Stephen Wolfram, PhD at 20?

  • #26
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No, I don't believe you can become an expert in a subject at such a young age. Teenagers are not mentally prepared to do graduate level work in physics. The fact that he has accomplished nothing as a physicist since receiving his Ph.D only validates my point.
 
  • #27
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No, I don't believe you can become an expert in a subject at such a young age. Teenagers are not mentally prepared to do graduate level work in physics. The fact that he has accomplished nothing as a physicist since receiving his Ph.D only validates my point.

You shouldn't compare others to what you feel yourself can accomplish.
 
  • #28
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No, I don't believe you can become an expert in a subject at such a young age. Teenagers are not mentally prepared to do graduate level work in physics. The fact that he has accomplished nothing as a physicist since receiving his Ph.D only validates my point.

He probably got bored with physics. If you read his bio, his interests changed to cellular automata in which he made the most contributions.

After receiving PhD, he kept publishing, but he complained his papers were owned by institutions like Caltech. Hence he left, and founded his own company. One might argue he is also the richest physicist.
 
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  • #29
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"How many spikes does Stegy have?"
You can't expect a four year old to write perfect sentences.

I didn't mean it like that, I thought it was it was an interesting look into his very young mind. I have a sample of my writing when i was four actually, it's something like "Wer dose a buterfly go wen it rains? Maibe he hids in caves, maibe he hids under roks. Maibe he stays outsid."
 
  • #30
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No, I don't believe you can become an expert in a subject at such a young age. Teenagers are not mentally prepared to do graduate level work in physics. The fact that he has accomplished nothing as a physicist since receiving his Ph.D only validates my point.

Sorry but in my opinion you are in denial. There are numerous examples of people making contributions to their fields at a young age on a level which us mere mortals could never dream of in an entire lifetime. For example, Evariste Galois. Also I'm not sure about his early contributions but Landau received his PhD at age 21. Also, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_child_prodigies .
 
  • #31
mgb_phys
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The phD can take even less time if you go to a school that doesn't have heavy courseload requirements for the PhD
British PhDs generally have no course load requirements.
You can just turn up and submit a thesis on day 1 - although at some places you have to hang around for 3 terms afterwards before you can get the degree.

Until recently it was fairly common for Oxford and Cambridge to admit very young maths prodigies for degrees and PhDs. I know of a couple of people that got maths Phds before they were 18. It's more difficult now with background checks for working with childrens
 
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  • #32
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Wolfram was born in London in 1959. His father ran an import-export business and wrote novels on the side. His mother was an Oxford philosopher. "I was viewed as a hopeless, crazy child," he says. "My parents concluded that I was 'impossibly psychologically confused and would never get anywhere in life.'" He wrote his first two scientific papers with no help except what he could find in the Eton library and popular science journals. Without bothering to graduate, Wolfram moved on to Oxford and became acquainted, for the first time, with "real scientist types." He entered the university just after his 17th birthday. "The first day I got to my first-year lectures and decided they were really awful," he says. "So I went to third-year lectures, and I found those pretty boring too." He left Oxford, once again without a diploma, and enrolled for graduate studies at Caltech, which had recruited him on the strength of his publications and his burgeoning reputation.

In Pasadena, Wolfram worked with some of the best physicists in the world. Once again, he decided he was wasting his time and made motions to move on. "But we tricked him, so to speak," says Nobelist Murray Gell-Mann, who helped to bring Wolfram west. "We gave him a Ph.D." Wolfram was barely 20. The Caltech physicists also awarded him a senior research position to help keep him around. It didn't. Neither did the MacArthur Fellowship, which came at that time and paid him $128,000 over five years.

Wolfram simply didn't seem interested in doing what he was expected to do. What had impressed Gell-Mann, Feynman, and most other physicists--at least those whom Wolfram hadn't totally antagonized--was the range of subjects he penetrated with alacrity: high-energy physics, mathematics, cosmology, computing, even artificial intelligence. But they would have preferred him to stick to physics. "Most students are very, very impressed with the beauty and fundamental character of elementary particle physics," says Gell-Mann. "Stephen has a different kind of taste."
http://www.stephenwolfram.com/interviews/88-fortune/
 
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  • #33
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Sorry but in my opinion you are in denial. There are numerous examples of people making contributions to their fields at a young age on a level which us mere mortals could never dream of in an entire lifetime. For example, Evariste Galois. Also I'm not sure about his early contributions but Landau received his PhD at age 21. Also, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_child_prodigies .
i liked how they made a distinction between math & mental calculation. one of my biggest pet peeves is people who think they're the same, as in "what do you mean you can't figure out what your change is? i thought you do math"

& don't forget paul erdos. he did his bachelor's & phd at the same time & graduated when he was 21 or something.
 
  • #34
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I think the point some PFers were trying to make is that being a child prodigy and finishing your Ph.D at age 20 may not give you a distinct advantage over those who finish their Ph.D at age 24-27(for example Einstein and Niels Bohr were both 26 around the time of completing their Ph.Ds). At the same time you need to consider that Wolfram is respectable in multiple fields and is one of the only scientists to have financial freedom. I'm sure Richard Feynman would have preferred a life outside of academia.
 
  • #35
Moonbear
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Well, gosh, it must be easy to get Ph.D. at 20...he would have done most of the work toward it while still a teenager, which means he still knew everything. It's much harder to do as an adult after you find out you don't know everything anymore. :biggrin:

Edit: The question I'd like to ask him is if he had the choice to do it all over again, would he want to follow the same course? My concern with child prodigies isn't that they aren't able to excel in one area, but that they may lack the experience and wisdom to make good choices about what they really want to do with their lives and get pigeon-holed into something that they may be good at, but isn't necessarily the thing they enjoy most or would choose if not pushed into it by their parents at a young age.
 
  • #36
Stingray
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Edit: The question I'd like to ask him is if he had the choice to do it all over again, would he want to follow the same course? My concern with child prodigies isn't that they aren't able to excel in one area, but that they may lack the experience and wisdom to make good choices about what they really want to do with their lives and get pigeon-holed into something that they may be good at, but isn't necessarily the thing they enjoy most or would choose if not pushed into it by their parents at a young age.

While not quite as young as Wolfram, I'm someone else who went through grad school much earlier than most people. I would definitely do it again. My parents were not pushing me. They were actually trying to slow me down most of the time.
 
  • #37
f95toli
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The question I'd like to ask him is if he had the choice to do it all over again, would he want to follow the same course? My concern with child prodigies isn't that they aren't able to excel in one area, but that they may lack the experience and wisdom to make good choices about what they really want to do with their lives and get pigeon-holed into something that they may be good at, but isn't necessarily the thing they enjoy most or would choose if not pushed into it by their parents at a young age.

I had a lecturer who actually knew Wolfram back when he was still working in academia (the lecturer in question works on complex system, so presumably this was when Wolfram was still interested in cellular automata) and Wolfram is/was according to him not exactly a "normal" guy; very, very difficult to work with for a variety of reasons. He is apparently VERY confident in his own abilities.
That said, the fact that he done so well as an entrepreneur means that he must be able to work reasonably well with other people when he wants to, so either this is something he learned later OR it is something he knew all along how to do but just can't be bothered when interacting with "unimportant" people.
 

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