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94岁的高龄天才教给我们的事

更新时间:2017-4-11 19:05:22 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old
94岁的高龄天才教给我们的事

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

1946年,一位名为约翰·古迪纳夫(John Goodenough)的23岁退伍军人带着研究物理学的梦想去了芝加哥大学(University of Chicago)。到了那里,一名教授警告他,说他年龄已经太大,不太可能在这个领域取得成功。

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

最近,古迪纳夫博士和我谈起了这件事,随后大笑起来。他当时没有理会那名教授的建议,现年94岁的他刚刚凭借耀眼夺目的创造力在科技行业引发轰动。他和他在德克萨斯大学奥斯汀分校(University of Texas at Austin)的团队为一种新型电池申请了专利。如果一切如他们承诺的那样实现,这种电池将会十分便宜、轻便和安全,会给电动车带来革命性的改变,也会消灭燃油机动车。他的声明能引起那么大的反响,部分原因在于古迪纳夫之前就取得过类似的成就。1980年,57岁的他与人联合发明了锂离子电池,由此将电源体积大大缩小。

We tend to assume that creativity wanes with age. But Dr. Goodenough’s story suggests that some people actually become more creative as they grow older. Unfortunately, those late-blooming geniuses have to contend with powerful biases against them.

我们倾向于认为,创造力会随着年龄的增长而消损。但古迪纳夫的故事表明,有些人实际上是随着年岁渐长而变得更有创造力。不幸的是,这些大器晚成的天才必须战胜落在他们身上的巨大的偏见。

“Young people are just smarter,” Mark Zuckerberg pronounced at an event at Stanford in 2007, when he was the 22-year-old chief executive of Facebook. He added, according to a VentureBeat writer, “I only own a mattress,” and then expounded upon the putative correlation between youth and creative power. His logic didn’t exactly make sense (and he later apologized), but his meaning was perfectly clear: Middle-aged people are encumbered by boring possessions (gutters, dental floss, orthopedic shoes) and stale ideas.

“年轻人就是更聪明一些,”马克·扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)曾于2007年在斯坦福大学举行的一场活动上如此宣称,当时他是Facebook年仅22岁的首席执行官。他还表示,据VentureBeat网站的一位作者说,“我拥有的只有一张床垫”,接着他就自己假定的年轻和创造力之间的关联进行了详细的阐述。他的逻辑其实讲不通(他后来为此道歉),但他的意思非常明确:中年人被无聊的身外之物(下水道、牙线和矫形鞋)和陈旧的观念拖累。

Since that speech, Silicon Valley’s youth worship seems to have grown even more feverish. Recently, a 12-year-old inventor named Shubham Banerjee received venture-capital funds from Intel to start his own company.

自那次演讲之后,硅谷的年轻崇拜似乎变得比以往更加狂热。最近,一个名为舒巴姆·班纳吉(Shubham Banerjee)的12岁发明者获得了Intel提供的风险投资,开办了自己的公司。

In such a climate, it’s easy for us middle-aged folk to believe that the great imaginative leaps are behind us, and that innovation belongs to the kids.

在这样的环境下,我们中年人很容易觉得自己不会再带来伟大的、富于想象力的飞跃,会认为创新属于孩子辈。

On the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers. Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.

事实却恰恰相反,有许多证据表明,大器晚成并非反常的现象。信息技术创新基金会(Information Technology and Innovation Foundation)2016年的一项研究显示,发明者在40多岁的时候达到高峰期,而且往往在职业生涯的后半段极为高产。同样,佐治亚理工学院(Georgia Institute of Technology)和日本一桥大学(Hitotsubashi University)对专利持有者的数据进行研究的教授们也发现,美国的发明者申请专利的平均年龄是47岁,而且最具价值的专利往往来自年龄最大的发明者——55岁以上。

John P. Walsh, one of the professors, joked that the Patent Office should give a “senior discount” because “there’s clear evidence that people with seniority are making important contributions to invention.”

其中一位教授约翰·P·沃尔什(John P. Walsh)开玩笑说,专利局应该给一个“大大的折扣”,因为“有明确的证据表明,年长的人在为发明做出重要的贡献”。

A study of Nobel physics laureates found that, since the 1980s, they have made their discoveries, on average, at age 50. The study also found that the peak of creativity for Nobel winners is getting higher every year. For many years, oddsmakers have predicted that Dr. Goodenough would win the Nobel Prize, but so far the call from Stockholm has not come. You might call him the Susan Lucci of chemistry. If he finally does prevail, he could be the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel, and a harbinger.

对诺贝尔物理学奖获得者展开的一项研究发现,自上世纪80年代以来,他们取得那些成就的平均年龄是50岁。这项研究还发现,诺贝尔奖获得者创造力达到高峰的年龄一年年在上升。多年以来,博彩公司一直预测古迪纳夫会获得诺贝尔奖,但截至目前他还没接到斯德哥尔摩打来的电话。可以说,他就是化学界的苏珊·卢奇(Susan Lucci)。一旦成功,他将成为年纪最大的诺贝尔奖获得者,同时也是一种趋势的前兆。

The more I talked to Dr. Goodenough, the more I wondered if his brilliance was directly tied to his age. After all, he has been thinking about energy problems longer than just about anyone else on the planet.

我和古迪纳夫聊得越多,就越想知道他的才华与他的年龄是否有直接的关联。毕竟,他思考能源问题的时间比地球上的任何人都要长。

He grew up in the early days of the petroleum age, in a Connecticut farmhouse with a kerosene stove and an icebox for food. As a kid he rode in some of the early cars pioneered by Henry Ford. “The first car the family owned was a Model A,” he told me, with running boards and a lead-acid battery.

他成长于石油年代的早期,在康涅狄格州一个用煤油炉和食物冷藏箱的农场里。小时候,他乘坐过亨利·福特开创的一些早期汽车。“家里的第一辆车是一台A型车(Model A),”他告诉我。那款车配备脚踏板和铅酸蓄电池。

In the 1970s, the energy crisis inspired him to imagine how one could store power in tiny packages. Today, we’re still using his lithium-ion technology in our laptops, phones and electric cars. But Dr. Goodenough has long been bothered by the shortcomings of his brainchild, and driven by the need to do better. “One of the things that’s important in the society is to wean ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels, and if we could make an electric car that would be as convenient and as cheap as an internal-combustion engine, we’d get CO2 emissions off the road,” he said.

70年代,受能源危机的启发,他开始想象人们怎样才能把能源储存在很小的容器里。如今,我们的手提电脑、手机和电动车还在使用他发明的锂离子技术。但古迪纳夫却长久地在为自己的发明的缺陷感到烦恼,被改进的需求驱动着。“这个社会中重要的事情之一,是让我们摆脱对化石燃料的依赖。如果我们能制造一种像内燃机动车一样方便和便宜的电动车,就能解决道路上二氧化碳排放的问题了,”他说。

He believes the lithium-ion battery is too liable to explode, too expensive and too weak to bring us into that future.

他认为锂离子电池太易于爆炸、成本太高,也不耐用,无法引领我们进入未来。

Years ago, he decided to create a solid battery that would be safer. Of course, in a perfect world, the “solid-state” battery would also be low-cost and lightweight. Then, two years ago, he discovered the work of Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist who, with the help of a colleague, had created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries.

数年前,他决定要发明一种更安全的固体电池。当然,在完美情况下,这种“固态”电池还应该更便宜、更轻。然后,在两年前,他发现了葡萄牙物理学家玛丽亚·海伦娜·布拉加(Maria Helena Braga)的研究成果,后者在一名同事的帮助下发明了一种玻璃,它可以取代电池内部的电解液。

Dr. Goodenough persuaded Dr. Braga to move to Austin and join his lab. “We did some experiments to make sure the glass was dry. Then we were off to the races,” he said.

古迪纳夫说服布拉加搬到奥斯汀,加入了他的实验室。“我们做了一些实验,确保这种玻璃是干的。然后我们就开始争分夺秒地做研究,”他说。

Some of his colleagues were dubious that he could pull it off. But Dr. Goodenough was not dissuaded. “I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.”

一些同事对他能取得成功表示怀疑。但古迪纳夫没有因此退却。“活到这个岁数,我已经明白了不能对新想法存有偏见的道理。要想得到一些新东西,你必须测试所有的可能性。”

When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.

当我问及他的大器晚成,他说:“我们中有些人就像是乌龟;走得慢,一路挣扎,可能到了30岁还搞不明白。但这些乌龟必须继续爬下去。”他指出,这种贯穿一生的爬行有可能带来好处,尤其是在你辗转穿越不同领域,一路收集各种线索的情况下。古迪纳夫从物理学起步,之后辗转化学和材料学领域,同时又对社会和政治趋势保持着关注,后者正是绿色经济的驱动力。“你得有相当多的经验,才能把不同的想法融汇在一起,”他说。

He also credits his faith for keeping him focused on his mission to defeat pollution and ditch petroleum. On the wall of his lab, a tapestry of the Last Supper depicts the apostles in fervent conversation, like scientists at a conference arguing over a controversial theory. The tapestry reminds him of the divine power that fuels his mind. “I’m grateful for the doors that have been opened to me in different periods of my life,” he said. He believes the glass battery was just another example of the happy accidents that have come his way: “At just the right moment, when I was looking for something, it walked in the door.”

他也表示,是信念促使他将注意力集中在解决污染问题和淘汰石油燃料的使命上。他的实验室墙上挂着一幅《最后的晚餐》主题的壁毯,上面描绘了使徒们热烈交谈的场景,就像科学家们在一场会议上就一个有争议的理论争辩。这张壁毯会让他想起促使他产生各种想法的神圣力量。“对于在人生的不同阶段朝我打开的大门,我心存感激,”他说。他认为玻璃电池是他人生中出现意外之喜的又一个例子:“就在我寻找着什么的时候,它走了进来。”

Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”

最后当然还有一点很重要,他说高龄让他有了一种新的学术自由。到了94岁,他说,“你再也不用担心失业的问题。”

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