Myles Power is an “internet nerd” with a real job.
By day (or night, depending on his shifts) he’s a chemist working in an industrial lab (taking money from big business – yeah, he knows). In his spare time his podcast battles conspiracy theories on all fronts with the best research and analysis he can dig up.
Me, I often think too much effort spent debunking conspiracy theories is part of their perverse attraction. The memetic effect that helps spread them. But hey someone has to notice and point out that they are politically motivated conspiracies in the first place, so it’s better the debunking is done carefully and thoroughly.
By way of a change his latest podcast is short (<5 min) piece – sponsored by Merck’s 350th anniversary – about acting on curiosity based on vaguely noticing “something’s not quite right”. Even when a scientist’s job is explicitly directed research, it’s these anomalous moments that provide the greatest inspiration towards a new solution or development. Notice these moments and “stay curious” is his message.
Merck, who are celebrating 350 years of existence have asked me to talk about what makes me curious. Yes, a very open question, but one that also has a very simple and eloquent answer which is that we humans, by our very nature are curious. #AlwaysCurious https://t.co/FPfIesgijB
â” Myles Power (@powerm1985) September 10, 2018
Rang bells with me for two reasons.Â Not least because my own epistemological trajectory started with exactly that “hang on, how can that be” feeling in a mundane industrial business context. (I’ve written about that most recently here, referring to this thought journey.)
More importantly, this whole drive to solve anomalies is very much the fundamental “meaning of life” – effectively what it means to be human, as Myles points out. Whether this is seen as the peak of Maslow’s “self-actualising” motivations, or Deutsch’s universal constructor theory – humans as highly evolved problem solvers, after Popper. It looks like “curiosity” but it is a drive to compress knowledge – to make anomalies fit in a broader understanding with greater explanatory reach.
To know more for less. An evolutionary drive for efficiency and effectiveness. Curiouser and curiouser.
[Post Note: An even better fit:
The David Deutsch post linked above, referring to constructor theory, also refers to his belief that “creativity kills innovation”. Obviously depends on what you mean by these two similar terms, but the point is clear here. Trying new stuff for its own sake is counter-productive. The real value is in anomalies as exceptions to the otherwise familiar. My usual “we need conservatism” mantra that progressive evolution requires fecundity and fidelity as well as mutation. The new makes no sense – has no meaning – without the context of the established.]