Monday, July 21, 2014

Myth of the lone genius

Joshua Wolf Shenk writes in a NY Times op-ed:
But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network, ...

Today, the Romantic genius can be seen everywhere. Consider some typical dorm room posters — Freud with his cigar, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the pulpit, Picasso looking wide-eyed at the camera, Einstein sticking out his tongue. These posters often carry a poignant epigraph — “Imagination is more important than knowledge” — but the real message lies in the solitary pose.

In fact, none of these men were alone in the garrets of their minds. Freud developed psychoanalysis in a heated exchange with the physician Wilhelm Fliess, whom Freud called the “godfather” of “The Interpretation of Dreams”; King co-led the civil rights movement with Ralph Abernathy (“My dearest friend and cellmate,” King said). Picasso had an overt collaboration with Georges Braque — they made Cubism together — and a rivalry with Henri Matisse so influential that we can fairly call it an adversarial collaboration. Even Einstein, for all his solitude, worked out the theory of relativity in conversation with the engineer Michele Besso, whom he praised as “the best sounding board in Europe.”
Freud's dream theory? That stuff is nonsense, and Freud was a crackpot, not a genius.

Besso? Maybe he is the only one that Einstein honestly thanked, but his work depended on many others.

When people talk about Einstein as a lone genius, they are usually talking about his 1905 special relativity paper, or maybe the 1905 photon paper. His later work on general relativity is better documented, and is well-known that he very heavily relied on Grossmann, Levi-Civita, Hilbert, and others.

The 1905 papers were supposed done in isolation, while working at the Swiss patent office. But he had the papers of Lorentz and Poincare, and his relativity paper had no new ideas that are not explained better by them.

The myth that Einstein worked in isolation has promoted the idea that a lone genius can ponder ideas that were known for 50 years, look at them differently, and revolutionize physics. Even philosophers and historians of science perpetuate this Einstein myth. Einstein's paper was merely a presentation of recent research.


  1. This is wrong. The hordes (experimentalists) have never discovered anything. That is evident today in quantum information processing with all the experiments that have discovered absolutely nothing. Look at quantum mechanics. Further understanding was based around mathematical developments (functional analysis) pertaining to partial differential equations. The condensed matter physicists of today have no idea what they are doing. Some lone genius will further develop mathematical technique and progress will continue. Progress won't continue through hordes doing experiments or brute force methods. Look at pharma drug discovery and industrial catalyst development. They both went full hog with brute force techniques and the productivity has dried up into nothing. So what do they do...they double down with the big data scam. Factory based science...hahahaha...bleeping idiots, all of them. Take the professional management and stick them all in a vat of boiling zinc.

  2. Look at this crazy statement from a condensed matter physicist:

    "Cuprate superconductors remain amazingly complicated, even after years of improving sample quality and experimental techniques. "

    It doesn't even make scientific sense. "Hey pay masters, amazing progress is being made here, but we have no idea whats going on because its complicated"...hahahaha...these are scientists? Why doesn't the Motl genius stop his mental masturbation for a while and go help these poor lost souls? Ans: Motl doesn't know anything except butt kissing string theory Master Witten. "Oh its merely engineering"...ITER: "Oh its merely engineering"...Energy storage: "...merely engineering"...

    Who are the "smartest guys in the room" fooling? These frauds can't solve anything in the real world.

  3. When will Roger accept that quantum physics only holds for tiny number of particles.

    1. Quantum physics is good for millions of particles, or more. No one has found any limits.