Oct 012012

All my life I had believed Isaac Newton created Calculus. I’d heard repeatedly that he was an unparalleled genius. Possibly one of the smartest men ever to have existed (if a bit of a dick).

Last week I learned that Calculus was created at the same time and independently by Gottfried Leibniz as well.

Which is not to detract from Newton’s genius, or Leibniz’s. Obviously they were fantastically brilliant. But it strikes home again how much depends on the environment. Once the groundwork is lain, an idea can come to fruition, and not before. But once the land is ripe and the soil is ready, the idea will spring up with force and push its way into existence. The history of invention (and much of science*) is littered with these simultaneous, independent discoveries of seemingly unique concepts.

This is both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that it seems we can’t rush advances we need NOW. Tons of background work has to be done first, the overall level of knowledge in the human race must reach a critical threshold first. No matter how much you need that wheat, you can’t plant it on Mars until you’ve done massive amounts of terraforming.

The good news is, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton to contribute to the advancement of the human race. The tree provides the fruit, but the soil bacteria are critical to the process. I can contribute to the general pool of knowledge in small ways to make the environment richer and more hospitable to the genius-level advancements that I don’t have the ability to produce personally. If you have the mental ability, pursue a career in the sciences. Become a researcher. You can work as a lab technician with little more than a high school degree and some training. Speak and vote for greater scientific exploration and funding whenever the topic comes up. Help spread a love of advancement and a knowledge of rationality. Help make this a world where scientists are rock-stars.


*Also art, but I’m not sure how applicable that is, since art is entirely about what people are ready for and doesn’t rest on knowledge.

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