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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Foxes and Hedgehogs

Following a link in Andrew's blog post on 10/06. I found the interesting article. Part of the article read as follows:

Great scientists come in two varieties, which Isaiah Berlin, quoting the seventh-century-BC poet Archilochus, called foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are interested in everything, and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are interested only in a few problems which they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein was a hedgehog; Richard Feynman was a fox.

Many readers of The New York Review of Books are more likely to have encountered Feynman as a story-teller, for example in his book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, than as a scientist. Not many are likely to have read his great textbook The Feynman Lectures on Physics, which was a best seller among physicists but was not intended for the general public. Now we have a collection of his letters, selected and edited by his daughter, Michelle. The letters do not tell us much about his science. For readers who are not scientists, it is important to understand that foxes may be as creative as hedgehogs. Feynman happened to be young at a time when there were great opportunities for foxes. The hedgehogs, Einstein and his followers at the beginning of the twentieth century, had dug deep and found new foundations for physics. When Feynman came onto the scene in the middle of the century, the foundations were firm and the universe was wide open for foxes to explore.

If the science of the 20th century was physics, and the science of the 21st century was said to be biology. Is now a time for foxes or hedgehogs?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is still early to say the 21st century is biology, because most of biologists don't know what they are doing. And the best time for physics hasn't passed, but is just coming! Now is a time for frog and tiger...

Sorry, I don't have a blog id.

WJ

Hongyuan said...

Success is a combination of preparation and opportunity. Though good preparation is indispensable, opportunites are more important sometimes.

Time creates big man.

Tian Zheng said...

Biology being the science of the 21st is just a common saying nowadays. It is kinda politically true since biology is getting a very large proportion of attentions, resources, fundings, etc.