[Link] Distance from Harvard

by GLaDOS 1 min read16th Oct 201313 comments


Related: Loss of local knowledge affecting intellectual trends, The Hyborian Age

This post is from Gregory Cochran's and Henry Harpending's excellent blog West Hunter.

Barry Marshall once said that if he had gone to Harvard, he would have known that stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and wouldn’t even have considered the possibility that they might be caused by a bacterium.  There are a number of other important innovators that sure look as if they benefited from living as far as possible from  the sources of establishment opinion.  Back when continental drift was officially nonsense,  quite a few geologists in South Africa and Australia thought it must be correct – partly because there are local geological facts that are hard to explain any other way (like ancient glacial moraines in Australia whose rocks originated in South Africa) but also because physical distance translates into mental distance.

Of course this does not always work – distance is useful, but not sufficient..  Indonesia is pretty far from Harvard, but is a vast wasteland, intellectually.  Ideally, you want a country full of people drawn from the  populations that actually produce creative thinkers (Europeans, mostly) instead of the populations that ought to but don’t.  And it should be really, really far away.

With the Internet and cell phones and all that,  psychological isolation is harder to find. Once even California had some thoughts of its own, but that day is long past. If we want to keep progress from stalling out, we need people that don’t get sucked into to the usual crap – because they can’t.

The only real solution is interstellar colonization: the speed of light is your friend.  A generation ship might do the job -  even if it never arrived. It would be out there for hundreds of years, years in which the inhabitants could go their own way.  Some of the ships would be boring, some of them would go crazy – but at least they’d be different.