What “impossible” meant to Feynman

Today in Nautilus:
“Impossible!” Feynman finally said. I nodded in agreement and smiled, because I knew that to be one of his greatest compliments.He looked back up at the wall, shaking his head. “Absolutely impossible! That is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.”

From The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul Steinhardt. Copyright © 2017 by Paul J. Steinhardt. This is a fascinating book. Paul Steinhardt was a fellow fellow when I was at the Radcliffe Institute. I heard his story then. Here is a summary of his book from the publisher’s website.

“When leading Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt’s thirty-five-year-long quest to challenge conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter—one that raises the possibility of new materials with never before seen properties, but that violates laws set in stone for centuries. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter “quasicrystal.” The rest of the scientific community calls it simply impossible.

The Second Kind of Impossible captures Steinhardt’s scientific odyssey as it unfolds over decades, first to prove viability, and then to pursue his wildest conjecture—that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. Their quest culminates in a daring expedition to a distant corner of the Earth, in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system.”

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The linguistic rights of children

Degraff-Student-and-Computer_resizedThe Linguistic Society of America (LSA) has provided input to the United Nations on the linguistic rights of children

“The comments were drafted by LSA member Michel DeGraff, who serves as its appointed representative to the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). DeGraff is also the Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative and focused the comments on linguistic rights of children who speak Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) as a illustrative case study. DeGraff has been an outspoken champion for the language rights of children, having previously led the LSA’s first webinar on this topic, in partnership with AAAS.” Source: LSA.

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Helen Quinn: Science Standards for the next generation

From Quanta Magazine

She recalled how a high school teacher encouraged her to become a mathematician, telling her, “Because you’re so lazy, you will never solve a problem the hard way. You always have to figure out a clever way.” Here is a link to the Next Generation Science Standards that Quinn helped develop. It might be a nice homework exercise for us in a cognitive science discipline to think about which of our insights we would dare to offer as part of a regular science curriculum. Do we have enough solid knowledge to give to the next generation?

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