When Philosophers of Science Go Practical

Here’s a feature of philosophy of science that may have captivated many of us: the freedom to be shamelessly, wildly creative about science.

Philosophers of science love to think hard about difficult questions, so that our minds can run happily with possibilities. But we’re interested in knowing what science says about these matters. So we dive into the neather-regeions of algebraic quantum field theory and differential geometry, or population genetics and probability — or whatever part of scientific practice catches our interest.

What happens when that kind of carefree creativity and affinity for science are set loose on raw, practical problems? Nathan Myhrvold seems to have asked this question, and then systematically implemented an answer, in a company called Intellectual Ventures.

The first part of what I.V. does looks a lot like the Philosophy of Science. (An interesting note: Myhrvold did a PhD in early-universe QFT.) A bunch of interesting people get together, think about interesting stuff on which science bears, and then come up with ideas. The really good ones get refined and developed thoroughly, and written down. But then comes the second part: those ideas get patented. And then they get sold.

Read about it in the recent New Yorker Article.


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