Mike Hawley (MIT Media Center) from Gillmor Gang East (Singapore 17 June 2005)

I think in a research process you want to find surprises, you want to find things that you didn't expect when you started --otherwise it wouldn't really be a discovery process, would it?

I'm very fond of the saying that in the world of science, the most exciting expression isn't "Eureka!", it's "Huh... that's funny... what's that about?". It happens all the time if you're engaged in science. You sort of stumble on things that really give you pause, and make you wonder, and then if you're prepared for it and you're wise enough to appreciate what you may have found, and you might actually have found something of value.

It gets back to the Pasteur quote that keeps coming up, or that I keep bringing up, that chance favors the prepared mind. The argument is, you should really discipline yourself and train yourself, and be liberally educated, broadly and deeply educated, so that you have the wisdom to know when you stumble across a nugget of some value.


I always liked Herb Simon's Parable of the Ant, where if you look at the path an ant takes through a complicated landscape, it's a purposeful path, it seems to be an intelligent, directed path, and yet it's a very complicated path. It's complicated because the ant is navigating around obstacles, it's touching feelers with its buddies, it's following pheromone trails, and the question comes, where does the intelligence lie in that path?

Well, a little bit lies in the organism, but rather more complexity lies in the landscape and in the history of traversals of that landscape.

It's sort of that way with the sea of information. There's a tremendous amount of complexity in that information, and a great deal of intelligence bundled up in it too by the way --there's plenty of people authoring bits in, and sort of shaping it and packaging it. So the ants, if you will the machines that are crawling through it and building up little trails and pulling together pages and doing things, may not be Einsteins, but they might be pretty interesting little idiots savants, who seem to be much more intelligent, because they're fueled by all the rest of this stuff...