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Tinker Toys versus Lego

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The direction of attraction between mathematicians and musicians
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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I know there were groups of children who were interested in sports and there were children who were interested in literature and… these friends of mine were almost all… well, some of them were interested in music, but that’s a curious thing, that my impression is that most mathematicians are attracted to certain kinds of classical music, complicated things, whereas very few musicians are attracted toward mathematics:  it’s a very unsymmetrical thing and… of course, one generous theory is that the musicians don’t need mathematics because they’re already dealing with very complicated abstract structures very well, and maybe in many respects it’s the same… it uses the same parts of brains, but I don’t, I’ve never seen any attempts to study this.

But I seems to me, most of the things I can remember discussing with friends were… were technical things and inventions and ideas about how to make things that did things, rather than…  I don’t remember ever discussing social matters very much; maybe we were all a little bit autistic.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: music, mathematicians, musicians, childhood interests, childhood friendship

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 09 May 2011