James D. Wells. In Praise of Theory and Speculation : Essays and Commentaries. 2016 [pdf]


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Study and Learning

University of Florida president rails against intercollegiate athletics and fraternities , 1920 ... 7 

Spring break can lower your IQ ... 12

Longhand writing better than laptop for note taking ... 15

Factors that determine success in learning ... 23

Advice from the Soviet Union on how to become a great physicist ... 28 

Student petitions his professor, Russia 1899 ... 35

Strict oversight at Collège de Dainville, Paris, 1380 ... 52

Advice on becoming a true scientist from Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith ... 57 

The process of creativity ... 91

Learn from your elders but follow your convictions ... 94 

Martin Luther rose to the top of class by studying hard ... 107 

You must study the masters ... 133


Teaching and Education

Montaigne describes how students are to be taught to argue ... 8

Wisconsin student not impressed with the flipped classroom ... 11

On eliminating the university lecture, from Nabokov’s Pnin, 1957 ... 20

Stanford University president compares American and German students, 1903 ... 27 

University enrollment pressures of the 1930s and Kinsey’s sexual revolution ... 29 

Teach with enthusiasm and devotion ... 53

Examine your students properly ... 54

Higher talent required to explain broadly than to impart specialized knowledge ... 55 

Student evaluations of teaching are of limited value ... 56

High-flying broad physics instruction not very useful ... 83

Reading seminars in Japanese education ... 85

What endures from school ... 89

Four benefits any teaching innovation must have ... 119

Teaching science like a foreign language ... 120

America’s 19th century middling standard for knowledge ... 128


History and Philosophy of Science

Max Planck confidently explaining a wrong theory of Uranium, 1929 ... 6 

All explanations end with ‘it just does’ ... 13

Difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? ... 18

Study of nature far superior to other human activities? ... 19

In praise of theory and speculation ... 25

Heisenberg’s Failed Prophecy for Particle Physics ... 37

Cicero on cosmology in Roman antiquity ... 51

Prof. von Jolly’s 1878 prediction of the end of theoretical physics, reported by Max Planck ... 61 

Ginzburg’s regret at not being the first to discover the BCS theory of superconductivity ... 68 

The “vagrant and unfocused” career of Leonardo da Vinci ... 78

Pascal’s Conformal Commitment ... 79

Fundamental physics is not yet simple enough ... 90

Voltaire says true physics is to calculate, measure and observe ... 100

I think therefore I am ... hated ... 105

Leibniz thought belief in atoms was a youthful folly ... 115 

The value of studying history of science ... 116

Humean destruction and Artificial Intelligence ... 117

Big bang cries out for a divine explanation? ... 121 

Darwin’s flaws make him a scientist ... 123

Rationalism is alive and kicking ... 134

The technician and the scientist ... 135


Requirements of Success

Excellent scientists can have life balance ... 9

Successful people work insanely hard ... 10

You can still succeed in science with a non-science background ... 10 

Traits of extraordinary achievers ... 71

No success without total devotion ... 88

IQ and conscientiousness are keys to success ... 92

Genius is infinite capacity for taking pains ... 93

Five characteristics of successful people ... 98

All have will to win but few have will to prepare ... 104 

Non-cognitive skills as the ‘dark matter’ of success ... 111

Suppress unnecessary impulses ... 113

Determine never to be idle ... 122

Odious qualities bring progress? ... 127

Greatness requires change, improvement, and renewal ... 130 

Advice for the work life ... 131

Legendary boxing trainer’s advice on becoming a champion ... 132 

Success through commitment ... 136

How to generate luck ... 137


Language and Writing

English dominance may be hurting science ... 3

Athenodorus teaches Roman Emperor Claudius how to write well ... 16 

Suggestions for How to Spell English in International Reports ... 40 

Chris Rock on writing ... 87

Cultivate the ethic of the essential ... 103

Reflective versus reflexive novels in modernity ... 108

Foucault : j’aime bien le beau style ... 110

Thomas More and Martin Luther’s vituperativeness ... 118

Wisdom from Steinbeck’s journal of a novel ... 124


Miscellaneous

Citation inflation and its remedies ... 1

Completing Hirsch’s h-index measuring scholarly impact ... 32

Reprehensible behavior in a large population theorem ... 64

Breakdown of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea ... 65 

“Please, sir, I want some more citations” ... 70

1936, the year of the first Fields Medalist, and the year MIT kicked him out ... 81 

Live mice versus dead lions ... 95

The real advantage of truth ... 96

Bad weather makes good academics ... 97

True workers die in a fidget of frustration ... 99 

The will to prove destroys art ... 101

Nothing is my last word on anything ... 102 

Alien infiltrator reports ... 114

The more we want it to be true the more careful we must be ... 129