A commenter writes, replying to my previous post on Eric and the Quantum Experts:
>Eric, you may still have a chance to revolutionize physics, since decoherence by itself may not completely solve the problem.
Alas, I am probably too old now. There is a way outside chance I could do it, yes, but,…hmm…how to explain this…
There’s an observed pattern in math and physics that most people do their best work very young. The brighter you are, the longer you get before you’re useless for anything but teaching, but it’s rare to see real breakthroughs from people past their early thirties. Only a very few exceptionally talented workers get to be creatively productive over their entire lifetimes; in physics that means being at the Einstein or Hawking level. (A few people slightly less talented seem to get a second wind – as synthesizers, rather than innovators – in their sixties.)
It’s almost as though creativity in these fields is an isotope with a half-life that varies by field and rises with individual level of IQ or native talent or something. Nobody understands this very well, it’s all unquantified folk knowledge.
The half-life of programming talent seems to be longer than for physics talent, which in turn seems to be longer than for pure math – but still, I used to worry that I’d become a useless lump as a programmer after forty. This does not seem to have occurred; in fact, I’m more productive now than I was at twenty-five (and I was pretty damn good then). It’s an interesting question whether the half-life for programming is longer than I thought or whether I’m in the tiny lucky minority of supertalents that jump off the exponential decay curve entirely. I don’t know the answer, and don’t even have a guess I’m confident about.
Unfortunately, because the half-life of physics creativity seems to be shorter than for programming, my success in the field I’m in does not predict that I’d still be able to do original physics.
I just turned 51. That means, in order to believe that I could do really strong and original physics work now, I’d have to start with a justified belief that I’m as talented as Hawking or Einstein. This is almost certainly not the case. I would say “certainly”, except that my general track record of creativity and insight is far enough off the mean to raise just the tiniest smidgen of realistic doubt about this. And I was, after all, ahead of the physics literature on something conceptually important at least once – even a lot of physicists never manage that.
Rationally, though, it’s not enough of a doubt for me to gamble on, at this point. I like what I do, and I’m good at it, and it has made me as famous as any sane person would want to be. I don’t have any great need to go off and try to conquer physics as well.
Though I will admit, semi-relatedly, that I feel a continuing temptation to try to write a disruptive, field-upending outsider book on the application of analytical philosophy. The tools I used to spot the hole in the Schrödinger’s Cat story are way underutilized.