The Quantum Pontiff


Observations on time.

  • One hour of exercise is much more important for my well being than one hour of sleep.
  • Why does the physics department at the University of Washington have a sundial on the building? I mean, yes it is very cool, but no there are not many opportunities to use it!
  • Michael Nielsen blogs about Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers: The Story of Success
    and about the 10000 hour rule. Supposedly one needs 10000 hours of practice to truly master a subject. That’s over a year in time! That’s like seven years straight if I work four hours a day with no breaks. That doesn’t even feel like the right order of magnitude to me, but I’m not much of an expert in this stuff.
  • John Archibald Wheeler is quoted as having said “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” If this is true, then apparently I am in the vicinity of a breakdown in the temporal structure of our universe. Crap, gotta run!


  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 18, 2008

    10,000 hours of study; Re: Question about von Neumann Algebras

    I’m not sure on which blog thread this has been debated, but I’ve commented before that there seems to be a rule of thumb that it takes an adult human being on the order of 10,000 hours of study to reach professional competence in almost any subject, from Music to Mathematics.

    It is no coincidence that this is how long a full-time student spends in a given university.

    Counterexamples have been made to my comments on the likes of Mozart (who appears to have been composing while still in utero), Gauss, Ramanujan, Terry Tao, Feynman, and Newton. Counter-counter comments were made. I’m not sure what conclusion, if any, was reached, but I still hold (perhaps more loosely) the 10,000 hour study rule.

    For children, the line between Play and Study is fuzzy at best. My strength and weakness as a scholar is that I still feel that I’m playing with Math, Physics, Computing, Biology, and Literature.

    Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on September 1, 2007 5:52 PM

  2. #2 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 18, 2008

    On time management

    15 August, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Jonathan Vos Post

    There’s some discussion on the “Does one have to be a genius to do maths?” thread about how much time it takes to reach proficiency (I say 10^4 hours) , and whether the public confuses inspiration with perspiration.

    Time-management, to me (as an ex-professor and high-tech executive) is dual to collaborator-management. “Man-hours” (I don’t mean to exclude women) can be constant on a project if you either spend more solo time on it until you solve it, or if you break it into pieces distributed between co-workers, and then synthesize the solved subproblems.

    Hence there is a strategic component (what’s the optimal team size?) and a tactical component (what critical path method is best for us?).

    My time as software/systems engineer on Galileo to Jupiter were blighted by an adequate PhD engineer who’d been promoted to Manager (despite obvious lack of ‘people skills’). The Macintosh computer was new, and he fell in love with one of its Critical Path management programs. Rather than getting anything done for some months, we had daily meetings, each with a new set of time-management task-breakdown schedule printouts of his.

    Then he tried to catch up on schedule by ordering me to risk the multibillion dollar spacecraft via throwing out my ground-software Euler angle solutions to the dual-spinner multigyroscope attitude control, and simply renaming the variables of the existing quaternion-based flight software (undoing the whole point of independent Validation & Verification by risking duplication of conceptual or computational errors from the flight software to the ground software needed to ensure correctness of the flight software).

    So I jumped ship to being Mission Planning Engineer on the Voyager fly-by of Uranus.

    But my point is: time management is more deeply about YOUR time and that of those with whom you work well. If Minsky’s “Society of Mind” theory is correct, these are really the same, when different parts of yourself collaborate. The “you” doing Math and the “you” listening to electronic/ambient music at the same time, for example.

    I very much agree with Terry Tao about serendipity. So did a subset of my mentors including Richard Feynman, Herb Keller, and Herman Kahn. These were all super-productive people (also geniuses) so I listened very carefully to what they shared about time-management. Feynman’s approach has been mentioned in this blog, to always having roughly 10 problems in mind, as an ideal level of parallelism, and rubbing them all against any new theorem or method you chanced upon.

  3. #3 chezjake
    November 18, 2008

    According to the Bullfrog King, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”

  4. #4 Janne
    November 19, 2008

    10k hours sounds about right. That’s about what it took me to master English, and it seems to fit my current trajectory on learning Japanese. It’s the time to master an academic field, and about the time to master a musical instrument. Sure, there’s some variation depending on the exact subject but the time frame is perfectly reasonable.

  5. #5 Whatever you're going to do, David, better do it now.
    November 19, 2008

    So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
    Racing around to come up behind you again.
    The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
    Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

    Pink Floyd

  6. #6 Ian Durham
    November 19, 2008

    As far as I’m concerned, sleep is exercise.

  7. #7 John Preskill
    November 19, 2008

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.