03-05-06 - 3


Read a tiny crappy thing about Copernicus in the NYT and it made me think along this line : when I read about old scientists like Copernicus, Darwin, Newton, etc. one of the things that always strikes me as being so different is the concept of working alone over such long periods of time, and coming out at the end with this work that's ground-breaking. I know this is somewhat of a fantasy, but to some extent it did happen back then. The loner scientist could work on an idea that they'd hardly talk to anyone about, sometimes over many decades, and over all that time no one else had come to the same idea and beat them to the punch. These days it's hard to imagine doing anything like that, you have to work from a base which is already highly developed, you have to work with a team, and you have to work very fast, and even then your idea is probably a small step, and many other people are surely working on the same thing. The last thing that I can think of that's similar was Einstein's General Relativity, where he really did disappear into his office in his home in Princeton from 1911-1915, and when he emerged there was this new idea which no one else was working on. (which of course is not really true, since Einstein got a lot of help from others and was frequently publishing his progress and giving talks).

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old rants