> > The romantic notion that discoveries are made by
> > heroic individuals out of thin air is pure Hollywood--inventions are made
> > by whoever is in the right place at the right time to make connections
> > between, generalizations of, and extrapolations from the common knowledge
> > of the time.
> I can't say I believe this. The force behind Crocker's argument is not
> that "just one person" can't matter; it's that the "just one people"
> saved by Welfare grants to nine-year-olds are no more or less likely to
> be significant than the "just one people" whose lives or educations are
> preserved by a properly functioning market economy.
> The theory that one individual can't have an impact is just as much
> Hollywood as the romance of the single inventor, except based on a
> belief in the world's destiny and meaning and coherence - instead of the
> destiny of one person. In reality, it's all just quarks, and while we
> may find it disturbing to think of a world's destiny as something so
> fragile that it could depend on one person, there is no reason why this
> shouldn't be so.
I think we really agree here: of course individuals have impact: I just
think in 99% of those cases it's not because of anything special about
the particular human involved. Even most of the giants we revere as
the great thinkers of our time: Newton, Darwin, Maxwell, et al., had
ideas that were maybe a few years ahead of when somebody else would
have found them. Leibniz discovered calculus too. One of Kepler's
students no doubt would have fallen upon the discovery that quadratic
equations fit nicely the planetary motions if you put them in the
right place, and they also nicely describe falling rocks. Feynmann
showed how one can derive Maxwell's equations from a few assumptions.
Without Einstein, Michaelson and Morely probably would have done
their experiment to measure the ether, failed, and come up with
relativity to explain their failure. The folks who got there first
may well have been geniuses, but they're still just a few ticks up
the bell curve, not completely separate from it.
> Our world has no coherence, only causality. We can die as easily as
> live. Plans can succeed or fail from any cause at all. A world without
> coherence is a dangerous place to live. That, after all, is what makes
> the Singularity necessary.
I agree, and that's rather the point: and individual /can/ have a huge
impact, but for purely chaotic and unpredictable reasons. It's not
that one kid's life won't make a difference in the world: it's that we
have no way to know /which/ kid'd life will change the world until he
or she actually does it. The person who builds the first nanoassembler
will change the world. Who will it be? Whoever is in the right place
at the right time.
-- Lee Daniel Crocker <email@example.com> <http://www.piclab.com/lee/> "All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past, are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC
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