"A black swan is an outlier, an event that lies beyond the realm of normal expectations. Most people expect all swans to be white because that's what their experience tells them; a black swan is by definition a surprise. Nevertheless, people tend to concoct explanations for them after the fact, which makes them appear more predictable, and less random, than they are. Our minds are designed to retain, for efficient storage, past information that fits into a compressed narrative. This distortion, called the hindsight bias, prevents us from adequately learning from the past."
"For a long time the fields of biology and psychology have been quite separate, and only in the last few years people have started thinking about brain imaging and about how the brain and mind relate. But they haven't really thought that much about another part of biology: developmental biology. Brain imaging tells you something about how the brain works, but that doesn't tell you anything about how the brain gets to be the way that it is. Of course, we also have the human genome sequence and have made enormous advances in genetics and related fields, and what I've been trying to do in the last few years is to relate all of the advances in biology to what people have been finding out in cognitive development and language acquisition."
"What we've discovered in the last several years is that string theory has an incredible diversity—a tremendous number of solutions—and allows different kinds of environments. A lot of the practitioners of this kind of mathematical theory have been in a state of denial about it. They didn't want to recognize it. They want to believe the universe is an elegant universe—and it's not so elegant. It's different over here. It's that over here. It's a Rube Goldberg machine over here. And this has created a sort of sense of denial about the facts about the theory. The theory is going to win, and physicists who are trying to deny what's going on are going to lose."
"Most of the psychiatric drugs we use today are refinements of drugs whose value for mental disorders was discovered by accident decades ago. Now we can look forward to a more rational way to design psychiatric drugs. It will be guided by the identification of the gene variants that predispose certain people to particular mental disorders such as schizophrenia or severe depression."
"An autonomous agent is something that can both reproduce itself and do at least one thermodynamic work cycle. It turns out that this is true of all free-living cells, excepting weird special cases. They all do work cycles, just like the bacterium spinning its flagellum as it swims up the glucose gradient. The cells in your body are busy doing work cycles all the time."
"We've already had a digital revolution; we don't need to keep having it. The next big thing in computers will be literally outside the box, as we bring the programmability of the digital world to the rest of the world. With the benefit of hindsight, there's a tremendous historical parallel between the transition from mainframes to PCs and now from machine tools to personal fabrication. By personal fabrication I mean not just making mechanical structures, but fully functioning systems including sensing, logic, actuation, and displays."
"The kind of Christianity that pervades the religious right in this country divides the world between the saved and the damned, between God's people and Satan's people, between good and evil. We have all seen how this is played out in our politics. I used to think that President Bush was using this language as a political ploy. I still think he is, but I also think—to my disappointment—that he also believes it. His conviction that he is God's chosen one to "rid the world of evildoers" blinds him to the evil that he—and we, as Americans—are capable of doing. The conviction that we are on the side of good—of God—is, however, an ancient one—enormously powerful."
something about his life and his attitude toward the world and toward physics.
"I'm interested in bending the edges of the spectrum to make the abstract and the concrete hit one another more directly."
"The substance of what I'm interested in is that it's the genes that are related to behavior, and how they work. The big insight is that genes are the agents of nurture as well as nature. Experience is a huge part of a developing human brain, the human mind, and a human organism. We need to develop in a social world and get things in from the outside. It's enormously important to the development of human nature. You can't describe human nature without it. But that process is itself genetic, in the sense that there are genes in there designed to get the experience out of the world and into the organism. In the human case you're going to have genes that set up systems for learning that are not going to be present in other animals, language being the classic example. Language is something that in every sense is a genetic instinct. There's no question that human beings, unless they're unlucky and have a genetic mutation, inherit a capacity for learning language. That capacity is simply not inherited in anything like the same degree by a chimpanzee or a dolphin or any other creature. But you don't inherit the language; you inherit the capacity for learning the language from the environment."