LJ friends csn, cretaceousrick, and jenlight. If you recently added me, please leave a comment and introduce yourself!
1 ... which is not only a sensationalistic non-sequitur, it's an anthropomorphic misrepresentation of what GAs do.