Some Thoughts On Various Subjects From Steven Berlin Johnson

Steven Berlin Johnson is the author of books such as Where Good Ideas Come From, How We Got To Now, and The Ghost Map.

“Bill Gates (and his successor at Microsoft, Ray Ozzie) are famous for taking annual reading vacations. During the year they deliberately cultivate a stack of reading material—much of it unrelated to their day-to-day focus at Microsoft—and then they take off for a week or two and do a deep dive into the words they’ve stockpiled. By compressing their intake into a matter of days, they give new ideas additional opportunities to network among themselves, for the simple reason that it’s easier to remember something that you read yesterday than it is to remember something you read six months ago.”

Steven Johnson

“This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.”

Steven Johnson

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”

Steven Johnson

“Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.”

Steven Johnson

“When you don’t have to ask for permission innovation thrives.”

Steven Johnson

Also, here is a video from the author:


Currently Reading: The Nature Of Technology By W. Brian Arthur

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Everything I have read in the past that Brian Arthur has written has always made me ask more questions than I had when I first started reading. I had seen that he had written this and it made me think of numerous other technology books that I had read such as Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and Steven Johnson’s  How We Got To Now. I know there are numerous others but these are the ones that came to mind.

I love the preface and the first chapter which is entitled Questions. He makes it a point for his argument that he is making it very clear on what questions about technology he is answering and how he is going about doing it. The questions that he states that he is answering in the book are as follows:

(1) Why is technology of such importance?

(2) What is technology in its nature, in its deepest essence?

(3) Where does it come from and how does it evolve?

Some of the statements in chapter one that I would like to bring to your attention are:

From page 18: “Novel technologies must somehow arise by combination of existing technologies.”

From page 20: “An invention is a ‘new combination of prior art.'”

From page 21: ” The more there is to invent with, the greater will be the number of inventions.” This explained why more ‘primitive’ societies could not invent our modern technologies; they did not possess the necessary ingredients and knowledge of how to work with them.”

From page 22: Technology builds out not just from combination of what exists already but from the constant capturing and harnessing of natural phenomena.”

And finally from page 25: “Technology, once a means of production, is becoming a chemistry.”

As you can see from these five statements there is much to explore in the reading of this book and I look very much to seeing if the author answers these questions to my understanding.

Finished Reading: How We Got To Now By Steven Johnson

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As I stated in an earlier post on this book, Johnson brings together how six basic technologies and  innovations including glass, cold, sound, clean, time and light changed so many elements in our world. Even though this book is not very lengthy and can be read quickly, as I finished it, it made me consider building blocks and how I can use basic fundamentals in all aspects of my life to improve.

One of the most interesting quotes in the book from Steve Jobs on page 254 is:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

That is about as good as it gets my readers!!!

Currently Reading: How We Got To Now By Steven Johnson

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I am really embarrassed that I had not seen that this was going to be on PBS, but I am so glad I am reading this book. I am a little under halfway through, and even though it is a quick read, the process of innovation floors me. I have not taken the time to truly understand what one discovery actually means in the scope of what occurs two centuries later. Philosophical question for each one of us: What have you done today that will have a lasting legacy on something or someone one hundred years from now? That to me is what this book is about!!!

Here is an interview with Steven Johnson that may be of interest to our readers.

Books In My Pile: May 9, 2014

These are some older books that I need to finish up or begin again to read analytically: I wanted to share them with you.

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The Beginning of Infinity     David Deutsch


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Permutation City     Greg Egan

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Spillover     David Quammen

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I Am A Strange Loop     Douglas Hofstadter

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Where Good Ideas Come From     Steven Berlin Johnson

These are from various categories ranging from Science Fiction (Greg Egan) about Artificial Intelligence, Futurism and Innovation (Steven Berlin Johnson) and Physics (David Deutsch). Spillover (Biology) and I Am A Strange Loop (Cognitive Science) are books I need to finish up.

As you can tell I have added some video from David Deutsch, David Quammen, Douglas Hofstadter and Steven Johnson if you have any interest in these books.

I am working on discussing these works and hopefully helping me construct some mental models to share with our readers.

Finished Reading: Emergence By Steven Johnson

Cover of "Emergence: The Connected Lives ...

Cover via Amazon

I finished Emergence by Steven Johnson over the weekend and even though I had read it around three years ago I took a lot from it this time. It is amazing with emergent behavior that ants, brains, cities and even software have so much in common. I became interested in this because of the stock market and how it is a complex adaptive system and the effects of emergent behavior on it. This also makes me want to read Out of Control by Kevin Kelly to get a better understanding of this subject.

I love this quote from page 234 of the book:

“But understanding emergence has always been about giving up control, letting the system govern itself as much as possible, letting it learn from the footprints.”

This statement helped me realize even as a county commissioner, that there are certain parts of county government that I should study and see if they would run more efficiently as bottom-up as ants and cities do. Also, in studying companies in which to invest, how does using emergent behavior make these companies more efficient and effective.

Even More From Emergence From Steven Johnson

Raymond Kurzweil

Raymond Kurzweil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also, In Chapter 3 of Emergence, the author quotes Ray Kurzweil on page 127:

“Humans are far more skilled at recognizing patterns than in thinking through logical combinations, so we rely on this aptitude for almost all of our mental processes. Indeed, pattern recognition comprises the bulk of our neural circuitry. These faculties make up for the extremely slow speed of human neurons.”

I believe it is extremely important as we develop mental models to understand as much as possible about how we process information as well as understanding patterns in our decision-making process. This can be overwelming at times, but it makes me slow down and become more observant in how I am making decisions.