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NOV 1, 2011 3:00pm ET

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The Big Data Collider

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading the book “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson, which examines recurring patterns in the history of innovation.

The current chapter that I am reading is dispelling the traditional notion of the eureka effect by explaining that the evolution of ideas, like all evolution, stumbles its way toward the next good idea, which inevitably, and not immediately, leads to a significant breakthrough.

One example is how the encyclopedic book “Enquire Within Upon Everything,” the first edition of which was published in 1856, influenced a young British scientist, who in his childhood in the 1960s was drawn to the “suggestion of magic in the book’s title, and who spent hours exploring this portal to the world of information, along with the wondrous feeling of exploring an immense trove of data.” His childhood fascination with data and information influenced a personal project that he started in 1980, which ten years later became a professional project while he has working in the Swiss particle physics lab CERN.

The scientist was Tim Berners-Lee and his now famous project created the World Wide Web.

“Journalists always ask me,” Berners-Lee explained, “what the crucial idea was, or what the singular event was, that allowed the Web to exist one day when it hadn’t the day before.  They are frustrated when I tell them there was no eureka moment.”
“Inventing the World Wide Web involved my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an unconstrained, web-like way.  And that awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process.”

CERN is famous for its Large Hadron Collider that uses high-velocity particle collisions to explore some of the open questions in physics concerning the basic laws governing the interactions and forces among elementary particles in an attempt to understand the deep structure of space and time, and, in particular, the intersection of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

The Big Data Collider

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