A better way for a person to deal with the overwhelming complexity of the social world is to hedge their bets. By investing so much of his worth in a taxi medallion, Chow put all his eggs in one basket. So, you might say, he made himself particularly susceptible to ruin. What individuals should do instead, perhaps, is pursue a diverse range of offsetting strategies that eliminate or drastically reduce the risk of catastrophe, even under conditions of severe uncertainty.

The problem is that much of economic and social life in affluent countries is structured to require individuals to commit most of their resources towards one strategy for pursuing a flourishing life. Taking out a student loan or mortgage, or buying a taxi medallion, are all strategies that require a large, if not total, commitment of a person’s financial resources. Here, real hedging would require us to start from a place of considerable wealth, and so it isn’t a viable strategy for many. Most of us remain consigned to placing big bets in a casino where it’s effectively impossible to know the underlying odds. The precarity of this situation means that compassion, not blame, is the appropriate attitude to have towards those who end up on the losing end of these bets.

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Made in the Caucasus mountains, Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, Adyr-Su valley, Ullu-Tau range, 1983.

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SKIP TO CONTENTMIT Technology ReviewSubscribeExpand menuMIT Technology ReviewSubscribeExpand menuTech policyIsaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

A 1959 Essay by Isaac Asimov on Creativity


October 20, 2014

Note from Arthur Obermayer, friend of the author:

In 1959, I worked as a scientist at Allied Research Associates in Boston. The company was an MIT spinoff that originally focused on the effects of nuclear weapons on aircraft structures. The company received a contract with the acronym GLIPAR (Guide Line Identification Program for Antimissile Research) from the Advanced Research Projects Agency to elicit the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile defense system. The government recognized that no matter how much was spent on improving and expanding current technology, it would remain inadequate. They wanted us and a few other contractors to think “out of the box.”

When I first became involved in the project, I suggested that Isaac Asimov, who was a good friend of mine, would be an appropriate person to participate. He expressed his willingness and came to a few meetings. He eventually decided not to continue, because he did not want to have access to any secret classified information; it would limit his freedom of expression. Before he left, however, he wrote this essay on creativity as his single formal input. This essay was never published or used beyond our small group. When I recently rediscovered it while cleaning out some old files, I recognized that its contents are as broadly relevant today as when he wrote it. It describes not only the creative process and the nature of creative people but also the kind of environment that promotes creativity.

Isaac AsimovAndy Friedman


How do people get new ideas?

Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. We are most interested in the “creation” of a new scientific principle or a new application of an old one, but we can be general here.

One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the “generators” themselves.

But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

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Patricia Highsmith had a thing for snails. She admired their self-sufficiency and found it “relaxing” to watch them copulate, delighted by the impossibility of distinguishing male from female. She collected them for decades, keeping hundreds at home and scores in her handbag, which she let loose when bored at dinner parties. Her affection for snails was matched by her ambivalence towards people, whom she often found baffling and kept at a distance. When a literary agent suggested Americans didn’t buy her books because they were “too subtle” and the characters too unlikeable, Highsmith responded: “Perhaps it is because I don’t like anyone.”

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The fossil record documents our purely terrestrial linage going back hundreds of millions of years. Humans are merely a recent flourish on the tetrapod body plan and suggestions to the contrary are manifestly nonsensical.

Still, no author in possession of a cool story idea ever hesitated merely because it constituted an egregious contradiction of firmly established science. Here are five examples of stories in which humans came from somewhere beyond the sky.

As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner’s harrowing account of the Bundre family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

I love all things dark in literature. I like scary, and deep, and difficult. I am ok with slow reads. I like thinking, watching and trying to understand. That’s why I was sure I’d have a lasting relationship with the complete collection of works by H. P. Lovecraft (it shows $0.59 for the Kindle edition at the moment, by the way, at least for my region). The lasting relationship never happened, even though “cosmic horror” still sounds very intriguing. Truth be told, I haven’t read much of the collection yet. And that is the problem in its core. I can’t! How do you read this? How do you read this boring, preachy, monotonous and-now-my-dear-reader type of writing?!

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In the northern sky in December is a beautiful cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the “seven sisters.” Look carefully and you will probably count six stars. So why do we say there are seven of them?

Many cultures around the world refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters,” and also tell quite similar stories about them. After studying the motion of the stars very closely, we believe these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation looked quite different.

Towards the end of of 1985, adverts started appearing in my Computer & Video Games magazines for “the first ever computer cartoon” – Scooby Doo in the Castle Mystery! And to a massive Scooby Doo fan like me, it was incredible! They were clearly Spectrum screenshots on there, but they definitely looked like nothing else, except maybe what a Spectrum port of something like Dragon’s Lair might look like… which, the following year, we’d find out was more or less the case!

@fireflies commented on a post by @petrichor Jan 16

@petrichor Thanks for the link. I first learned CSS way back in 2003 or something. Last year I looked at doing a web project for the first time, and everything from modern CSS to Javascript confused the hell out of me. Especially the whole NPM/webpack thing.

I do like how powerful and sane CSS is now though. It was a nightmare back in the day, trying to center things, or using tables…

Forget everything you know about CSS. Or at least, be ready to reconsider a lot of it. If like me you’ve been writing CSS for over a decade, CSS in 2020 looks nothing like what you were used to.

Instead of breakpoints, we can now leverage CSS Grid to make dynamic, responsive layouts that adapt to any viewport size with fewer lines of code. Instead of relying on global stylesheets, CSS-in-JS lets us colocate our styles with our components to build themeable design systems.

And most of all, Tailwind CSS has burst onto the scene and, through its use of utility-first CSS, forced us to reconsider the traditional dogma of semantic class names.

Whether all this change makes you want to write a hyped-up blog post or an angry Twitter rant, we are here to present the data, highlight the trends, and hopefully guide you through another eventful year of CSS!

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The Pirate Bay retained its position as the world’s most popular torrent site at the start of 2021 but all is not well. While the site is up and accessible for most, the index is suffering significant technical problems that due to their confusing nature, have many users scratching their heads. Nevertheless, there are still options to coax it back to life.

We begin a new year in the Le Guin Reread with a new decade in Le Guin’s career. At this point, by 1980, Le Guin was regarded as a master of both science fiction and fantasy. She had written her most famous novels, and with the exception of Always Coming Home (1985) and Tehanu (1990), her career is still remembered retrospectively today as having been cemented by the work she did between A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Dispossessed (1974). Yet as we’ve seen throughout this reread, Le Guin’s career as a writer and thinker was far more varied than just the “highlights” of her career; the work she did in her later decades—she turned 51 in 1980—took more nuanced shapes, covered old terrain with new insights, and occasionally rethought some of the political and literary decisions she’d made in her earlier works.

The Beginning Place is one of Le Guin’s least remembered novels, not tied to any of her larger storyworlds (whether Hain, Earthsea, or Orsinia before, or the later Western Shore), and is a strange novel in its own right. Still, it is a joy to read and discover, since it connects much of her thinking about fantasy’s value as a literature for children and adults alike (as we saw argued in the essay collection The Language of the Night), with new heights of poetic prowess in the composition of the text, and with a new genre for Le Guin: the portal fantasy. It’s a surprisingly adult novel about growing up, about crossing that threshold from young adulthood into “full” adulthood—those awkward years in our early 20s when we take on new and greater responsibilities, come to terms with whatever family situation we’ve inherited, and try to figure out what the hell we want to do with the next few decades left.

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Lake Volta is the largest man-made lake in the world. Spanning across half of Ghana, its surface is scattered with eerie tree trunks emerging from glassy waters. The trafficking of children and child labor in this region has a lot to do with the complex economic and social history of the Ghanaians residing around the lake. Young children are targeted for fishing because of their mobility and small hands for untangling nets. This series hopes to capture some of the solitude and innocence of young children entrapped in this reality.

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