Stephen Wolfram Q&A

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Some collected questions and answers by Stephen Wolfram

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May 12, 2012

From: Reddit AMA

What do you remember most about your time at Eton? Do you have any favorite moments? Least favorite?

I learned all these “useless” subjects, like Latin and Greek… and the bizarre thing is that (a) I still remember most of what I learned, and (b) I’ve actually ended up using a fair fraction of what I learned! (Think: naming products etc.)

I was a “King’s Scholar” at Eton… I think the king in question was Henry VI, who lived before Columbus discovered America. The “allowance” for King’s Scholar had been 3d (3 old British pennies) and when I was at Eton they still ceremonially gave out 3d pieces once a year. There had been a choice of 3d or a pig, but apparently the pig option was discontinued some time before I was there.

Perhaps my quintessential British moment came on one of the few occasions when I actually ended up playing a sport. I was supposed to be bowling in cricket. Which I did by rolling the ball along the ground (“underarm”). It was rather successful, and I got someone out… who was quite upset. I pointed out that my scheme was not against the rules. But he responded that while that might be so, “it’s just not cricket”.

I suppose I learned some negative lessons at Eton too. The first term I was there I worked very hard so I would come top in the end-of-year exams for my class… which I succeeded in doing. But it turned out not to be very exciting… so that was the last time I was anything like that diligent.

I happened to go through the whole system quite young… and continually got the feedback that there would eventually be some “social” problem with that. That gave me a self-image of being a kind of pure academic kid. Which if one had looked more carefully wasn’t correct. I was always organizing stuff, though usually outside of the usual tracks… and doing things that were pretty obviously (in retrospect) the kind of things one would expect any entrepreneur-type to do.

Being a scholarship kid at Eton (the scholarship part was more about honorifics than about money, though there was money too) I ended up being with some pretty interesting other kids. And it’s been quite fascinating to me to see how they’ve all turned out (given that we’re all middle-aged now)…

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