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World Science Scholars Feature Simon’s visit to CERN in a newsletter. The current course is about neurons. Reading Stephen Wolfram.

Simon’s September visit to CERN has been featured in a World Science Scholars newsletter:

Here’s our update on the World Science Scholars program. Simon has finished the first bootcamp course on the theory and quantum mechanics by one of program’s founders, string theorist Professor Brian Greene and has taken part in three live sessions: with Professor Brian Greene, Professor Justin Khoury (dark matter research, alternatives to the inflationary paradigm, such as the Ekpyrotic Universe), and Professor Barry Barish (one of the leading experts in gravitational waves and particle detectors; won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”).

September 2019: Simon at a hotel room in Geneva taking pat in his first WSS live session, with Professor Brian Greene
September 2019: screenshot from Professor Brian Greene’s course module on quantum physics

At the moment, there isn’t much going on. Simon is following the second course offered by the program, at his own pace. It’s a course about neurology and neurological statistics by Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel and is called “Big Brains, Small Brains: The Conundrum of Comparing Brains and Intelligence”. The course is compiled from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s presentations made at the World Science Festival so it doesn’t seem to have been recorded specifically for the scholars, like Professor Brian Greene’s course was.

Professor Herculano-Houzel has made “brain soup” (also called “isotropic fractionator”) out of dozens of animal species and has counted exactly how many neurons different brains are made of. Contrary to what Simon saw in Professor Greene’s course (mainly already familiar stuff as both relativity theory and quantum mechanics have been within his area of interest for quite some time), most of the material in this second course is very new to him. And possibly also less exciting. Although what helps is the mathematical way in which the data is presented. After all, the World Science Scholars program is about interdisciplinary themes that are intertwined with mathematical thinking.

Screenshots of the course’s quizzes. Simon has learned about scale invariance, the number of neurons in the human brain, allometric and isometric scaling relationships.

Another mathematical example: in Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course on brains we have witnessed nested patterns, as if they escaped from Stephen Wolfram’s book we’re reading now.

screenshot from the course by Professor Herculano-Houzel

Simon has also contributed to the discussion pages, trying out an experiment where paper surface represented cerebral cortex:

The top paper represents the cerebral cortex of a smaller animal. Cerebral cortex follows the same physical laws when folding is applied.

Simon: “Humans are not outliers because they’re outliers, they are outliers because there’s a hidden variable”.

screenshot from Professor Herculano-Houzel’s course: after colour has been added to the plot, the patterns reveal themselves

Simon is looking forward to Stephen Wolfram’s course (that he is recording for world science scholars) and, of course, to the live sessions with him. The information that Stephen Wolfram will be the next lecturer has stimulated Simon to dive deep into his writings (we are already nearly 400 pages through his “bible” A New Kind of Science) and sparked a renewed and more profound understanding of cellular automata and Turing machines and of ways to connect those to our observations in nature. I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning.

It’s amazing to observe how quickly Simon grasps the concepts described in A New Kind of Science; on several occasions he has tried to recreate the examples he read about the night before.

Simon playing around in Wolfram Mathematica, after reading about minor changes to the initial conditions of an idealised version of the kneading process
Simon working out a “study plan” for his Chinese lessons using a network system model he saw in Stephen Wolfram’s book “A New Kind of Science”
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The Netherlands Chase Away Extreme Talent

This summer, aged 9, Simon @simontigerh was named a World Science Scholar and joined a two-year program for the world’s most exceptional young math talents, as the youngest among the 75 students selected in 2018 and 2019. See the official press release for more info: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190905005166/en/World-Science-Festival-Announces-Newest-Class-%E2%80%9CWorld

Simon’s passion for science and his unique way to see the world have blossomed again once we have pulled him out of school, where he was becoming increasingly unhappy and was considered a problem student. The only way to set his mind free and allow him to follow the path that suits him best, the path of self-directed learning, was to leave Simon’s native Amsterdam and The Netherlands, where school attendance is compulsory.


I am sharing this at the time when educational freedom and parental rights in The Netherlands are in serious danger to become limited even further. It is bittersweet to celebrate Simon’s beautiful journey and at the same time see how The Netherlands are chasing away extreme talent as we are aware of more stories similar to that of Simon’s.

Coding, In the Media, Machine Learning, Milestones, Murderous Maths, neural networks, Notes on everyday life, Set the beautiful mind free, Simon's Own Code

Interview with Simon on Repl.it

Repl.it has published a cool interview with Simon! It was interesting how Simon struggling to answer some of the more general questions gave me another glimpse into his beautiful mind that doesn’t tolerate crude dimensionality reductions. The first question, “If you could sum yourself up in one sentence, how would you do it?” really upset him, because he said he just couldn’t figure out a way to sum himself up in one sentence. This is precisely the same reason why Simon has had trouble performing trivial oral English exam tasks, like picking some items from the list and saying why he liked or disliked them. The way he sees the world, some things are simply unfathomable, or in any case, extremely complex, too complex to imagine one can sum them up in one sentence or come up with the chain of causes and consequences of liking something on the spot. He often tells me he sees the patterns, the details. Seeing objects or events in such complexity may mean it feels inappropriate, irresponsible, plain wrong to Simon to reduce those objects and events to a short string of characters.

This made me reflect upon how Simon keeps shaking me awake. I used to find nothing wrong with playing the reductionist game and frankly, had I been asked to sum myself up in one sentence, I would have readily come up with something like “a Russian journalist and a home educator”. It’s thanks to Simon that I am waking up to see how inaccurate that is. I begin to see how many games that we play in our society are forcing us to zoom out too far, to generalize too much. How often don’t we just plug something in, pretending we can answer impossible questions about the hugely complicated world around us and inside us! Well, Simon often honestly tells me that he just doesn’t have the answer.

For that first question in the interview, I suggested Simon answer something like “it’s more difficult to sum myself up in one sentence than to prove that e is irrational”, to which he replied: “But Mom, to prove that e is irrational is easy! It’s hard to prove that Pi is irrational!”

I must add that at the same time, Simon has really enjoyed the fact that Repl.it has written a developer spotlight about him as well as the social interaction on Twitter that the piece has initiated. It gave him a tangible sensation of belonging to the programming community, of being accepted and appreciated, and inspired him to work on his new projects in Repl.it.