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Psychologist wants to do the Hilbert thing

by fourier jr
Tags: hilbert, psychologist, thing
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fourier jr
Apr16-10, 12:06 PM
P: 948
no idea what could be on the final list when it's released. I wonder what people here think:

( -- Just over a century ago, one of the world’s leading mathematicians posed this question to a number of his colleagues: What are the most important unsolved questions in mathematics?

The answers - which David Hilbert then ranked in what he believed to be their order of importance - produced a list of 23 mathematical problems that shaped mathematics for 100 years.

This past Saturday, Stephen Kosslyn, dean of Harvard’s Division of Social Science, posed a Hilbert-like challenge to a diverse group of social scientists he had spent two years gathering:

What, he asked, are the great unanswered questions in the social sciences?

Hilbert selected and ranked the final problems himself, but Kosslyn, the John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James, is using technology to revolutionize, and democratize, the process. Selecting the important issues in the field isn’t just his job - it’s everyone’s.


Over the next two months, the University’s Division of Social Science will collect online submissions at Hard Problems web site and at a Hard Problems Facebook page. Anyone, anywhere, regardless of their field of expertise, is encouraged to submit questions for consideration until May 31.

The conference and list were the brainchild of Harvard College graduate Nick Nash ’00, a joint chemistry and physics concentrator who has been thinking for some time about what he perceives as the need to improve awareness and understanding of the social sciences. “These are the sciences of our shared humanity,” he told a reporter. “But these sciences are much more in their infancy relative to physics or chemistry.”
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Apr16-10, 03:58 PM
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apeiron's Avatar
P: 2,432
A clever idea. Especially if the poll is set up the right way to harness the wisdom of the crowd.

What will be most interesting is if the unknowns can be specified in precise ways that make them answerable. This I doubt.

For example, is there a difference between asking "what is conscious awareness" and what is "selective attention"?

One is too broad and entangled in a web of unscientific meanings, the other seems a better specified question along the lines of Hilbert's. It will be interesting therefore if a clarity of question asking does emerge - as the field sorely needs this kind of practical focusing.

Kosslyn is also a good guy to be leading this project.
fourier jr
Apr16-10, 04:22 PM
P: 948
actually I just thought of something that could be on the final list. Problem 18 of Smale's list asks what the limits of human & artificial intelligence are, which I think would be interesting to figure out.

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