Where men are men, and giants walk the earth

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source:  Information Processing

In this earlier post I advocated for cognitive filtering via study of hard subjects

Thought experiment for physicists: imagine a professor throwing copies of Jackson’s Classical Electrodynamics at a group of students with the order, “Work out the last problem in each chapter and hand in your solutions to me on Monday!” I suspect that this exercise produces a highly useful rank ordering within the group, with huge differences in number of correct solutions.

In response, a Caltech friend of mine (Page ’87, MIT PhD in Physics) sent this old article from the Caltech News. It describes Professor William Smythe and his infamous course on electromagnetism, which was designed to “weed out weaklings”! The article lists six students who survived Smythe’s course and went on to win the Nobel prize in Physics. (Click for larger version.)

Vernon Smith, a “weakling” who deliberately avoided the course, went on to win a Nobel prize in Economics. Smith wrote

The first thing to which one has to adapt is the fact that no matter how high people might sample in the right tail of the distribution for “intelligence,” … that sample is still normally distributed in performing on the materials in the Caltech curriculum.

I remind the reader of the Page House motto: Where men are men, and giants walk the earth :-)


Note added: The article mentions George Trilling, a professor at Berkeley I knew in graduate school. I once wrote an electrodynamics solution set for him, and was surprised that he had the temerity to complain about one of my solutions 8-)

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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.
Stephen Hsu

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