The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius

by reestheskin on 18/08/2016

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Two articles both from different areas. The first is from an interview with Paul Greengrass (he of ‘Bloody Sunday’, and the Bourne films).

“Youngsters starting out probably aren’t going to be supported and developed like I was in my early career, they’re much more likely be chewed up,” he said. “This places a greater weight on universities like Kingston, which is a breeding ground for talent, to educate kids about the importance of point of view – it’s the easiest thing to lose but the most important thing to hold on to.”

The second in Science, about a likely Nobel prize winner, Rainer Weiss.

Then, in his junior year, Weiss flunked out of school entirely. He fell for a woman he met on a ferry from Nantucket to Boston. “She taught me about folk dancing and playing the piano,” he says. Weiss followed her when she moved to Evanston, Illinois, abandoning his classes in midterm. But the affair fizzled. “I fell in love and went crazy,” he says, “and of course she couldn’t stand to be around a crazy man.” Weiss returned to MIT hoping to take his finals only to find he’d flunked out.

Weiss says he was unfazed. “People say, ‘I failed out of college! My life is over!’ Well, it’s not over. It depends on what you do with it.” He took a job as a technician in MIT’s legendary Building 20, a temporary structure erected during the war, working for Jerrold Zacharias, who studied beams of atoms and molecules with light and microwaves and developed the first commercial atomic clock. Under Zacharias’s tutelage, Weiss finished his bachelor’s degree in 1955 and earned his Ph.D. in 1962.

A later quote from the same article:

After a postdoc at Princeton University developing experimental tests of gravity under physicist Robert Dicke, Weiss returned to MIT in 1964. As a junior faculty member, he says, he published little and didn’t worry about advancing his career. MIT’s Shoemaker says Weiss probably got tenure only for his teaching—and wouldn’t get it today. Bernard Burke, an emeritus physicist at MIT, agrees that early on Weiss was a “happy gadgeteer” who “wasn’t likely to get tenure unless he did something that did something.” 

The echo of how he has lived some of his life is provided by one of his protégés, David Shoemaker

Shoemaker adds that Weiss’s foremost quality is empathy. A college dropout, Shoemaker credits Weiss with getting him into graduate school at MIT without an undergraduate degree. “He sought ways to bring out the best in me,” Shoemaker says. “He also took a rather irregular path, and I think because of that and just his nature, he is really interested in helping people.”

Now, none of this is too surprising. Science and any serious intellectual or cultural endeavour is a way of constructively catching dissent. And dissent clusters: it is not uniform across society, but found on the fringes or boundaries of good sense. But we are no longer focussed on diversity or providing a garden for play. Instead, we are obsessed with homogeneity and forcing all to the mean.

Blake got it right:

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius, But whether he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass & obedient to Noblemen’s Opinions in Art & Science. If he is, he is a Good Man. If not he must be Starved.