Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 12-09-2018, 04:02 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
Concentration of genius - in place and time - and fundamental developments in modern physics

I have wondered for some time about the apparent concentrations of genius in certain geographic areas during certain eras that seem to produce an awful lot of important knowledge. Is that because the key actors were unusually brilliant geniuses or simply lucky enough to be around as a new area was beginning to emerge?

I once asked here about the concentration of genius in Ancient Greece ca. 500 - 300 BC and whether they were truly unique or just lucky. It seems as if the answer was neither - indeed they were highly influential, but mostly because they, uniquely, wrote stuff down and thus became the dominant intellectual progenitors of thought (and not just 'Western' thought).

What about modern physics (relativity, quantum theory)? Other than Einstein (and maybe even including him), were the founders of modern physics just lucky to be there at the right time or were they an unusually concentrated group, in place and time, of geniuses?

I know that others had had intimations of relativity (i.e. Poincare and I assume others) but, even so, they, too, were European and essentially contemporary. Regardless, it seems to me that having Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, and Fermi, all be near-contemporaneous is somewhat miraculous. Was it a miracle of luck or genius?

Last edited by KarlGauss; 12-09-2018 at 04:03 PM.
  #2  
Old 12-09-2018, 04:14 PM
PastTense PastTense is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 7,117
Your ancient Greece covers a span of 200 years.

A lot of things depend on various technological developments. So when the electron microscope was developed people think of lots of different questions which can be answered by it.
  #3  
Old 12-09-2018, 04:18 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
2018 Midterm Prediction Winner
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 20,951
Several of the physicists who pioneered atomic physics were from Budapest, Hungary around the same time period.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/2...-fair-project/

It wasn't just limited to physicists coming from Budapest in that time period either.

http://www.hkame.org.hk/uploaded_fil...ine/15/274.pdf

I do wonder if its just that a tiny % of humans, maybe 0.01% are super geniuses, and they just pick up innovation wherever the culture they are born into is at. So maybe Einstein would be working in something like biotechnology or artificial intelligence had he been born in 1990 instead of born in 1879.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion

Last edited by Wesley Clark; 12-09-2018 at 04:21 PM.
  #4  
Old 12-09-2018, 04:57 PM
wolfpup's Avatar
wolfpup wolfpup is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 9,551
My WAG is that scientific progress is much like the growth of children, in the broadest physical and intellectual meaning of the term. It's a constant, gradual process, but every once in a while there's been a sufficient amount of incremental change that one is suddenly aware of a major qualitative change. When major qualitative changes happen in science, like relativity overturning classical physics, or quantum mechanics introducing radical new concepts, it's a matter of both luck and brilliance that some individuals are in the right place at the right time to assemble the incremental pieces into major new insights. Some, like Einstein, were probably much farther ahead of the curve than others in terms of pure independent innovation, though all of them made mistakes. Arthur Eddington famously rejected the possibility that anything like a black hole could exist, and ridiculed and embarrassed a young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (after whom the Chandrasekhar limit is named).

The always-obligatory XKCD commentary:
https://xkcd.com/1067/
  #5  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:06 PM
rat avatar's Avatar
rat avatar rat avatar is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Seattle, Wa
Posts: 5,327
While there are individuals that make huge discoveries the popularized names ignore the millions of people working hard to move the field forward so those discoveries could even happen.

Even the people that are popularized are not always due to discovering the critical discoveries but those that are most visible. Emmy Noether as an example is one of the most important people in the history of mathematics, yet her fame was muted by the lack of a penis.

Just like in any other type of fame, many of the most influential people aren't known to people outside of the field and the influence and the work of the masses is almost universally ignored.

There are uniquely brilliant individuals who can develop theories that are revolutionary, these unique times you pointed out are also time periods where society allowed these fields to grow more than some born trait.
  #6  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:12 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
Quote:
Originally Posted by rat avatar View Post
. . .Emmy Noether as an example is one of the most important people in the history of mathematics, yet her fame was muted by the lack of a penis. . .
I actually thought about including Noether in my little list. She would be another good example.

.

Maybe it's simply that only so many 'fundamental' discoveries can be made (in a given area).
  #7  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:14 PM
bump bump is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Dallas, TX
Posts: 16,468
And FWIW, that's one of the great promises of the Internet; the ability to bring together virtually (via email, data sharing, etc...) all these singleton minds who may not be in a place where they're among peers and/or getting the stimulation they need. In a sense, they had that in Einstein's, Feynman's and Dirac's day, but it was via mail, and not nearly what we have today.
  #8  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:20 PM
monstro monstro is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Richmond, VA
Posts: 19,889
Why did so many great musicians and musical acts seem to come out of Detroit?


Was it the diverse mix of ethnic groups comprising the population? And all those black folks who had migrated from the South, carrying with them all that beautiful, addictive pain-inspired music with them?

Was it the city's early history of clubbing and thus club music (like big band jazz)?

Was it the thriving manufacturing economy and all those good union jobs, which attracted musicians, like John Lee Hooker, who needed good day jobs so they could perform at night? Musicians like Berry Gordy, who used those good wages to launch their own labels?

Or is it just that there's just something about gritty city life that inspires innovation and creativity? And because there are so many venues to perform and be noticed, someone with talent can find success in a city like Detroit versus some backwater somewhere.

All of these things combined probably explain why Detroit is a major music scene. Artists flourish where there are already institutions set up for them, and artists beget other artists. Artists, just like anyone else, depend on a social network. Through connections, Berry Gordy was able to get his music to Jackie Wilson--who then topped the charts with his songs. Without that success, Gordy wouldn't have discovered another song-writing genius, Smokey Robinson, who then wouldn't have been able to develop the talent of his friends from the projects. I firmly believe there is talent everywhere, at every time. But it has to be discovered, which means someone needs to be looking for it and know what to do with it.
  #9  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:24 PM
rat avatar's Avatar
rat avatar rat avatar is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Seattle, Wa
Posts: 5,327
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
I actually thought about including Noether in my little list. She would be another good example.

.

Maybe it's simply that only so many 'fundamental' discoveries can be made (in a given area).
It is good economic times and a social culture that allow for people to work on the subjects.

Consider how Europe was a backwater while the Islamic Golden Age was flourishing, or how the US's global contributions have been decreasing after the funding of the cold war dropped of and the anti-intellectual movement continues to gain steam.

The US has been taking the advantage of being a magnet for the worlds entrepreneurs and best of the science for a while but we are now blocking that influx and spending is being reduced so other parts of the world are on the rise again.

As a specific example the Higgs would have been found at the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas and the LHC may have never been built, but the US decided to exit high energy physics due to funding politics.

While we remember those individuals who did make huge steps forward, they needed the opportunity to do so.
  #10  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:31 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is online now
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,834
It's worth remembering that human population has grown exponentially. Yes, most of the great minds of physics were in the past hundred years, but then, most of all of the people in history were in the past hundred years.
  #11  
Old 12-09-2018, 05:41 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
2018 Midterm Prediction Winner
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 20,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
It's worth remembering that human population has grown exponentially. Yes, most of the great minds of physics were in the past hundred years, but then, most of all of the people in history were in the past hundred years.
Yeah but world population is about 4x bigger than it was a century ago, plus more parts of the world can produce high end scientists. For one thing, IQ is higher due to the Flynn Effect which should mean a far higher % of the population are in the 160+ IQ range (using 1910 definitions of 100 IQ).

Plus more parts are industrialized, and can contribute to science. Japan, South Korea & China have large domestic scientific institutions. Plus it seems like its easier for qualified individuals from places like the middle east, Africa, latin America, etc to immigrate to a developed world.

Point being, the world should have far far more human capital and be much better at utilizing that capital than it was a century ago, but nowadays it doesn't seem like there are well known geniuses like there used to be. Maybe that is because nowadays there are so many thousands of them that most aren't known outside of their field of study.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion
  #12  
Old 12-10-2018, 01:48 AM
septimus's Avatar
septimus septimus is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: The Land of Smiles
Posts: 18,142
Stephen Jay Gould has an entire book, Life's Grandeur, related to the question of why in baseball outliers (like Ty Cobb or Ted Williams) are less common today: It's not that baseball super-performers are less common it's that they're more common! (they're no longer "outliers.")

By the same token there may be "too many" great mathematicians and scientists to choose from today. (Nevertheless there is one "outlier" Edward Witten who is often compared to the great geniuses of the past.)

The Golden Ages of Greek mathematics and Islamic science have already been mentioned, but the Islamic Golden Age occurred at roughly the same time as a technology revolution in China and the "High Middle Ages" of Europe. Science started to blossom in Europe near the end of this period in the time of Fibonacci and Roger Bacon ... but the worldwide Black Death epidemic seems to have crushed the flowering of science and technology everywhere. (Can you name a single famous scientist born in the 14th century?)

There was an epoch of huge genius which began at the time of Gutenberg's invention and Columbus' discovery; first artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, then scientists like Kepler and Galileo. Was there something "in the air" then?
  #13  
Old 12-10-2018, 03:58 AM
Sage Rat's Avatar
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Howdy
Posts: 20,832
I would suggest that it is largely due to bootstrapping.

There was a man, for example, who hypothesized that children will become prodigies at pretty much anything if you start training them in it around the age of 4. As such, he decided to use his daughters as guinea pigs and chose Chess as the "anything":

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/a...ter-experiment

And while it's probably not completely fair to say that it's the results of the experiment that a mad genius' children ended up being chess geniuses, I suspect that there isn't zero relation between their long exposure and (more importantly) early exposure.

If there is a Greek genius who invents, say, new methods of doing math for construction, then people will be talking about it, teaching it to their young construction apprentices, etc. The word will be around. Clever puzzles invented by the genius will be put to teens and they'll be stumped and then once they find out the answer, they'll put it to their younger siblings, to stump them in turn, so suddenly you have 4 year olds being posed interesting logic and math problems that were so originally so difficult that the local genius felt so proud of his having found a solution that he had to share it, and now 4 year olds are encountering it first thing in their development, opening up whole new pathways in their brain that never could have been opened before.

Modern day Americans are almost certainly "smarter" than your average Bulgarian (no offense to Bulgarians), simply because we have kids' science TV and computers regularly available to them. They're not smarter in the sense that they have better DNA or anything, just that they have had the advantage of earlier exposure to more modern ideas and that allows their brains to start developing along those lines.
  #14  
Old 12-10-2018, 10:22 AM
bump bump is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Dallas, TX
Posts: 16,468
Quote:
Originally Posted by septimus View Post
Stephen Jay Gould has an entire book, Life's Grandeur, related to the question of why in baseball outliers (like Ty Cobb or Ted Williams) are less common today: It's not that baseball super-performers are less common it's that they're more common! (they're no longer "outliers.")

By the same token there may be "too many" great mathematicians and scientists to choose from today. (Nevertheless there is one "outlier" Edward Witten who is often compared to the great geniuses of the past.)
My gut tells me that there still aren't many Ted Williamses out there, or Einsteins, Newtons or Goulds, for that matter. And that the real problem these days is identifying them when they do occur- rather than being a 100 watt bulb in a field of 20 watt refrigerator bulbs, we're now trying to find that 100 watt bulb in a field of 80 watt bulbs.
  #15  
Old 12-10-2018, 12:30 PM
Hermitian's Avatar
Hermitian Hermitian is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 2,217
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
Several of the physicists who pioneered atomic physics were from Budapest, Hungary around the same time period.
As soon as I read the OP, I was thinking "Oh, I am going to post on the Martians!" But you beat me to it.
  #16  
Old 12-10-2018, 12:50 PM
Voyager's Avatar
Voyager Voyager is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Deep Space
Posts: 44,705
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post

Point being, the world should have far far more human capital and be much better at utilizing that capital than it was a century ago, but nowadays it doesn't seem like there are well known geniuses like there used to be. Maybe that is because nowadays there are so many thousands of them that most aren't known outside of their field of study.
I suspect that there are more geniuses, but much of their work is in areas too abstruse to be easily described in the media. Or as easy to demonstrate as relativity, thanks to the eclipse.
There are also more places for geniuses to go, so we aren't likely to see the concentration we saw 100 years ago.
I'm reading Hawking's last book. Genius, definitely. But he didn't revolutionize things the way Einstein did.
  #17  
Old 12-10-2018, 01:48 PM
wolfpup's Avatar
wolfpup wolfpup is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 9,551
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sage Rat View Post
I would suggest that it is largely due to bootstrapping.

There was a man, for example, who hypothesized that children will become prodigies at pretty much anything if you start training them in it around the age of 4. As such, he decided to use his daughters as guinea pigs and chose Chess as the "anything":

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/a...ter-experiment

And while it's probably not completely fair to say that it's the results of the experiment that a mad genius' children ended up being chess geniuses, I suspect that there isn't zero relation between their long exposure and (more importantly) early exposure.
Reminds me of the wonderful sci-fi short story Mimsy Were the Borogoves, by Henry Kuttner and his wife C. L. Moore, published I believe under their pseudonym Lewis Padgett. I don't want to give away spoilers but the intriguing premise is, what if a couple of young children had the opportunity to have their malleable minds trained in this way on a skill completely unknown to any normal adults?
  #18  
Old 12-10-2018, 07:49 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: Trantor
Posts: 12,348
Even when people don't formally collaborate they talk to each other. The most important reason to go to scientific meetings is not the talks; it is the occasion to talk to your peers. And if they should happen to mostly be in one place and speak the same language, so much the better. Of all the mathematical geniuses I have known, not one was solitary; they all gathered groups around them and the members played off each other.

As one example, Einstein had the physical intuition to develop general relativity, but he didn't know how to express it mathematically. Geometers (Minkowski, IIRC) taught him about Riemann and then he was off. Even so, Hilbert actually published the equations of general relativity a few days before Einstein, but Einstein gets the credit because the physical ideas behind were his. In any case, Einstein and Hilbert were in constant communication over it.
  #19  
Old 12-10-2018, 08:17 PM
filmstar-en filmstar-en is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 880
Sometimes technology develops to expose phenomena that pose interesting questions for brilliant minds.

Discoveries like radio, vacuum tubes, photoelectric effects and the discovery of radiation at the beginning of the twentieth century gave lots of experimental evidence on which to advance fundamental theories to connect the dots.
  #20  
Old 12-11-2018, 11:12 AM
Busy Scissors Busy Scissors is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: The Euston Tavern
Posts: 2,722
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
Even when people don't formally collaborate they talk to each other. The most important reason to go to scientific meetings is not the talks; it is the occasion to talk to your peers. And if they should happen to mostly be in one place and speak the same language, so much the better. Of all the mathematical geniuses I have known, not one was solitary; they all gathered groups around them and the members played off each other.

As one example, Einstein had the physical intuition to develop general relativity, but he didn't know how to express it mathematically. Geometers (Minkowski, IIRC) taught him about Riemann and then he was off. Even so, Hilbert actually published the equations of general relativity a few days before Einstein, but Einstein gets the credit because the physical ideas behind were his. In any case, Einstein and Hilbert were in constant communication over it.
That's very true Hari Seldon - A really interesting exception, though, was J. Willard Gibbs - the first great American scientist, and as influential a figure as any of the Titans named in the OP (although he was the generation before, late 1800s). The father of chemical thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, plus groundbreaking contributions to optics and vector calculus on the side.
Worked his entire life in isolation in the parochial backwater of Yale University, publishing his seminal work in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy (edited by his brother!).

He achieved recognition during his lifetime, and at a high level - e.g. foreign member of the FRS, Einstein gave him the slightly back-handed compliment as the 'Greatest mind in American History' in 1901, so it wasn't like he was labouring in obscurity. But he developed all of his deep theoretical insights into thermodynamics working alone, with no supporting community of scientists in the US at that time.
  #21  
Old 12-12-2018, 01:22 AM
Voyager's Avatar
Voyager Voyager is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Deep Space
Posts: 44,705
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
Even when people don't formally collaborate they talk to each other. The most important reason to go to scientific meetings is not the talks; it is the occasion to talk to your peers. And if they should happen to mostly be in one place and speak the same language, so much the better. Of all the mathematical geniuses I have known, not one was solitary; they all gathered groups around them and the members played off each other.
Very true. People have been talking about moving conferences to the web for at least 15 years, and it has never happened. Webinars are one or a few people talking to the audience, a very different thing.

This is also why technology centers, like Silicon Valley, are so hard to dislodge. People talk to each other, and shift jobs with very little disruption.
  #22  
Old 12-12-2018, 09:20 AM
CalMeacham's Avatar
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 43,134
To me a more interesting observation is how simultaneous discoveries are sometimes made with absolutely no connection, and by people significantly separated by distance, culture, and language. I guess coincidence can explain it -- I got nothing better


1.) Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (1236—1311) and his student Kamāl al-Dīn al-Fārisī (1267– 1319) published an account of the formation of the rainbow by refraction and reflection within spherical raindrops. They performed experiments with spherical flasks of water to visualize the paths of rays within the raindrop for both primary and secondary rainbows. They also are the first ones to see (in the "laboratory" the tertiary rainbow. at almost the same time, Theodoric of Freibourg (AKA Dietrich, AKA Thierry) (c. 1250 – c. 1310) did the same thing. His extant drawings look as if they could come from a modern optics textbook. Aside from having the sun on a nearby "sky hemisphere", it's pretty modern-looking. He correctly shows the light rays in the primary and secondary rainbow, and shows how the paths are slightly different for different colors.

al-Farisi and al-Shirazi worked in Persia, modern-day Iran, while Theodoric was in France -- some 2,000 miles apart. There's been no path of communication traced between them. They both drew on the same reference works, but it's a huge step from them to both the experimental and theoretical explanation of the rainbow they both came up with. and for hundreds of years afterwards people trying to explain the rainbow appear to have been unaware of their work, and took completely wrong paths. How and why these two groups, separated in space, language, and culture (but not time) explained the rainbow in the same way and using the same experiments is a mystery to me.

2.) The variability of stars and the measurement of the periods of variation was, I have argued, known in the ancient world (and papers over the past two decades show that classical scholars and astro-historians are coming to agree), but the first big burst of measurement, after a few efforts in the 17th and 17th century, really came in the 18th. These people knew of each other, so it's not surprising that there should be several doing it at the same time. What amazes me is that a deaf British teenager -- John Goodricke -- and a solitary German amateur -- Johan Gerg Palitzsh -- both measured the period of variability beta Persei (Algol) and came up with almost precisely the same value at almost precisely the same time. Their results were published as contiguous articles in the Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1783. It's not as if this was a suddenly hot topic, or that articles on variable stars were extremely common. The times between publications were generally pretty large. That they should both make the same observation at the same time, with no communication between them or their associates is pretty odd.
__________________
"Blue, Navy Blue, he's as blue as he can be;
'Cause my steady boy said "Avatar!" and joined the Na'avi."
  #23  
Old 12-12-2018, 09:38 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is online now
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,834
Quote:
Quoth Busy Scissors:

That's very true Hari Seldon - A really interesting exception, though, was J. Willard Gibbs - the first great American scientist,...
Surely, the first great American scientist was Benjamin Franklin? Yes, yes, he's also famous for a number of other reasons, but his scientific work was not insignificant.

As for conferences, I've always found that the most important collaboration occurs not in the laboratory, or the conference room, or through mail or e-mail, but across the lunchroom table. This might be partly because you don't choose who to eat lunch with based on their specialty, and so you end up getting perspectives you wouldn't from your direct colleagues.
  #24  
Old 12-12-2018, 06:08 PM
Voyager's Avatar
Voyager Voyager is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Deep Space
Posts: 44,705
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Surely, the first great American scientist was Benjamin Franklin? Yes, yes, he's also famous for a number of other reasons, but his scientific work was not insignificant.
And, as I read in IEEE Spectrum today, Franklin coined the terms positive and negative for current, and charge and discharge for capacitors.
Quote:
As for conferences, I've always found that the most important collaboration occurs not in the laboratory, or the conference room, or through mail or e-mail, but across the lunchroom table. This might be partly because you don't choose who to eat lunch with based on their specialty, and so you end up getting perspectives you wouldn't from your direct colleagues.
Another plus is that lunch tables are not selected by seniority. At my very first conference I sat at a table with a guy who wrote the paper that got me into the field.

And lots of collaboration occurs in the hallways outside the meeting rooms too. I was involved with one workshop, founded by a famous Stanford professor, which was sited in an out of the way place (no internet and bad cell service for much of its life) and which had one hour sessions and one hour breaks, which encourage interaction.
  #25  
Old 12-13-2018, 08:59 AM
CalMeacham's Avatar
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 43,134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
And, as I read in IEEE Spectrum today, Franklin coined the terms positive and negative for current, and charge and discharge for capacitors.

Another plus is that lunch tables are not selected by seniority. At my very first conference I sat at a table with a guy who wrote the paper that got me into the field.

And lots of collaboration occurs in the hallways outside the meeting rooms too. I was involved with one workshop, founded by a famous Stanford professor, which was sited in an out of the way place (no internet and bad cell service for much of its life) and which had one hour sessions and one hour breaks, which encourage interaction.
He was certainly a man of many accomplishments, but he wasn't alone. One of his contemporaries was David Rittenhouse, America's foremost astronomer. He measured the Transit of Venus in 1769, observed Uranus, was a member of the Philosophical Society and a Trustee of the College of Philadelphia, and was Professor of Astronomy there for three years. He constructed the first deliberately made diffraction grating and all but performed the first measurement of the wavelength of light. He did everything but the final calculations, feeling he had done enough to answer the questions raised by fellow Philosophical Society member Francis Hopkinson. You can calculate the values from his measurements. It remained for the British scientist Thomas Young to repeat the measurements and do the needed calculations two decades later.

Hopkinson was on the committee that designed the US Flag (Betsy Ross was not in any way involved), and it has been argued that he suggested putting that canton filled with (at present 50) stars in the upper left as a tribute to astronomer Rittenhouse.
__________________
"Blue, Navy Blue, he's as blue as he can be;
'Cause my steady boy said "Avatar!" and joined the Na'avi."
  #26  
Old 12-13-2018, 11:56 AM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
2018 Midterm Prediction Winner
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 20,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
To me a more interesting observation is how simultaneous discoveries are sometimes made with absolutely no connection, and by people significantly separated by distance, culture, and language. I guess coincidence can explain it -- I got nothing better


1.) Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (12361311) and his student Kamāl al-Dīn al-Fārisī (1267 1319) published an account of the formation of the rainbow by refraction and reflection within spherical raindrops. They performed experiments with spherical flasks of water to visualize the paths of rays within the raindrop for both primary and secondary rainbows. They also are the first ones to see (in the "laboratory" the tertiary rainbow. at almost the same time, Theodoric of Freibourg (AKA Dietrich, AKA Thierry) (c. 1250 c. 1310) did the same thing. His extant drawings look as if they could come from a modern optics textbook. Aside from having the sun on a nearby "sky hemisphere", it's pretty modern-looking. He correctly shows the light rays in the primary and secondary rainbow, and shows how the paths are slightly different for different colors.

al-Farisi and al-Shirazi worked in Persia, modern-day Iran, while Theodoric was in France -- some 2,000 miles apart. There's been no path of communication traced between them. They both drew on the same reference works, but it's a huge step from them to both the experimental and theoretical explanation of the rainbow they both came up with. and for hundreds of years afterwards people trying to explain the rainbow appear to have been unaware of their work, and took completely wrong paths. How and why these two groups, separated in space, language, and culture (but not time) explained the rainbow in the same way and using the same experiments is a mystery to me.

2.) The variability of stars and the measurement of the periods of variation was, I have argued, known in the ancient world (and papers over the past two decades show that classical scholars and astro-historians are coming to agree), but the first big burst of measurement, after a few efforts in the 17th and 17th century, really came in the 18th. These people knew of each other, so it's not surprising that there should be several doing it at the same time. What amazes me is that a deaf British teenager -- John Goodricke -- and a solitary German amateur -- Johan Gerg Palitzsh -- both measured the period of variability beta Persei (Algol) and came up with almost precisely the same value at almost precisely the same time. Their results were published as contiguous articles in the Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1783. It's not as if this was a suddenly hot topic, or that articles on variable stars were extremely common. The times between publications were generally pretty large. That they should both make the same observation at the same time, with no communication between them or their associates is pretty odd.
The same thing happened with calculus.

I'm guessing because science and technology are like a pyramid, each layer is built on the previous layer. Perhaps people are just born when what constitutes cutting edge is the same and they discover the same thing.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion
  #27  
Old 12-13-2018, 01:14 PM
CalMeacham's Avatar
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 43,134
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
The same thing happened with calculus.

I'm guessing because science and technology are like a pyramid, each layer is built on the previous layer. Perhaps people are just born when what constitutes cutting edge is the same and they discover the same thing.
I don't doubt that this is true, and the fact that multiple geniuses have access to the same background information means that it's not all that surprising when more than one of them makes the same discoveries at about the same time.

What makes the case of al Farisi , al Shirazi, and Theodoric different is that the background material was available for hundreds of years (if you regard Alhazen as the needed background. Otherwise it's arguably a thousand years), yet the discovery of the rainbow light paths was simultaneous (to well within 20 years), then just as rapidly forgotten. That's not the usual pattern at all.
__________________
"Blue, Navy Blue, he's as blue as he can be;
'Cause my steady boy said "Avatar!" and joined the Na'avi."
  #28  
Old 12-13-2018, 06:17 PM
commasense's Avatar
commasense commasense is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Atlanta area
Posts: 6,138
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
The same thing happened with calculus.

I'm guessing because science and technology are like a pyramid, each layer is built on the previous layer. Perhaps people are just born when what constitutes cutting edge is the same and they discover the same thing.
And of course, the most famous expression of that concept -- "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants," -- comes from Isaac Newton, one of the two "inventors" of calculus.

Last edited by commasense; 12-13-2018 at 06:21 PM.
  #29  
Old 12-13-2018, 10:14 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
2018 Midterm Prediction Winner
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 20,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by commasense View Post
And of course, the most famous expression of that concept -- "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants," -- comes from Isaac Newton, one of the two "inventors" of calculus.
When you consider how rudimentary and embryonic math, science and technology were in the 17th century, that statement just sounds kind of ludicrous today. He really didn't have shoulders of giants to stand on. Obviously he didn't invent math and other people contributed both in contemporary and historical times. But the amount of knowledge a person could tap into to create new knowledge was rudimentary back then. But still, without it he couldn't have invented his theories.

Of course humans in the 24th century will consider our math, science, medicine and technology to be embryonic and rudimentary too. They'll probably look at our understanding of natural sciences like we are children who are just learning the alphabet.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion

Last edited by Wesley Clark; 12-13-2018 at 10:14 PM.
  #30  
Old 12-13-2018, 10:16 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
Quote:
Originally Posted by commasense View Post
And of course, the most famous expression of that concept -- "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants," -- comes from Isaac Newton, one of the two "inventors" of calculus.
I like the way Murray Gell-Mann puts it:

"If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs".
  #31  
Old 12-13-2018, 10:50 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is online now
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,834
The primary set of shoulders Newton stood on were those of Galileo, plus an assist from Kepler... but that was for his physics work. The only precursors to calculus that I know of came from Archimedes, and that was even more ancient for Newton and Leibnitz.

(Galileo did in fact do some musings on the subject of proto-calculus, but his work was so wrong there that he had his shoulders buried underground)
  #32  
Old 12-14-2018, 02:06 AM
septimus's Avatar
septimus septimus is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: The Land of Smiles
Posts: 18,142
Joseph-Louis Lagrange, among others, credits Pierre de Fermat rather than either Newton or Leibniz as "inventor of calculus."
  #33  
Old 12-17-2018, 01:09 AM
Mijin's Avatar
Mijin Mijin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Shanghai
Posts: 8,687
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
When you consider how rudimentary and embryonic math, science and technology were in the 17th century, that statement just sounds kind of ludicrous today.
Science? Yes. Maths and technology, no.

Mathematics already had a pretty rich history by that point. And "technology" is not only iPhones; it's basically any tool-building, which is a thing humans were doing before they were even humans.

However, point taken: the progress before Newton looks painfully slow compared to what followed. Newton was a pioneer of the scientific method.

-------------------

We should also grant that Newton's studies of the occult built on an ancient tradition of mysticism and religiosity and he made...equal progress to anyone else on those topics
  #34  
Old 12-17-2018, 09:09 AM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is offline
2018 Midterm Prediction Winner
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 20,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
Science? Yes. Maths and technology, no.

Mathematics already had a pretty rich history by that point. And "technology" is not only iPhones; it's basically any tool-building, which is a thing humans were doing before they were even humans.

However, point taken: the progress before Newton looks painfully slow compared to what followed. Newton was a pioneer of the scientific method.

-------------------

We should also grant that Newton's studies of the occult built on an ancient tradition of mysticism and religiosity and he made...equal progress to anyone else on those topics
I'm not A mathematician or a physicist, but when I was in college the implication was that credited math courses start with calculus and physics starts with classical mechanics.

Obviously there is math before calculus. Arithmetic, algebra, trig, geometry, etc which predated Newton. But for the purposes of higher education credits, none seem to count until you get to calculus.

So it seems like the most rudimentary tools of modern math and physics started with Newton.

I thought bacon invented the scientific method. Maybe it was more of a transitional process that sped up during the scientific revolution, I don't know.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion

Last edited by Wesley Clark; 12-17-2018 at 09:12 AM.
  #35  
Old 12-17-2018, 10:34 AM
Mijin's Avatar
Mijin Mijin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Shanghai
Posts: 8,687
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
I'm not A mathematician or a physicist, but when I was in college the implication was that credited math courses start with calculus and physics starts with classical mechanics.

Obviously there is math before calculus. Arithmetic, algebra, trig, geometry, etc which predated Newton. But for the purposes of higher education credits, none seem to count until you get to calculus.

So it seems like the most rudimentary tools of modern math and physics started with Newton.
I don't follow your logic.
It's not that college students don't need algebra. It's just assumed they did this already in the preceding 13 years of studying maths.
Besides, what you do before or during college is somewhat flexible; if I study calculus in high school does that mean it's now not part of modern (true scotsman) math?

Secondly remember the context for this. Even if the teaching of mathematics were to begin with calculus, that does not mean that a statement of "standing on the shoulders of giants" is necessarily wrong. Calculus may have folded in the preceding mathematics in a neat way that we don't need to teach those topics separately. That's *if* it were true that teaching started there.

Quote:
I thought bacon invented the scientific method. Maybe it was more of a transitional process that sped up during the scientific revolution, I don't know.
I said Newton was *a* pioneer. Not the inventor.

Last edited by Mijin; 12-17-2018 at 10:37 AM.
  #36  
Old 12-18-2018, 10:49 PM
Sage Rat's Avatar
Sage Rat Sage Rat is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Howdy
Posts: 20,832
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
I thought bacon invented the scientific method. Maybe it was more of a transitional process that sped up during the scientific revolution, I don't know.
I believe that the earliest known form of it was written by Alhazen. I have argued, previously, that the Renaissance was really a spin-off from the Islamic Golden Age. It kicked off the European search for knowledge, then fizzled. That it isn't generally taught in school is probably the biggest oversight in Western European history courses.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:26 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017