What did brilliant minds do before there was cable?

I recently saw a video about high school students who accessed free and open data online, and developed a prediction tool for the critical disease, leukemia. You really do wonder what such a student will do once he or she has finished university and possibly a postgraduate degree. Also, if this is the state of affairs now, what will high school students be achieving in another generation? Will it be that, in a couple of decades from now, projects that today are considered masters level or even PhD level, will be regularly completed by high school students?

Such brilliant children, and many brilliant adults, didn’t magically come into existence in the last 20 years. Since humankind has walked this earth, there must’ve been those who were naturally more intelligent, and under the right circumstances, would have become modern day marvels. However, trapped back in the time when survival took all of your day and night, perhaps these individuals simply suppressed that part of their mind that could achieve great things.

In previous generations, there were those who were wealthy and had the free time and access, to avail themselves of all of the knowledge of the time. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci knew all of the science of his time. One only need look at his body of work and appreciate his absolute brilliance. One can also see, based on his drawings of various machines, that he already envisioned many of the devices that we have today. What would such a mind have done in today’s world, with today’s science and opportunities? Be another Steve Jobs or much more?

You wonder who da Vinci talked to about science and philosophy, i.e. someone to match his own mind and truly challege him?

There is an incredible moment in the movie “Good Will Hunting” where (Godel Hador) Robin Williams, playing a psychiatrist, asks the character Will Hunting if he gets lonely. Will Hunting is a natural super brilliant individual who surpasses even the top mathematical minds of our time, without effort. Robin Williams, himself a super brilliant individual in [life and] the movie, understands that Will Hunting can’t really carry on a top level conversation with perhaps anyone on the planet. Such a person, even if surrounded by the most brilliant minds in the world, still finds himself alone when he really wants to explore ideas that only he can understand.

The rabbis of old probably faced a similar issue. Most of them, if not all, were uniquely brilliant. Their advantage was that they had a tremendous body of knowledge to study, review, analyze and discuss at length with other rabbis. Nevertheless, there were unique minds amongst the rabbis, that were so brilliant that they could effectively play with their knowledge, the way a child plays with a ball. And I suspect that the most brilliant of the rabbis also suffered a certain loneliness of the mind.

In another movie called “Lucy”, the filmmakers play with the idea of a person being able to access every part of their brain. Spoiler alert for anyone who has not seen the movie, but by the end, Lucy, who is a regular young lady exposed to a brain enhancing drug, ultimately turns into pure thought. During Lucy’s transformation, she speaks of all of the things that she now can see and understand and how the “regular” mind can simply not comprehend the real magic in the world around us. How wonderful to experience all of this. How sad to experience it alone.

Whenever someone speaks of being nostalgic of any time in our past, I very negatively react to this. First of all, being nostalgic about any time without flush toilets is just crazy to me. But when you observe the world around us as it is now, and as it will be in the near future, I can’t imagine how any previous time was as exciting and is meaningful. I have the tremendous fortune of having been born at that moment in time when the world took a leap forward. I was seven years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I still remember that. I got to see computers go from room sized monstrosities to objects that fit on the very edge of the tip of your finger, and still be light-years ahead of what I started with. I will likely live long enough to see the realization of the “singularity”, the point at which humankind and silicon find a balance that once again springboards us forward.

As much as I am thankful for all I have seen, I also know that my brain is too old and clotted to really understand what is obvious to a high school student. I am at an age that I can try to quietly slip into retirement, still doing things the “old way”. But there is a part of me that envies the plasticity of the human brain of a child, that will embrace  all of tomorrow as if it is second nature and has always existed.

I was just reading another brilliant blog that spoke to people’s feeling of happiness. The author of the blog beautifully demonstrates how happiness really is more a decision rather than a reflection of an individual’s reality. We are living in a magical time, a phrase which I have repeated countless times throughout my writing. I tend not to be a happy individual [and that actually is quite an understatement]. But when I see the wonders around me, it does make me smile. It gives me hope and it makes me happy, no matter how grumpy I am on a particular day.

Enjoy the future. It’s going to make the past look like a total bummer.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.