People respond to incentives, and so if we want to take on much bigger challenges, we need to collaborate across thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of people. How do you get 100,000 people to work together? It’s not that easy. In the old days, it was religion and before that it was simple fiat rules, tyranny. The Egyptians built some beautiful pyramids, but they did that with hundreds of thousands of slaves over decades. If we rule out slavery as a possible means of societal advances, there really isn’t any other choice. If we need 100,000 people to cure cancer, to deal with Alzheimer’s, to figure out fusion energy and climate change…I don’t know of any other way to do that other than financial markets: equity, debt, proper financing and proper payout of returns. I think that in many cases [finance] probably is the gating factor. That, to me, is the short answer to the question about why finance is so important.
The internet and social media don’t create new personalities; they allow people to express sides of themselves that social norms discourage in the “real world”.
• • •
We may come to see face-to-face conversation as the social medium that most distorts our personalities. It requires us to speak even when we don’t know what to say and forces us to be pleasant or acquiescent when we would rather not.
• • •
Social media have turned a species used to intimacy into performers. But these performances are not necessarily false. Personality is who we are in front of other people. The internet, which exposes our elastic personalities to larger and more diverse groups of people, reveals the upper and lower bounds of our capacity for empathy and cruelty, anxiety and confidence.
Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafés that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.
Illustration : Eleni Kalorkoti
That night, as darkness enveloped the family’s three-story mud-brick compound, Wasil’s uncles shuffled Hamidullah’s bloodied corpse inside. The boy drew close, his cheeks wet with tears. In the low light, he could see the blood that stained his father’s clothes. He was a child, yes, but he knew enough of his world to realize, without even asking, who had killed his father. And he knew what it meant for him.
In the weeks that followed, Wasil’s anger hardened into a grim and brutal ambition—one that would launch him toward fame and then toward tragedy. “Teach me how to shoot,” Wasil said to his uncle Samad when he had resolved himself to retribution. “I want to kill my father’s killer.”
Yitang “Tom” Zhang spent the seven years following the completion of his Ph.D. in mathematics floating between Kentucky and Queens, working for a chain of Subway restaurants, and doing odd accounting work. Now he is on a lecture tour that includes stops at Harvard, Columbia, Caltech, and Princeton, is fielding multiple professorship offers, and spends two hours a day dealing with the press. That’s because, in April, Zhang proved a theorem that had eluded mathematicians for a century or more. When we called Zhang to see what he thought of being thrust into the spotlight, we found a shy, modest man, genuinely disinterested in all the fuss.
Q : Did you experience any emotions when you realized you’d solved the problem?
A : Not so much. I am a very quiet person.
Q : Were you excited?
A : A little. Not too much.
Edit : Here’s a link to a documentary on Yitang : Counting From Infinity.
For more than two thousand years, the world’s great minds have argued about the essence of time. Is it finite or infinite? Does it flow like a river or is it granular, proceeding in small bits, like sand trickling through an hourglass? And what is the present? Is now an indivisible instant, a line of vapor between the past and the future? Or is it an instant that can be measured—and, if so, how long is it? And what lies between the instants? “The instant, this strange nature, is something inserted between motion and rest, and it is in no time at all,” Plato remarked in the fourth century B.C.E. “But into it and from it what is moved changes to being at rest, and what is at rest to being moved.”
There was a canopy of leaves over my head. Once I moved beyond it, the moon lit my path, so I turned off the flashlight. I’d expected Carol to be gone by that point, but for the next half mile, all the way home, she walked with me, sometimes by my side and sometimes a few steps ahead, leading the way. No cars approached or passed. The road was ours, and we marched right down the center of it, all the way to the front of the house and then through the garden gate to the kitchen door. Just me and my wild friend Carol.