MT VOID 11/07/97 (Vol. 16, Number 19)

MT VOID 11/07/97 (Vol. 16, Number 19)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/07/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 19

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
       Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


STARSHIP TROOPERS opens this weekend. We will have a club get- together at the Hazlet Multiplex, tomorrow, Saturday, November 8. If you are interested in joining us, it would be useful if you let us know, but not absolutely required. You can just look for us at the theater. We will go to the 1:00 PM screening. Following the film we will go a short distance north on Route 35 and have lunch and discuss the film at the Red Oak Diner. Join us for the film and/or lunch. [-mrl]

URL of the week: Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel" with computer-generated illustration of the library. [-psrc]


Among my friends there is a repeatedly told story. In fact it has been told for several years now so it must, in fact, have even happened more than a decade ago. One of us was working one day when his nephew came up to him and asked him to load a certain program on his computer. "I can't do it now, I'm busy," our friend said gently. "Well can you give me the floppy and I can boot it myself?" That stopped my friend in his tracks. A three-year-old child knew how to boot a computer. My friend is not much younger than I am and when I was a child computers were generally found mostly in science fiction movies. I did not encounter my first real computer until the summer before my senior year in high school and then they were cumbersome affairs that could run programs handed to them on cumbersome decks of cards. Someone like me could run a program maybe three or four times a day, if I wanted to put in the effort to get my deck, look at the paper output, type new cards, and resubmit my deck. I look around at work today and most people are doing jobs that would have been incomprehensible to my high school class.

Okay, so the ability to compute is in the hands of younger and younger people these days. Why is that so significant? Well I was reading an essay by Alan Lightman. He talks about how Isaac Newton was in his early 20s when he discovered the law of gravitation. Einstein was 26 when he postulated special relativity. At 35 Maxwell had postulated his equations of electromagnetism and had already retired. If you take Nobel Prize winners in physics and see when they actually did the work for which they got the prize, it averages about 36. Change the field to chemistry and it goes up to 39. There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics (Ah, what a pity!) but it you take a look at the big prize winners in Mathematics and they have done their work mostly in their 20s. Now Andrew Wiles used no computers to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, but for a lot of math the computer is an irreplaceable tool. If we are talking about a more physical science, it becomes an even more important tool.

So a lot of us have heard about very young children learning computers and we have shrugged it off as an interesting social phenomenon. But to science it is a lot more than that. Imagine how science would be stunted if people did not have paper and writing implements at all or until they were 25. They had to scratch their ideas in sand and remember what other people had told them. Imagine they had to pass their ideas on orally. Then paper and writing comes along. How much better this is for thinking out mathematics and for writing about physics. How much better it is for drawing diagrams to help one think and for telling others about ideas. But still people learn to write in their 20s and 30s. How much time is lost that way. And it is prime time, literally. It is the limber years of thinking. Then when five-year-olds learn to write and get used to paper and pen. There would be a huge jump in scientific productivity. And it is only fully realized when the very young are learning to write.

Can we expect the same sort of jump in scientific productivity when the very young learn to use computers? Oh, absolutely. And 3-D computer games are going to improve spatial thinking. But the computer will also shape the sort of discoveries that are made. The discoveries will be more those that require spatial thinking or rapid but simple computation. Already there is a burgeoning of interest in fractal geometry. There the computer is an immense aid. On the other hand it was not a big help to Andrew Wiles in proving Fermat. It may be that Fermat was proven in what is historically a nick of time. Wiles sort of complex reasoning may be replaced by a lot of research into the new fields that are made easier by the computer. We chip away at the unknown generally in the area of least resistance. And it is our tools that determine where the least resistance is. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     [Conscience is] the inner voice that warns us
     someone may be watching.
                                   -- H. L. Mencken