holding a roll of photovoltaic product.
AMERICAN FRONTIERS: It sounds like every idea that you
have, people would say "It can't be done," or "That will take
way too long."
IRIS: That is absolutely true.
AMERICAN FRONTIERS: What do you take from that, and how
do you use it?
Well I use it philosophically. What we do has never been
considered as possible, or people tried and failed, either
one. We get basic patents. We use that time of incredulousness
or skepticism, which is natural, on something that is dramatically
different. And then we don't allow the criticism to do anything
but spur us on. It goes with our belief that you don't talk
about it, or wave your hands, we do it like we did at the
Bibendum. We always build it to show that it works. And when
that does it, that shifts the debate pattern. It's very difficult
for somebody to say it ain't going to work when you're driving
around in a car with it.
AMERICAN FRONTIERS: But what is it about you guys that
you can look beyond what people see in the day to day, and
see the possibilities?
we do has never been considered as possible."
Well I think that's a very good question. First of all I don't
play in the stock markets, I don't try to foresee the future
in any way, I don't claim any extraordinary power. But I do
know what society needs, and I think that the industry, building
new industries, that that is an absolute requirement. Old
industries are cyclical. Whether it's oil or whether it's
automotive or whether semiconductors, they're all cyclical.
Which means that the ups and downs can be very extreme at
times. And the only thing that generates new jobs is innovation.
So I "know" where science is going. And the global economy
depends on energy and information, they're the twin pillars
of our global economy. So I picked the ones that I knew were
fundamental to our society, and to our global society, and
then made, so to speak, revolutionary changes.
AMERICAN FRONTIERS: Stan, you mentioned that you have
been inventing for a very long time. What do you think of
as your first invention? Were you a kid who was always thinking
of better ways to squeeze the toothpaste tube and things like
IRIS: No no he's very inventive. My mother used to say,
"Why can't his inventions do this or that," but he's not interested,
he's not a tinkerer at all.
1960, Stan showing Iris his energy loop starting with
hydrogen fusion in the sun.
Edison was a great, great inventor but he would try a thousand
things to get a result. Scientists make fun of that and that
was called the Edisonian Method. I think that Edison was a
bit smarter than that. That's like saying that a thousand
monkeys can write Shakespeare. But that is not the way-- I
know what I want, I know what I'm going to do, and I use the
periodic chart of atoms as if it's an engineering diagram.
It's not throwing darts at the periodic table. So I know what
I can do and I just go ahead and do it. And I'm very blessed
by having the help of a great team of people here. Colleagues
and collaborators through the years, and a great group of
people here, we're a meritocracy. Even though we have a lot
of Ph.D.'s you don't have to be a Ph.D. to-- Otherwise I wouldn't
be here, Iris is the only Ph.D. in our family.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: Do you think not having
that Ph.D. credential, in some way frees you? Does not having
had that rigid sort of training open your mind in a different
I definitely think that's true.
In the early days it made me an easy target to some of the
They looked at his work skeptically because he didn't
have a Ph.D.
However, let me say this. When young people go to school
they have to really respect authority and follow it. So they
take, so to speak, orders when they go to grade school, high
school, and then when they go to college. And all the time
they're being treated in a "giving of information to you"
kind of way. And then when they get out of school they say,
"Okay, now you're on your own, think, be creative." After
all those years of trying to kill it. And so you have to be
an unusual person to survive and to do original work. So I
think in that sense I think that you're absolutely right,
and I think my scientific colleagues who told me the same
thing, over and over again, I think that they must be right.
IRIS: The other thing you have to say, I mean he has
an amazingly inventive mind. And he reads constantly. He's
got way more than a Ph.D. in terms of all the stuff that he
studies himself every single day.
That's true, I'm 81 and I'm still learning. I love learning.
The fact is that in science it's your contributions that are
important. And I look upon science differently, and that is
that nature, God if you're religious, did not make disciplines.
Man did, humans did. And therefore I don't recognize separation
of disciplines. So I have published in neurophysiology, neuropsychiatry,
cosmology, solid state physics, chemistry, physics, materials
science, and so on. Wherever I feel I can make a contribution,
that people want what I have to invent. That's fine, I work
in it, and I get great joy out of it.
more about the Ovshinsky's inventions.
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