Authority of Ideas

“Dr. Stephen W. Hawking threw in the towel yesterday … . Dr. Hawking, the celebrated Cambridge University cosmologist and best-selling author, declared at a scientific conference in Dublin that he had been wrong in a controversial assertion he made 30 years ago about black holes, the fearsome gravitational abysses that can swallow matter and energy, even light. As atonement, he presented Dr. John Preskill, a physicist from the California Institute of Technology, with a baseball encyclopedia.” As reported in the New York Times, July 22, 2004.

In a free, rational and prudent society, such a statement is not only hailed but also adds to the prestige of the person. This reminded me of the authority of ideas as posited by Lawrence Summers. Universities are institutions where the authority of ideas reign supreme; this is in sharp contrast to corporations which thrive on the idea of authority.

In Hawking's cases, his self-less dedication to the pursuit of truth (and ideas) is what matters in life and having the maturity to acknowledge mistakes adds to his aura. This is particularly timely for me, as I prepare to tear down the walls and theories that I (and the giants whose shoulders I stood on) help build over the last decade, … and build new ones! Lets see what the future holds.

Notes: Hawking is the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time;
Summers, Authority of Ideas, Harvard Business Review, Aug 2003.

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