SFI Colloquim: Michael Nielsen Explores Using Modern Media for Learning

Michael Nielsen/Courtesy SFI

SFI News:

Writer and physicist Michael Nielsen will give a Santa Fe Institute Colloquium titled “Reinventing Explanation” at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16 in the Noyce conference Room at the Santa Fe Institute.

Nielsen is one of the pioneers of quantum computation, and recently written a book called Reinventing Discovery which advocates for a more open scientific culture.

Abstract. Our society collectively devotes enormous resources and remarkable talent to producing entertainment products. A video game such as Grand Theft Auto V or a movie such as Avatar can cost more than a quarter billion dollars to create. Even if you don’t like such games or movies, you must admit that astonishing artistic, design and programming talent goes into such endeavors.

My talk is an attempt to begin answering the question: what would be possible if you were to take those resources and that talent and put them toward explanation?  Instead of spending a quarter billion on Grand Theft Auto V, what might be possible if Rock Star Games spends even a tiny fraction of that on a new version of “The Feynman Lectures on Physics,” say, or “The Molecular Biology of the Cell?”

I’m not talking about creating a game, exactly, or doing something silly like converting “The Feynman Lectures” into a game format. I’m talking about thinking very hard about how to explain when you’re not using paper and pencil but rather bits and microprocessors.

We’re in the early days of trying to do this, with people such as Bret Victor, Vi Hart, Jonathan Blow and others doing great prototype work. Personally, I’d love to create media that makes it possible for a high school student to understand quantum mechanics (or all of physics, or all of science) as deeply as a professor of theoretical physics does today. So the question I’ll address in the talk is: how can we get started on doing that?