Jul 102012

I once had a profound thought, years ago.

I realized that many people think that knowing the name of something is the same as understanding that thing. “What’s that?” they ask, and when you reply, “Oh, that’s just the blinking wanker from a thermonuclear quantum generator,” they nod deeply and thank you with the words, “I understand”. (Presumably these are the same people who, when they ask “How does this computer work?”, do not actually mean that they are looking for an explanation of Neumann machines, digital electronics, modern microprocessor technology, memory management principles, hardware virtualization techniques and whatnot; they were really just looking for the ON switch. Such people form an alarming majority… but it took me many frustrating years to learn this.)

I am not sure how to feel now, having just come across a short interview piece with the late physicist Richard Feynman, who is talking about the same topic. The piece is even titled “Knowing the name of something“. I am certainly reassurred that a mind such as Feynman’s had the same thought that I did. I am also disappointed that my profound thought is not so original after all. But I feel I should really be encouraged: perhaps this is just a sign that the same thought might be occurring to many other people, and that might make the world a better place. Who knows… in a big Universe, anything can happen!


 Posted by at 9:05 am