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Luminaries | by jurvetson
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From across the room, their wiki heads were glowing bright. (Matt and Ross are from Socialtext, the company providing the wiki services for Brainstorm 2006)


Seemed like the visualization of a Brainstorm to me...


The editors of FORTUNE magazine asked four questions of the attendees and Ross Mayfield (on the right here) is blogging the replies and the ongoing conference. Sandra Day O’Connor and Queen Noor are a special treat today.


Here is my answer to one of the questions... I had flickr on my mind when I wrote it:




Playfulness. I cherish the child-like mind. I celebrate immaturity. I try to play every day. At work, I expect to fail early and often.


From what I can see, the best scientists and engineers nurture a child-like mind. They are playful, open minded and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure.


I went to a self-described "play-date" at David Kelley's house. The founder of IDEO is setting up an interdisciplinary "D-School" for design and creativity at Stanford. David and Don Norman noted that creativity is killed by fear, referencing experiments that contrast people’s approach to walking along a balance beam flat on the ground (playful and expressive) and then suspended in the air (fearful and rigid).


What is so great about the child-like mind? "Babies are just plain smarter than we are, at least if being smart means being able to learn something new.... They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations and even do experiments…. In fact, scientists are successful precisely because they emulate what children do naturally." (Berkeley Professor Alison Gopnik, co-author of Scientist in the Crib)


Much of the human brain’s power derives from its massive synaptic interconnectivity. Geoffrey West from the Santa Fe Institute observes that across species, synapses/neuron fan-out grows as a power law with brain mass.


At the age of 2 to 3 years old, humans hit their peak with 10x the synapses and 2x the energy burn of an adult brain. And it’s all downhill from there. The UCSF Memory and Aging Center has shown that our pace of cognitive decline is the same in our 40’s as in our 80’s. We just notice more accumulated decline as we get older, especially when we cross the threshold of forgetting most of what we try to remember.


But we can affect this progression. Prof. Merzenich of UCSF has found that neural plasticity does not disappear in adults. It just requires mental exercise. Use it or lose it. We have to get out of the mental ruts that career tracks and academic “disciplines” can foster.


I try to take a random walk of curiosities and child-like exploration. Photo-blogging has become a form of mental exercise for me. I try to embrace lifelong learning, to do something new. Physical exercise is repetitive; mental exercise is eclectic.

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Taken on June 28, 2006