What’s striking about many of Einstein’s papers is that his metaphors repeatedly use trains and clocks. That’s how he thought about the world. Trains and clock towers also surrounded him in Bern, where he was working as a clerk in the patent office.
Here’s a scary thought: if Einstein was surrounded by an African savanna, would he have had the same thoughts about special relativity? Or would we still think time is universal?
A related quote:
If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative, you’ve got to connect two experiences together, that you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does, or else you’re going to make the same connections. Then you won’t be innovative, and then nobody will give you an award. So, what you gotta do, is get different experiences than the normal course of events.
— Steve Jobs
Does innovation require the marriage of a brilliant mind and unique “scenery”? I hope not, but it might make sense for research institutions to optimize their topography for the most novel thinking. For example, OpenAI and DeepMind might surround themselves with babies, to derive inspiration from how humans learn.