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Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007


Dr.Von took the time from his busy schedule to send me a comment on my post on WISE AND STUPID CROWDS, CREATIVITY AND THE IC:

“I tend to believe that many are falling into the usual trappings we humans are prone to do. The concept of ‘Groupthink’ has its positive features, but I fear it does hamper creativity. It often takes revolutionary thinkers, who are largely isolated from the establisment, to go against mainstream beliefs to get at deeper truth and innovation in thought. It was to Einstein’s advantage that he was isolated from the bias of academia at the turn of the last century, so he could reach the conclusion that Newtonian physics had limits and the world worked in very different ways than what the ‘Group’ thought. We will always need that individual freedom working in parallel with the Group. Creativity and innovation can come from either branch, so we cannot fall into a phase of ‘all group, all the time,’ as some might be suggesting. It reminds me a lot of how we need both pure and applied science, and both horizonta l/vertical thinking. This relates to some thoughts about intellectual absolutism that have always bothered me…it won’t help us figure out the complex systems and problems we are dealing with.”

I agree both specifically to the point regarding revolutionary thinkers coming from outside the mainstream as well as for the general philosophy of accepting the paradox of opposing ends of spectrums in order to gain comprehension.

My qualification to Von’s comment is that the isolation he cites here is of an intermediate variety; Newton was a social misfit but was still connected to the formal academic world. Freud and Einstein, contemporaries, were initially marginalized in their fields prior to their respective breakthroughs due to their dissatisfaction with prevailing orthodoxies ( Newtonian physics and physiologically based psychology) as well as their status as Jews in conservative, Catholic, Imperial Austria-Hungary. Brilliant outlier figures who well understood the premises of their fields and found them inadequate, rather than hermits or dilettantes.


If you live North of Chicago or have an interest in education, Dr. Von is being the good citizen and is running for his local school board. Aside from his past scientific work at Fermilab, Von’s experience in innovative educational programs, such as Project Excite, which is supported in part by Northwestern University, is both extensive and impressive. He could use your support and feedback, if you are so inclined, here is his site.

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