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Freeman Dyson argues to try stuff when inventing things and to start small

Home Forums Archive Structure Designs Freeman Dyson argues to try stuff when inventing things and to start small

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    Profile photo of vincecate

    Say something about failure in experiments or businesses or anything else. What’s the value of failure?

    You can’t possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It’s a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we’ve been building them for 100 years, it’s very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works – it’s even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential. The same is true of airplanes.

    This brings up an interesting issue of where theory fits in. Presumably there was not a theory of planes before there were planes.

    There was an attempt at a theory of airplanes, but it was completely misleading. The Wright brothers, in fact, did much better without it.

    So you’re saying just go ahead and try stuff and you’ll sort out the right way.

    That’s what nature did. And it’s almost always true in technology. That’s why computers never really took off until they built them small.

    Why is small good?

    Because it’s cheaper and faster, and you can make many more. Speed is the most important thing – to be able to try something out on a small scale quickly.

    Fail fast.

    Yes. These big projects are guaranteed to fail because you never have time to fix everything.

    One of the things I got from Infinite in All Directions – it was a delight to me, and I’ve been quoting it ever since – is that you honor inventors as much as scientists.

    It’s as great a part of the human adventure to invent things as to understand them. John Randall wasn’t a great scientist, but he was a great inventor. There’s been lots more like him, and it’s a shame they don’t get Nobel Prizes.

    Is it the scientists who are putting them down?

    Yes. There is this snobbism among scientists, especially the academic types.


    Profile photo of horton

    Nature is the greatest invetor of all time, and nature takes a fast and small approach to invention, i.e. evolution.

    1. Invent incrementally at a micro/genetic level.

    2. Test at a macro level.

    3. Some inventions are lethal, i.e. they die before being able to propogate.

    4. Some inventions are neutral, i.e. they get carried on to diversify the gene pool for perhaps some time when they’re needed to adapt quickly for a change in environment.

    5. Some inventions are positive and get propogated very quickly through the gene pool.

    6. All inventions are tested for viability at an individual or small population level.

    Is big government anti-evolutionary? Yes, I’d say absolutely, especially according to #6. The rule of nature is evolve or die. It’s not hard to predict what will happen if all attempts at evolution are crushed.

    Try, fail, learn, try again. The formula is very simple.

    Profile photo of

    One of the primary tasks of inventors (if not indeed the primary task) is to demonstrate to everybody else that something is possible. For instance, it was perfectly possible for people in the stone age to fly in airplanes. The only reason they didn´t do it was that they didn´t know any better until a couple of guys proved the idea a hundred thousand years later.

    And also, new inventions are rarely the perfect way of doing something. It is usually just one of many possible ways. But they are still very valuable because it is so much better than nothing at all.

    A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

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