Roger Penrose, Thank you

In a Discover Magazine conversation, Roger Penrose was asked: “Is it true that you were bad at math as a kid?”

He replied:

I was unbelievably slow….When I was 8, sitting in class, we had to do this mental arithmetic very fast, or what seemed to me very fast. I always got lost. And the teacher, who didn’t like me very much, moved me down a class. There was one rather insightful teacher who decided, after I’d done so badly on these tests, that he would have timeless tests. You could just take as long as you’d like. We all had the same test. I was allowed to take the entire next period to continue, which was a play period. Everyone was always out and enjoying themselves, and I was struggling away to do these tests. And even then sometimes it would stretch into the period beyond that. So I was at least twice as slow as anybody else. Eventually I would do very well. You see, if I could do it that way, I would get very high marks.

The “insightful teacher” Roger speaks of, wherever he may be, would be smiling now. Roger Penrose was awarded the Nobel for Physics yesterday. 

In “The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics”, Roger puts forward his view that consciousness is not algorithmic — implying, as i understand him, that even the most advanced AI cannot result in consciousness as an emergent property. He writes that “some of the arguments” he makes “may seem tortuous and complicated. Some are admittedly speculative….Yet, beneath all this technicality is the feeling that that it is indeed ‘obvious’ that the conscious mind cannot work like a computer, even though much of what is actually involved in mental activity might do so.” He goes on to explain that a childlike mind helps to see this “obviousness.

This is the kind of obviousness that a child can see….Children sometimes see things clearly that are indeed obscured in later life. We often forget the wonder we felt as children….Children are not afraid to pose basic questions that may embarrass us, as adults, to ask.

This mind, which sees the world continually afresh, is something that Einstein too, Walter Isaacson tells us, (“Einstein: His Life and Universe”) had all his life. “He never lost his sense of wonder at the magic of nature’s phenomena — magnetic fields, gravity, inertia, acceleration, light beams — which grown-ups find so commonplace…..”People like you and me never grow old,” he wrote a friend later in life. “We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.””

Photo by Isaac Davison Unsplash.

Stephen Jay Gould, the Paleontologist who was Professor at Harvard and New York University,  writes in an essay (“Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History”) that “however bizarre and arcane our world might be, nature remains potentially comprehensible to the human mind.” 

We have this faith, that Nature may be comprehensible, owing to Einstein, Roger Penrose, and others like them — adults who, as Walter Isaacson says, “retain the intuition and the awe of a child”, and have the kindness to tell us what they see.

Benjamin Hoff explains in “The Tao of Pooh” that this child-mind, simple (yet profound), comes about

When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way.

People with such minds give us Faith — that the human species still has a chance of being deserving of the Life that the Cosmos gifts us.

Peace 🙂