From the Introduction to Smart World
How does the mind work? For the past seventy years philosophers, cognitive and evolutionary psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists, and researchers in artificial intelligence have intensively studied this question. Their efforts have made the logical and biological structure and functioning of the mind visible as never before. We now possess a good understanding of how we acquire language; how the visual system works; how we learn, extending knowledge through rational thought processes; and how our emotions affect our beliefs and actions. Nevertheless, our knowledge of the mind remains frustratingly incomplete.
One of the biggest gaps in our understanding is breakthrough creativity, which stands among the human mind's greatest yet most enigmatic forms of achievement. Relativity theory, DNA, cubism, printing with movable type, the personal computer, the Internet, and the iPod may be comprehensible enough in themselves, but the mental processes that led to them have remained largely beyond our grasp. Where do truly innovative ideas come from, and how does the mind make the leap to embrace them? What role do existing cultural and social factors play? Above all, what are the primary mental faculties involved in creativity, and how do they work? These are genuinely important questions, but until recently, the answers have been distinctly unsatisfactory. Creative leaps? Ah, we say, that's genius. Which is just another way of saying we don't have the foggiest idea how to talk about them.
Too bad, because creative breakthroughs shape how the future unfolds. As the creative economy begins to replace the knowledge economy, business leaders are increasingly relying on innovation rather than productivity as the key to expansion.2 Penetrating the mystery of breakthrough creativity would significantly improve our ability to envision the future and the opportunities for growth it presents. To do so, we need to enlarge our standard ways of thinking about the mind. The goal of this book is to introduce you to an extended view of the mind and its role in intelligently structuring the world around us that will finally begin to solve the mystery of how we make creative leaps.
Over the past two decades a series of profoundly important advances have occurred in both the philosophy of mind and the empirical mind/brain sciences that, taken together, are finally opening the way to a new understanding of breakthrough creativity. Three developments are of particular significance: recognition that the mind extends beyond the brain, a renewed interest in the mind's imaginative faculties and the analogical reasoning that underlies them, and the emergence of a new science of networks.
First, cognitive scientists, researchers in artificial intelligence, psychologists, and philosophers have begun to talk about how the mind extends out into the world. This revolutionary expansion of the traditional concept of mind directly challenges our belief in the individual mind's internal self-sufficiency. We are coming to understand that in making sense of the world, acting intelligently, and solving problems creatively, we do not rely solely on our mind's internal resources. Instead, we constantly have recourse to a vast array of culturally and socially embodied idea-spaces that populate the extended mind. These spaces-manifested in forms as various as myths, business models, scientific paradigms, social conventions, practices, institutions, and even computer chips-are rich with embedded intelligence that we have progressively offloaded into our physical, social, and cultural environment for the sake of simplifying the burden on our own minds of rendering the world intelligible. Sometimes the space of ideas thinks for us. We live in a smart world.
Dinner with Chargaff
This section from Chapter 2—Spaces to Think With: Reason, Imagination, and the Discovery of DNA, recounts Crick’s crucial insight regarding complementary replication. Erwin Chargaff, a leading American biochemist, had established that in varied samples of DNA, the bases always manifested the same ratios (A = C, T = G), but was unable to make anything of it. Astonishingly, Crick remained ignorant of Chargaff’s results (which were well known) until meeting him at dinner. The dinner incident represents a classic illustration of the co-occurrence of blindness and insight that we so often encounter when dealing with creative leaps.
Following Franklin's critique, Crick began to consider two-stranded models in which the bases-now facing inwards, not outwards-were what bound the molecule together, most probably through hydrogen bonding. But bonded how? His first hypothesis was the obvious one: like with like, A bonding with A, C with C, and so forth. Not knowing enough about the nature of chemical bonds in DNA to make further progress on such a model, he enlisted the help of a young Cambridge mathematician, John Griffith, to figure out if such a pairing were possible. A couple of days later, meeting Griffith in the tea line at the Cavendish, Crick asked him if he had an answer. Yes, Griffith replied, but it wasn't like with like. The evidence, still quite tentative, pointed rather to A bonding with T and C with G. Ignorant of Chargaff 's results (as evidently was Griffith), Crick's response was extraordinarily prescient: "Well, that's all right, that's perfectly O.K. A goes and makes B, B goes and makes A-you just have complementary replication."
Crick's extraordinary grasp of the logical dictates of genetic geometry enabled him to see what the hypothesized base pairings appeared to imply. If the bases A and C on one strand of DNA always matched up respectively with T and G on the other, then the two strands were mirror images: for example, the base sequence ATTGCC on the first backbone would be matched by TAACGG on the second. Consequently, the infinite possible variability of the sequence of bases on one strand was balanced by the rigidity of producing its exact complement on the other. In his memoirs, Crick notes that he had originally gotten the idea of complementary replication from sculpture: a figure can be exactly reproduced by pressing it into a soft material, which can in turn be used as a mold for copying it. Of course, if what had to be copied were a three-dimensional structure such as a protein, then replicating the inside would prove extremely difficult, but in this case, the sequence of DNA bases was for practical purposes one-dimensional, so the problem disappeared.
If Crick failed for nearly nine months to recognize the significance of his insight, this was largely because of the sheer number of unsettled issues still facing him and Watson: How many backbones were there? Were they really on the outside, or inside, as Watson continued to believe up to a few days before they got the final structure right? And how did the bases bond, if indeed they did?
By an extraordinary coincidence, in late May, shortly after Crick's conversation with Griffith, Chargaff himself visited the Cavendish, precipitating one of the most farcical and, as it later turned out, most crucial events in the whole DNA saga. Watson's advisor, John Kendrew, arranged for Chargaff, Crick, and Watson to have dinner together. Evidently, it wasn't long before mutual contempt emerged on both sides. Chargaff was almost apoplectic in his scorn: "They impressed me by their extreme ignorance . . . I never met two men who knew so little-and aspired to so much . . . It struck me as a typically British intellectual atmosphere, little work and lots of talk."
Bitterly sardonic though the remark was (it was made more than two decades after the discovery of DNA), it was not totally unjustified, as Crick's own account of the meeting reveals.
Crick challenged Chargaff to say what all his work in nucleic acid had led to, tartly remarking, "It hasn't told us anything we want to know."
Chargaff answered, "Well, of course, there's the one-to-one ratios." So I said, "What's that?" So he said, "Well, it's all published." Of course, I'd never read the literature, so I wouldn't know. So he told me. Well, I mean-the effect was electric, this is why I remember it, you see. I suddenly realized: by God, if you have complementary replication, you can expect to get one-to-one ratios.
Crick had instantly grasped what had eluded everyone else, including Watson: the significance of the Chargaff ratios. Given the almost infinite number of possible variants among strings of A, C, T, and G bases, the existence of one-to-one ratios between pairs of them confirmed in Crick's mind the insight that originally came after his meeting with Griffith: whatever the sequence along one backbone, it had to be matched by the complementary sequence along the other. (Had the matchup been like with like-A/A and so on-the Chargaff ratios would have been a coincidence of astronomically low probability.) Genetic replication was now straightforward: assuming the backbones eventually separated, each could be used as a template to produce further copies (strand 1 reproducing strand 2 and vice versa).
The Entrepreneur From Mainz
This is from Chapter Nine—The Networked Dynamics of Risk: Printing and the Law of Small-World Networks. As the chapter makes clear, Gutenberg could never have succeeded without first obtaining a serious amount of investment capital. This excerpt describes how he obtained his first round of funding. Fust would eventually go on to put up a second round as well, with stringent conditions that led to Gutenberg’s bankruptcy and Fust’s repossession of the press.
We don't know exactly what Gutenberg said to Johann Fust, a wealthy Mainz goldsmith and merchant, when they met in 1449, although we do know Gutenberg's aim was to persuade Fust to become his business partner. Did he get him excited about the business itself, like Steve Jobs telling John Sculley there were more interesting things to do than selling sugar water? Did he emphasize the vision: together they could change the world, transform education with mass literacy, jump-start the Renaissance? Or did he run the numbers by him? In retrospect the upside turned out to be awfully good. When Gutenberg got started, you could have put all the printed books in Europe (mostly produced using the cumbersome wood-block method) in a single wagon. Fifty years later there were between 15 and 20 million.
Whatever the pitch was, it convinced Fust to make an initial investment of 800 gulden (about $125,000) at 6 percent interest in an enterprise centered on a new, largely untried technology Gutenberg had been working on for about a decade. And so, the great revolution finally got started.
It is a peculiar irony that the man who did more than anyone to make producing copious written records of the past possible left almost none relating to his own. We know very little about Gutenberg's life from the time he left Mainz around 1429 to 1448, when he returned, most of it gleaned from scraps of documents such as legal and court papers. This much at least is clear. First, by the time he was back in Mainz, he still hadn't made much money. Second, he brought with him a team of six assistants, whom he promptly set up in a workshop in the family home. This suggests that he had either a fairly complete prototype or a working press that he had perhaps already used to print indulgences.
No doubt he showed it to Fust. Venture capitalists love nothing better than a demo of a viable technology, and Fust would have been well qualified to assess the potential of what he saw. For one thing, he was no stranger to the book business. His adopted son Peter Schîffer, who also became one of Gutenberg's partners, was studying calligraphy in Paris, and Fust himself traded in books. Furthermore, he was a goldsmith, so his eyes wouldn't necessarily have glazed over when Gutenberg got into the finer points of typecasting. Whatever Fust saw, he was impressed enough to insist the equipment be used as collateral for the loan.
So what did Gutenberg have to show him after years of hard work? The secret of papermaking had come to Europe via the Arabs and was now being made in several places in Germany. Paper made strictly according to Chinese methods was too soft for use with a quill pen and had to be strengthened with animal glue. This turned out to be strong enough for use with metal type, and could also be printed on both sides, but was now too hard to take a good impression and had to be dampened. Ink was also a bit of a problem. The water-based ink used by scribes wouldn't adhere to metal, and so a special oil-based ink, probably borrowed from painters or textile makers, had to be developed.12 Then, of course, there was the famous press. Screw presses had been in use since ancient times for crushing olives and grapes and for making cheese, and currently they were also being employed to squeeze the water out of wet paper and to stamp patterns on fabrics.
All of this was highly ingenious, of course, but in the end it's just the sort of tinkering you'd expect an entrepreneur with a hot new technology to engage in from the outset. The core of the business, quite obviously, was the movable type itself.