Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Steve Jobs, poster boy heretic, dies prematurely

World changer, but his personal aim was simple

Make consumer tech beautiful and user friendly – and flawless

Pulling ideal products from minds of the merely talented

Alone amid the mediocre top executives of tech marketing, he led towards perfection

Let’s hope that he wasn’t despatched early by medical myopia

RIP Steve Jobs - a man who knew his own mind and in pursuing his passion changed the world more than all the rest of his peers put together, enabling minds around the world by giving them the beautiful but above all intelligible means of exploiting Tim Berners Lee's fabulous creation, the World Wide Web, to a level undreamed of by that fellow genius and pioneer.Steve Jobs is, sadly and predictably, dead from pancreatic cancer, as long expected. Kept alive for seven years by the barbaric techniques of modern medicine when faced with a particular brutal form of cancer – surgery, poison and eventually a liver transplant – he finally died under the assault. Let’s hope that the alternative that is increasingly pointed to by recent decades of stunningly promising research into how phytochemicals – plant chemicals – aid the body in fighting off cancer was not neglected by his doubtless expensive medical consultants.

Did Jobs benefit from phytochemicals?

One might expect it probably was, of course. Awakening the medical profession to what may be the most important modern trend in medicine – how a range of chemicals extracted from food have proven especially over the last five years to be strongly effective against human cancer cells in the lab and in mice – is proving an uphill battle, even though a flood of research has appeared in mainstream peer reviewed journals in the last ten years.

Perhaps, however, it wasn’t . Perhaps Steve Jobs was helped by his own core character as instinctive heretic, if not also by good advice from his wife and other people who can be wiser than the professionals. We understand that Jobs was interested in alternative medicine, and did take advantage of what some Chinese herbalists had to offer. This may have helped keep him alive far beyond the three to six months his doctors originally forecast that he had left of life when he was diagnosed. Luckily, it was a rare kind of pancreatic cancer which forms about five per cent of the cases of this terrible killer, one which responds to surgery. Surviving seven years is evidence that he benefited from good treatment, though, as well as luck.

The great heretic, flipping the world of personal tech into art

It’s not surprising if Jobs was one of the few to take a look at what alternative medicine might have to offer him when he fell sick. After all, Jobs spent his life trying to move beyond the norm, forcing the merely talented to craft the ideal consumer tool from the geek idea of computers as digital engineering incarnated. He made ugly and unreliable products user friendly, beautiful to look at and reliably useful in ways which seem beyond the engineering and technical talent to concieve, for some reason. Even the marketing arm of computer companies seemed to think of this aspect only after Jobs led the way, and only Sony and eventually HP seemed able to compete in looks, though, saddled as they are with Bill Gates’ atrocious mishmash of an operating system, never caught up to Jobs in the realm of reliable and easy use.

Why was this range of virtues mysteriously beyond the leaders of other technology companies and their marketing people before Jobs showed the way, and even after he did so? The source of this odd design blindness to what now seems so obvious remains a bit of a mystery, but it must reside somewhere in the blocked mental arteries of of the group mind. Jobs thought for himself, on behalf of the average user. People who think in group terms cannot think independently very well, it seems.

So it wasn’t surprising to hear Jobs at the 2005 Commencement at Stanford where he gave the address saying the following:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Jobs was not a genius in mind but in action

What kind of genius was this man who changed the personal world of billions? The questions which Jobs asked were not after all rocket science. We remember ourselves asking them in print and on the Web as early as the mid nineties. Why shouldn’t computers be easy to use? Why shouldn’t they be reliable and easy to tinker with? Why shouldn’t their cases be colorful, chic and even simply beautiful in the manner desired, consciously or not, by all sane people, and most especially by women?

These are not difficult questions to pose and Steve Jobs was not a genius for asking them. What was unique was his strength of purpose in bringing them about. Like all pioneers and visionaries who try to move the mass of conventional me-too thought in any field, he faced a great group edifice of inertia born of lazy thinking and the general assumption that if consumers didn’t know better or demand better then there wasn’t any point in exerting oneself in one’s job to take the initiative and create something new and different in the realm of design or ease of use.

Jobs knew that he could put himself in the place of the buyer and work out what that buyer might grow fond of without that buyer telling him or even knowing what it was that he would like, once he experienced it. Jobs spurned focus groups for that reason. He liked to quote the hockey player Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,” and he often said that “it is not the job of the consumer to telll us what he wants. He doesn’t know until he sees it.”

Or as Jobs told Fortune more fully, quoted by James Stewart in his fine Times piece today, How Jobs Put Passion Into Products:

Mr. Jobs made no secret of his focus on design; in a Jan. 24, 2000, interview, Fortune magazine asked if it was an “obsession” and whether it was “an inborn instinct or what?”

“We don’t have good language to talk about this kind of thing,” Mr. Jobs replied. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together. … That is the furthest thing from veneer. It was at the core of the product the day we started. This is what customers pay us for — to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”

Jobs the supreme heretic

The trait that you believe you know exactly what the world needs and wants is of course is shared by many crackpot inventors who are sure they know what the world needs, even if they show no sign of wanting it when offered, so it was truly Jobs genius to be correct in his forecasts, especially, for instance, in dreaming up the iPad when Microsoft’s clunky tablet computers had failed so dismally four or five years earlier. Jobs must surely have recognised the future of the iPad notion once he encountered the touch screen, which makes all the difference. But why didn’t others? Incidentally, the capacitive touch screen was invented at CERN in 1976, and the home of the LHC also boasts that it was where Tim Berners Lee invented the Web – on a NeXT screen!

Steve Jobs was a man who not only followed his own star, but brought the world along with him into a new era where the resources of the Web could be as portable as an iPhone. To us he is the epitomy of the maverick, the heretic, the originator who comes up with something new because he has freed himself of the chains of group think.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

What was truly marvelous though was the fact that he could combine all the roles needed – not only the independent minded visionary, but the team player who could lead a talented group to the world series without losing sight of his dream.

Here is the whole of that speech which he gave at the Commencement at Stanford in 2005:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.
Stanford Report, June 14, 2005
‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says

This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005.
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

One Response to “Steve Jobs, poster boy heretic, dies prematurely”

  1. deanesmay Says:

    Misunderstood even in death, many people attempted to compare Jobs to great inventors or manufacturing innovators, like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. But this is madness. Steve Jobs invented practically nothing, nor did he fundamentally change much about how computers were produced. He changed how they looked and how they were used.

    In this, the best person to compare him to in my mind is Frank Lloyd Wright. Like Wright, he had many character flaws. Like Wright, he also made some questionable choices and was behind some bad designs and bad ideas. But in the field of architecture, there was the world Before Frank Lloyd Wright, and there was the world after him, and the same can be said of personal technology and Steve Jobs: he forced the world to rethink its entire approach to, and relationship with, technology.

    I have not owned an Apple product since the 1990s. I don’t know that I will own one again any time soon. I am not part of a worshipful cult of Steve Jobs/Apple devotees. On the other hand, I know genius when I see it, and I know visionaries who change the world in a fundamental way when I see one, and that was Steve Jobs.

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