Monday, July 20, 2009

Einstein in the Bakery

Einstein was lucky, I mean look at his background... he flunked out in high school and most people were convinced that he was below average. Throughout his life people wondered at his intelligence because he had to be told to bring an umbrella when it was raining so that he would not get wet. When Einstein decided to write about physics, EVERY single university physics journal rejected his writings. Einstein managed to publish in a philosophical journal and through luck, some physicists bothered to read and give this idea a chance, and then: the story we hear in school about Einstein being brilliant becomes reality. So yeah, Einstein was lucky.

How many Einsteins are out there waiting to be discovered? Waiting to be given a decent chance to work at something which will have tremendous impact in our society? Probably many of our great intellectual heroes have had similar backgrounds of being unrecognized by most until a stroke of luck gave them their chance to shine. Problem is, for every genius discovered there may be dozens who go unrecognized.

This reminds of two stories, the first is with the Simpsons cartoon, Homer is laying on the couch watching some TV and little baby Maggie is on a toy piano playing an elaborate piece of classical music. Homer, being annoyed at having his TV viewing interrupted, yells at little baby Maggie to stop that racket.... Maggie, obedient, stops playing (society forever losing another Einstein). The second story is from Neal Stephenson's book "Cryptonomicon". Here we have one of the main characters filling out a standardized test to see how smart he is.... the first question is about how a boat is going upriver at a certain speed and how the current of the river is going at another speed and the question asks how long it will take the boat to reach destination X. The main character spends the entire time of the test answering question 1 by coming up with a formula to distinguish how the water temperature can affect the speed of the current and depending on the curves of the river combined with the depth and the spin cycle of the boat engine, this would allow (and here the test ends with question 1 unanswered).... The correction of the test places the main character in the least intellectually stimulating job environment you can imagine.... of course later in the book our main character is "discovered" to be brilliant in code breaking....

So what does all of this have to do with Einstein in a bakery? Well if Einstein is undiscovered and is not placed in an area which will help society discover new things, where would this Einstein be? Why not a bakery? Einstein needs to work at a job to eat, doesn't he? Well if Einstein is at a bakery, you can imagine that he isn't doing very well at his job. Remember the real Einstein, he flunked out of high school and was considered dumb, the world of Physics rejected Einstein's papers, he didn't know how to dress for whatever occasion.... so imagine this Einstein serving you bread at a bakery. Not very impressive huh? Now consider how management would view him.

Management is not concerned about placing people in the proper areas in society to help society out with new discoveries; no, management is only interested in making Einstein a better baker and by hook or by crook they will transform him into some kind of baker or fire him if they can't succeed. The problem is this: how do we get society's Einsteins to be recognized and placed in an area which will do society (and the Einstein in question) the greater benefit? Standardized tests to measure potential?

Remember, if management can not recognize an Einstein in their midst, how can a someone who corrects a standardized test be able to judge how or why a person answered just 1 question on an IQ test and got it wrong? And lets assume for argument's sake, that Einstein #A does do well in a standardized test with pretty decent scores placing him in the top 5 percentile.... how does he go about getting a job? Where does he go to allow his "potential" be used in his full capacity?

Is the homeless person you met last week an undiscovered musical genius like Mozart? How about the janitor who mopped the floor behind you in the shopping center: an undiscovered genius who could study biochemistry and discover the cure for cancer in a short afternoon? The homeless person is faced with a non-understanding bureaucracy who judges him in a similar way as the janitor is judged.... on his immediate performance. Which is probably a pathetic performance if you compare it to the average Joe....

Now let us assume that Einstein #A manages to get a job interview for some large corporation which can potentially allow him to use his talents.... how does he sell himself? "I can play chess and beat the computer on any setting in under 15 moves." The interviewer would most likely not have a clue what this really means and probably reject Einstein #A as being too arrogant.... or hire him as stock room clerk..... and then have management make fun of him because he can't tell the difference between duck tape and masking tape after being on the job for 6 months.

So if you are one of these Einsteins out there.... use the saying "I'm just an Einstein in the bakery" when describing yourself (maybe someone intelligent will notice and bother asking you what you mean and perhaps has some actual power to help you (and society) get to the ideal position for you)..... or you'll just feel better by saying it (who knows).... If you know someone who is "weird" and "dumb" yet has something intelligent about him, perhaps he is an Einstein waiting to be discovered..... and you should try to help him (or her) with your talents that this Einstein seems to lack.... vouch for him, encourage him.... this can help society out and therefore you as well.

Of course, the danger with this is that you can have people like "Sex" from the "So You Think You Can Dance" franchise who shows up every year to the auditions and tells the judges that he is someone who "believes in himself" and is an excellent dancer.... and when he begins to dance, it is quite obvious even to non-dance experts that he is mediocre at best..... So I don't wish to see intellectual morons believing themselves to be Einsteins in bakeries, because that is not the intent of this blog. Dance is easy to gauge between skilled and unskilled but you need experienced dancers to distinguish between great skill and decent skill.... For the matters of brains and intellect, it is not so easy to distinguish between skilled and unskilled.... (and sometimes management does not want to recognize such talent because they fear that they will lose their edge over their underlings because the Einstein will publicly point out management flaws once discovered).

So how many Einsteins in the bakery do you know?