Sunday, July 4, 2010

Emulating Boyden

It's an open question whether you should listen preferentially to advice from those who are successful. The upside is that they are more likely to employ useful hacks, but the downside is that they might not be especially self-aware.

If you do buy the star emulation approach, then the 30 year old neurobiologist Ed Boyden is someone to listen to, as his resume suggests. So, here is a transcript of a June interview of his, and below are three quotes.

First, on advice:
I have received a lot of good advice over the years, but the best was to figure out how I think and feel when going about solving difficult problems, so that I can approach problems in a fashion that is optimal for the way my mind works, in order to maximize my positive impact on the world.
Second, on our small slice of infinity:
Since there is always an infinite amount of information that we don't know, and an infinite number of things that we don't fully comprehend, there is therefore an infinite number of possible important scientific projects. Since we can only do a finite number of things in our lives, the human act of doing science is obligately an aesthetically-driven act. I spend a lot of time thinking about not just the impact, but about the beauty of what we're doing. A good scientific story has cliffhangers, surprise endings and drama.
Third, on music:
I listen to a lot of Bach and Mozart when my mind is operating in a logical or imaginative fashion, and electronic music or techno when it's time to crank out results.
I'm not surprised that he listens to non-lyrical music, which is awesome for boosting concentration. I am also not surprised to hear that he has a strong utilitarian drive, in his aim to "maximize my positive impact on the world."

I am surprised, however, that he admits to using a narrative approach to science. Maybe thinking about the "plot" of an experiment helps to drive him while remaining willing to change his mind.

You may recall Boyden's excellent (2007) advice on how to manage brain resources in an era of complexity. Contra to the current technophobic haterade movement, Boyden embraces lots of tech-based solutions, even calling his laptop his "brain co-processor." And yes, he is on Twitter, although he only updates seldomly.