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How to Be a Good Person In Two Difficult Stages

  By Shlomo Maital

Amos Oz

    American writer and humorist James Thurber once observed, in a serious moment: It’s more important to know some of the questions than to know all the answers.

    And years later, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman observed, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

   So, here is a question that is hard to answer – maybe even, one that can’t be answered.

   How can I be a good person? A better person?

     One of my big disappointments (of many) with business schools, is that they teach people how to be good managers, bottom-line driven, and not how to be good persons too.   The results are often disastrous (take, for instance, Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma).

   So, from the vantage point of my grey hair and over seven decades on this earth, here is my ‘take’ on the title question. And my answer, for certain, can and must be severely questioned.

     Becoming a good, and better, person, is a two-stage process.

   Stage One, or Grade One. Follow what the late author Amos Oz once said:   ‘We can fold all the moral imperatives, the Ten Commandments, and the human virtues, into a single commandment: Thou shalt not inflict pain. That is all. Do not hurt.’

   Cause no pain. This is the Ten Commandments folded into one. Oz died last December. He wrote many wonderful books and should have won a Nobel Prize. In her eulogy his daughter Fania Oz-Sulzberger quoted his ‘cause no pain’ words.  

   It’s hard to complete Grade One successfully. It’s complicated. What if, sometimes, you need to cause pain, to prevent more pain later? As doctors and surgeons may do?

   So, let’s say you pass Grade One. What is Grade Two?

   It is the core principle of startup entrepreneurship.

   Make meaning. How? Create value. Make people happy. Or more broadly:   Make people happier, smarter, healthier, wiser, more secure….

   Make people happy. Don’t just cause no pain. Cause happiness. Actively.

   And that idea too is complex. Make people happy – how? In any way? Do I lie to them, when truth would cause pain?

   Being a good person is really hard.   But I’ve found, probably way too late in life, that if you avoid hurting people and actively find small ways daily to make people happy – you yourself find a great deal of happiness and meaning in life.

     Now, why didn’t I figure that out sooner?


Quantum Computer: Breakthrough?

By Shlomo Maital


       After my blog declaring the repeal of Moore’s Law, and as semiconductor technology ‘hits the wall’, here comes a breakthrough, “the next big thing”. It’s very esoteric based on quantum physics. Here is the very well-written report by Ido Efrati from the Israeli daily Haaretz:

   Four experts at the Technion devise a step toward production of a quantum computer, in research recently published in the prestigious journal, Science. Their recent article, entitled, “Deterministic Generation of a Cluster State of Entangled Photons,” already praised by fellow physicists, represents a scientific breakthrough in quantum theory. The innovation was developed in the laboratory of Prof. David Gershoni of the Technion’s Faculty of Physics, in cooperation with doctoral students Ido Schwartz and Dan Cogan, and Prof. Nathaniel Lindner   and has the potential to influence the future of communications, encryption and computerization.

   Gershoni and his colleagues have tackled a major problem in attempts to develop quantum computers, coming closer to resolving the issue of how to create qubit units in an initiated and controlled manner to enable construction of such a computer.

Physicists and technology firms have pursued the idea of producing a quantum computer for about three decades, in hopes of transporting the world of information and computers to entirely different worlds. The idea goes back to physicist Richard Feynman who proposed the idea of quantum computerization in the 1980s. In effect such a machine would process data but in contrast to a classical computer, it would utilize the characteristics of quantum mechanics.    

   The difference is that whereas in the classical computer the basic unit of information is a bit,  (zero or one);  a quantum computer uses a quantum bit known as a “qubit.” The difference between the two units is enormous. (See Diagram above).

A quantum computer can more quickly calculate what could take the fastest conventional computers millions of years, if not more, to resolve. It can potentially contribute greatly to the fields of medical research, advanced artificial intelligence, securing information and developing codes, “and in effect any field where calculating power is of significance,” Gershoni said.

Are You Kidding? Alas, Scientists Rarely Are

By Shlomo  Maital

science humor

   A friend drew my attention to an article in Chronicles of Higher Education, by Tom Bartlett,  Sept. 29, about the utter lack of humor in scientific research proposals, and in general, among scientists.  (An exception is the late Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman, whose book was titled, Mr. Feynman, You Must Be Joking!).    Bartlett asked the editor of the leading economics journal, American Economic Review, whether  “she could think of any joke, any tiny moment of amusement, one solitary witticism that has passed across her desk. Anything, even if it was rejected.”   “I can’t think of a single thing,”  replied Prof. Goldberg, confirming economics’ nickname as the ‘dismal science’.

   Why is this a problem? Why shouldn’t science be utterly serious?  Isn’t humor frivolous?   The answer is no.  Research on creativity shows that among people seeking ideas,  humor, and in general a light, playful attitude,  are powerful contributors to an ambience that generates great ideas.  Show me a stiff, and I’ll show you someone without ideas, in all likelihood.

    Bartlett provides an example. 

    “Stephen Heard once wrote a paper about how pollen spreads among the flowers of a certain endangered plant. In it he speculated that the wind might play a role by shaking loose the pollen. To support his point, he cited “Hall et al., 1957″—a reference to the songwriters of the Jerry Lee Lewis hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” But a reviewer nixed Heard’s little joke. “Although I appreciated the levity of the reference,” he wrote, “I think it is not appropriate for a scientific publication.”   

   That reviewer reminds us of the two old grumps in The Muppets, whose total lack of humor was in itself hilarious.    I myself encountered this, in submitting research papers; anything in my writing style that sought to be interesting, journalistic, was instantly shot down, like a shoulder-guided missile homing in on a helicopter. 

    Hey, reviewers!   Lighten up!   Loosen up!  We need new thinking, new ideas.   Absence of humor often means absence of open-ness to anything unusual or weird.   Even Einstein told jokes (bad ones – see above). 

Qubits: How to be in two places at the same time

By Shlomo Maital

  quantum computing 

Today’s New York Times has this headline, “Microsoft bets on quantum computing” by John Markoff (p. 21).   Here is the basic idea, as described by Markoff:

    “Conventional computing is based on a bit that can be either a 1 or a 0, representing a single value in a computation. But quantum computing is based on qubits, which simultaneously represent both zero and one values. If they are placed in an “entangled” state — physically separated but acting as though they are connected — with many other qubits, they can represent a vast number of values simultaneously.    And the existing limitations of computing power are thrown out the window.”

  Amazing?  indeed.   The visionary physicist Richard Feynman first proposed quantum computing in 1982.  Initial research was funded by DARPA (America’s defense department) and America’s National Security Agency.  Note how often governments fund pioneering basic research that later changes the world!

    Microsoft’s visionary research is highly risky, simply because “the typic of exotic..particle needed to generate qubits has not been definitely proved to exist”.  

     Wow..   Go Microsoft!  After decades of missing every trend and opportunity, including the Internet,  Microsoft is now working on something that does not even exist (for sure).  What a change!

     But here’s the best news, especially for busy women.  One day, you can be in two places at once.  You can drive the kids to soccer, while you’re 600 miles away pitching to a potential new client.  You can spend quality time with your spouse, while writing up a new ad campaign for Unilever.  

     On second thought, this is no breakthrough – I know many women, including my wife,  who are already qubits.  They multi-task so easily, so fluidly, that they don’t even need qubits.  I urge Microsoft researchers to study these multi-tasking women.  If they do, they will quickly find those elusive quantum particles; women have tons of them.

        It’s us MEN who need them.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital