Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Jobs reality distortion field

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
I'm finally getting around to reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. I'm fascinated by the discussion of how Jobs developed what became known as the Reality Distortion Field. Apparently Jobs had a lifelong battle with reality and won.

One way to look at Jobs' life is that he was a liar and a con man with a gift for design. According to Isaacson's reporting, Jobs had no love for truth. Jobs learned how to lie, cajole, manipulate, and charm until people believed whatever he wanted them to believe. By all accounts, Jobs' mixture of cruel and unsavory skills caused people to produce seemingly impossible results.

That's one way to interpret events. But it's not the only interpretation. According to Isaacson's book, Jobs spent years trying to understand the nature of reality before he started bending it. Jobs dropped a lot of acid, travelled to India, followed gurus, became a fruitarian, meditated, and studied religion. He was clearly looking for something. What if he found it?

Jobs' spiritual journey probably led him to believe reality is subjective - more like a complicated set of ideas than a huge clump of matter. I've never tried acid, but from what I hear, it changes your view of reality forever. Before you take acid, a rock is just a rock. After acid, a rock is sometimes a rock, and other times it's just one possibility. When you consider all of Jobs' spiritual experiences, it's fair to assume he had an open mind about the nature of reality.

For context, keep in mind that physicists also have some whacky ideas about the nature of reality. Some scientists believe we are experiencing just one of many universes. Others question the nature of time. Einstein showed us that reality is different for observers traveling at different speeds. And in the quantum world, reality is smeared across probabilities.
Isaacson also wrote the biggest-selling of the 500 biographies on Einstein, and likes to compare Jobs to Einstein.

Meanwhile, the top-selling science-related book is Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, with a current Amazon ranking that lags being only the female fantasies, Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey (and their sequels). In every interview, the author plugs the book by saying:
Einstein said, “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.”
I cannot confirm this. I also cannot confirm that Einstein said, "Originality is the art of concealing your sources." He certainly did conceal his sources, but I doubt that he would admit directly how profitable that had been.

Lehrer conceals his sources, and never defines creativity. His book is a series of paradoxical anecdotes, couched in pop psychology, and masquerading as profound observations. There seems to be huge demands for books like this. Not as much demand as the demand for female fantasy, but huge demand with pseudo-intellectuals like Charlie Rose.

1 comment:

  1. To compare Jobs to Einstein is probably the wrong way round. My impression is that Jobs was an entepreneur who selected microcomputers as his field of operations. His behaviour as serial nerd-abuser would seem typical of that breed. An interesting though far less successful comparitor would be to Clive Sinclair in England whose travails were documented in the BBC comedy drama, "Micro Men" (on Youtube). Einstein would be comparable to Jobs as the entrepreneur of the Einstein brand.