Yoshua Bengio’s Deep Thoughts on Deep Thinking

Thinking about Thinking

One of the things that surprised me when researching Deep Work was how rare it was to find examples of smart people talking coherently about the process of effective thinking.

This is why I was pleased when a reader recently pointed me toward a video interview with computer scientist Yoshua Bengio — one of the big names in machine learning.

Around an hour and ten minutes into the interview, Bengio turns his attention to the topic of productive thought:

“There is also something to be said about concentration…to really make big progress in science you also need times when I can be very focused and where the ideas about a problem, and different points of view, and all the elements sort of fill my mind. I’m completely filled with this…that’s when I can be really productive.”

Filling your mind with a single problem, Bengio emphasizes, is not a fast process, noting:

“It might take a really long time before you reach that state…”

Hard problems are hard to understand. The best researchers in my field of theoretical computer science, for example, tend to be those who have the drive, brain power and flexibility to read other peoples’ papers constantly to spark a new recombination or extension that advances the field — an exhausting process.

But as Bengio emphasizes, this effort is worth it:

“[After you fill your mind with a problem is] when you can really start seeing through things and getting things to stand together and solving…now you can extend science, now when things are solid in your mind you can move forward.”

Our culture likes to emphasize eureka moments, but we often miss the hard, patient work that goes into preparing the mind to generate breakthroughs.

(Hat tip: Daniel)


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