Нина and I attended Marvin Minsky’s Remembrance this week at Stanford. I can’t thank Ted Selker and Henry Lieberman enough for organizing such a valuable event. There were many great stories shared by some of Marvin’s close friends. I had the honor of giving a two minute speech, which I’ve copied here:
Marvin was one of my imprimers, up there with my parents and my siblings. Because he didn’t like the idea of grades, he gave all of his students A’s when he started teaching, and MIT needed to tell him that was against the rules. Marvin didn’t care for thoughtless rules. I’ll tell you four things that Marvin said to me that changed my life.
- Don’t research something if many other people are already researching it. Become an expert in a new field.
- Breakthroughs are rarely made by groups of people. Breakthroughs are usually made by a single person working alone.
- I don’t like happiness. I want people to be very unhappy that they don’t understand things like cosmic string theory.
- I am a member of a gang. My gang values thinking and intelligence.
Marvin is sometimes described as a very negative person by those who didn’t know him. Marvin thought of goals as problems to solve. He thought of happiness as the absence of goals. When Marvin said that he didn’t like happiness with a mischievous glint in his eye, his listener was confused how a person could be so happy about unhappiness. Marvin believed in layers of problem solving. At one layer, he was debugging the minds of his listeners, while at a layer above, he was happily observing his own problem solving process. But even according to Marvin’s own reflective theory, adding one layer of reflective thought to any situation will always allow for that playful glint of happiness. Marvin was one of the most happily reflective individuals that I knew.
In a lecture, Marvin described himself as being a member of a gang. I’ve learned that members of Marvin’s gang are strong willed, independent, and stand up and recognize the value in a lonely intellect. At MIT, I studied under Marvin in a tough environment. Now, I am strong and happy, but there was a time when I was falling through the cracks at MIT and Marvin’s gang reached down, picked me up, and helped me to the finish line of my PhD. I’d like to thank Walter Bender, Henry Lieberman, Joe Paradiso, Gerry Sussman, Ted Selker, and Michael Cox for supporting me when I needed it. I see Marvin’s greatest legacy being in addition to his great technical achievements. I see his greatest legacy being his loving gang of family, friends, and colleagues.