AScientistDyingYoung - A SCIENTIST DYING YOUNG The limber...

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A SCIENTIST DYING YOUNG The limber years for scientists, as for athletes, generally come at a young age. Isaac Newton was in his early twenties when he discovered the law of gravity, Albert Einstein was twenty-six when he formulated special relativity, and James Clerk Maxwell had polished off electromagnetic theory and retired to the country by thirty-five. When recently I hit thirty-five myself, I went through the unpleasant but irresistible exercise of summing up my career in physics. By this age, or another few years, the most creative achievements are finished and visible. You’ve either got the stuff and used it or you haven’t. In my own case, as with the majority of my colleagues, I concluded that my work was respectable but not brilliant. Very well. Unfortunately, I now have to decide what to do with the rest of my life. My thirtyfive-year-old friends who are attorneys and physicians and businessmen are still climbing toward their peaks, perhaps fifteen years up the road, and are blissfully uncertain of how high they’ll reach. It is an awful thing, at such an age, to fully grasp one’s limitations. Why do scientists peak sooner than most other professionals? No one knows for sure. I suspect it has something to do with the single focus and detachment of the subject. A handiness for visualizing in six dimensions or for abstracting the motion of a pendulum favors a nimble mind but apparently has little to do with anything else. In contrast, the arts and humanities require experience with life, experience that accumulates and deepens with age. In science, you’re ultimately trying to connect with the clean logic of mathematics and the physical world; in the humanities, with people. Even within science
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itself, a telling trend is evident. Progressing from the more pure and self-contained of
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This note was uploaded on 03/25/2011 for the course WRITING 102 taught by Professor Khurana during the Spring '11 term at NYU.

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AScientistDyingYoung - A SCIENTIST DYING YOUNG The limber...

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