Friday, April 1, 2016

Looking for the next Einstein

The Economist mag reports:
Next Einstein, the brainchild of Thierry Zomahoun, a Béninois administrator, is an attempt to scale up African science. At the moment, most African scientists work either in isolation or abroad. ...

Next Einstein is an attempt to overcome this fragmentation, by providing a continental congress at which African scientists can meet. The forum has grown out of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), of which Mr Zomahoun is president. AIMS is a graduate school with branches in Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as in Senegal. It was founded in 2003 by Neil Turok, a South African who now directs the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. ...

AIMS concentrates on maths for two reasons. First, being a subject that requires little equipment beyond students’ brains, it is cheap to teach. Second, when Dr Turok was asking fellow African researchers which subjects would be most pertinent to the continental scientific Renaissance he hoped to trigger, most agreed that maths, which is fundamental to the rest of science, was the one to go for. ...

But, as Mr Zomahoun observes, 40% of the world’s children are African. Statistically, therefore, the chances that the next Einstein will come from Africa are good.
This may be a worthy project, but some myths are at work here.

There is a myth that Einstein was a mathematical genius who worked in isolation. Because he had an easy desk job with a lot of free time, he dreamed up some mathematical formulas for how the world ought to work. By some fluke, he was dramatically more intelligent that anyone else. It was not his DNA, because neither his parents nor his kids were very smart.

Probably new Einsteins are being born in Africa, India, and China today, but their genius is untapped. In we only get them laptop computers and internet connection, they would solve problems like global warming and black hole firewalls for us.

Or maybe not.


  1. The first thing a young man will do on the internet certainly will not be genius and most likely will not be about solving problems...well not exactly. It's most likely surfing for porn. Dropping your child into the cesspit of the internet may not have the brilliant results as advertised.

  2. Einstein's work was presented in isolation. Where were the footnotes?!