Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Michael Faraday, who had little mathematics and no formal schooling beyond the primary grades, is celebrated as an experimenter who discovered the induction of electricity. He was one of the great founders of modern physics. It is generally acknowledged that Faraday's ignorance of mathematics contributed to his inspiration, that it compelled him to develop a simple, nonmathematical concept when he looked for an explanation of his electrical and magnetic phenomena. Faraday had two qualities that more than made up for his lack of education: fantastic intuition and independence and originality of mind.

-- Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

I love this paradox: sometimes ignorance can lead to insight, and even brilliance.

And yet it has to be the right kind of ignorance, doesn't it?

[photo credit: schizoform]


godoggo said...

Some years ago I read a book about the history of technology for a school assignment, and one theme that ran through it was the importance of innovations by "outsiders" i.e. tinkerers outside of the field that the innovation was associated with. I believe the printing press and the steam engine were examples. I suppose I could google to make sure, but that's what I remember anyway.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Yes, I think that's an important theme in the history of technology. But I also wonder about the extent to which it applies in other fields -- politics, art, medicine, etc.