stephen wolfram remarkable people

A Fascinating Interview with a Modern-Day Genius – Stephen Wolfram on Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People

Check out Remarkable People Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Stephen became interested in physics after the Apollo 11 landing:
    • “I started reading books about physics, and I discovered this amazing fact: that you could just go to a library, find all these books, and start learning stuff. There wasn’t really any constraint.”Stephen Wolfram
  • “The concepts of math are worth learning to improve how you think about the world.”Stephen Wolfram
  • Advice from Steve Jobs for naming a product: Take the generic word of the product and romanticize it
  • Measuring how smart people are is somewhat pointless – intelligence is categorical

Intro

Books Mentioned

Stephen’s Interest in Physics

  • Stephen became interested in physics after the Apollo 11 landing:
    • “I started reading books about physics, and I discovered this amazing fact: that you could just go to a library, find all these books, and start learning stuff. There wasn’t really any constraint.”Stephen Wolfram
  • Although Stephen was fascinated by physics, he didn’t really like the math aspect
    • He began pondering the question: “How can I do the physics I want to do without having to do all the boring math calculations that I didn’t want to do? … How do I use computers to do this?”
  • Stephen went on to receive a Ph.D. in physics at the young age of 20

Computational Thinking & Tech

  • What is computational thinking? 
    • “As far as I’m concerned, it’s organizing your thoughts clearly enough that you can explain them to a sufficiently smart computer” – Stephen Wolfram
  • The world is becoming more and more dependant on technology
    • “We’re totally dependent on lots of stuff in the modern world. The one thing that’s really advanced in human history is technology and the amount of automation that we have.” – Stephen Wolfram

The Importance of Math

  • “The concepts of math are worth learning to improve how you think about the world. Math, as a field, is also the single most-developed intellectual area.”Stephen Wolfram
    • “Modern math is built on hundreds of years of intellectual development in a way that’s more of a tower than pretty much any other field. It’s an impressive achievement of our civilization.”
  • To improve his physics work, Stephen came to the realization that he needed better computational tools, leading him to create Wolfram Language
    • “Wolfram Language is basically what I’ve been working on for at least a third of a century. The goal is to encapsulate as much computational intelligence and computational knowledge about the world as possible into this language that we humans can then use to express ourselves.” – Stephen Wolfram
  • 🎧 One issue with advanced math: If you ask someone when they last used it, they’ll probably say, “Back in math class”
    • Computational tools, however, can be applied to multiple areas, including art history and marketing

On Working with Steve Jobs

  • Stephen and Steve made a deal to include Stephen’s product, Mathematica, on all NeXT computers (the computers made by Steve’s company, NeXt Inc.)
    • “We made this deal early on to bundle what would be called Mathematica on the NeXT computer so everybody who got a NeXT could use Mathematica. It turned out that it was a pretty good deal on both sides… A bunch of people bought NeXT computers because of that.”  – Stephen Wolfram
  • “I always had very civilized interactions with Steve, actually. I also liked the fact that I would tell him something, and he would say, ‘I don’t care,’ and then sometime later, he would say, ‘Actually, I do care.” – Stephen Wolfram
  • Before Apple acquired Siri, Siri licensed Stephen’s product, WolframAlpha
  • 🎧Steve Jobs’ advice for naming a product: Take the generic word of the product and romanticize it

Thoughts on Being Smart

  • Although many people consider Stephen a genius, he doesn’t feel like he is one
    • Just like the average person, Stephen is constantly thinking about problems and struggling to figure them out
      • “People tell me, ‘You’re so smart about this or that thing.’ To me, that’s not what it feels like. I’m always trying to figure out things that are difficult for me to figure out. Maybe some of those things are really difficult for other people to figure out, but I’m always struggling to figure stuff out.” – Stephen Wolfram
  • The burden of being a person with high intelligence:
    • “I’ve got to figure stuff out because it’s not like there are other people out there who are going to figure all this stuff out.” – Stephen Wolfram
  • 🎧 Measuring how smart people are is somewhat pointless – intelligence is categorical
    • “Somebody can be super good at analytical ‘figuring out stuff,’ and super useless at conceptualizing what to do next” – Stephen Wolfram

What does Stephen look for when interviewing someone for a job?

  • If Stephen can’t imagine how the person will actually work in the role, he won’t hire them
  • “If I think I understand them, and I can see how they’ll actually work and follow through on what I want them to do, then that’s a good sign for me” – Stephen Wolfram

Science Can’t Explain Everything

  • Science is incredibly important and has solved a ton of problems, but it can’t be used to explain everything in life
    • “I feel that science has done itself a considerable disservice by trying to make things seem cut, dried, and simple when they’re actually not”  – Stephen Wolfram
      • “I think it’s a more complicated picture. I always kind of wince when I hear, ‘Science has proved X,’ when it’s like, ‘I know how science works. You can’t possibly have proved that.’ It’s a much more complicated story. There are things you can say, but there are also a lot of footnotes, caveats and so on.”

Additional Notes

  • One project Stephen is currently tackling: Finding the fundamental theory of physics
    • “Can we find the fundamental theory of our universe? It might be the wrong century to try this, but if it turns out the rule for the universe is simple, it’d be pretty embarrassing if we have the technology now to find it and we just hadn’t bothered to look for it.” – Stephen Wolfram
  • Stephen isn’t really into beer, football, or cricket
    • Instead, he prefers to spend his time building things
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