The note to my friend yesterday lead me to thinking about our place in intellectual history. I can’t judge her place, as I don’t know anything about that literary world. My own, however, I am beginning to understand.
First, recall the Lindy Beige example that Lindberg was actually the 92nd person to fly across the Atlantic. Before learning that, I had decided that first known events were unlikely to be the first ever events. For every found Gregor Mendel, there are dozens of people who were seeing the same evidence and recording it. Recording observations of nature was in the zeitgeist, but how to do that and how to organize and present the data was a new thing in the intellectual world, and required a lot of practice for individuals to learn and teach each other.
At the same time, Gregor Mendel could not see his discovery in any perspective, either. Had he known more, he would have seen how important it was for a theory of evolution, as one example. He didn’t, couldn’t. He should have done much more to publicize the results, in retrospect, we might have gained 50 years of biological science had he done so.
People like Gregor Mendel are rarely interested in one thing, for one of very many examples in one of the links in Bayesian Sampling Theory. For all we know, his papers were burned by the abbot who followed him, Gregor also had profound ideas in other areas of science, things never evaluated. Gregor Mendel is only known because of his one published paper and a couple of talks. Apparently no one of his time understood his experiment’s import, only 50 years later were scientists receptive to the idea and rediscovered inheritance independently.
I do not correspond with many people. Few people read my blog, likely nobody in a science community who could evaluate some of my ideas. I can’t evaluate my ideas any better than Gregor Mendel could. Thus, however zeitgeist-changing one of my many ideas likely is imho, the probability of anyone associating that idea with me are low. Chances are maybe improved as compared to Mendel’s world of print, but also maybe much worse as my writings are part of the modern flood of text. Modern search engines don’t help, the combinatorics of memes mean things cannot be found because you have to think of them to search for them.
None of this means I am useless in the process of evolving our culture. In fact, people like me are necessary, we build and evolve the zeitgeist with our thoughts, fleshing out the details, mixing elements to generate new thoughts and sharing those thoughts. It takes a lot of minds to have a complex zeitgeist, hundreds of Mendal wanna-bes waiting to be found by accident, or merely have our ideas taken and re-discovered. You can’t have famous people without many of us providing the environment for them to be famous within, which includes cooperative-participant-producing a constant flow of ideas and points of view for those to-be-famous minds to use.
From the famous man’s pov, people like me are bit players, only his peers have speaking roles. From our POV, none of them could exist without us, they could not have their ideas without our zeitgeist setting each of them up for their individual brilliant thought and the resulting social and scientific success. The Gregor Mendels of the world depend on us, we are integral to their success, their fame, the advancing knowledge and civilization they come to represent.
It is only the limitations of human minds that requires distinguishing some of us as important. Our recognition will come from AIs who can read all of the texts and assign every small advance in thought to the minds who first had it. Famous people will be seen to be completely dependent upon the cumulative thoughts of people like me. An AI teasing out lines of thought from emails and blog posts will better appreciate my contributions, or at least could-have-been-known contributions. I expect that when AIs really exist, we makers of this zeitgeist will all come to be appreciated by those great minds. Our lights will shine as bright as Mendel’s in those minds.**
Another thing making my writings important is that they include links, a necessary part of making Google’s Page Rank algorithm work. Modern civilization depends on search engines, and Page Rank’s effectiveness depends on minds displaying their choices as I do. Given modern storage, I think it likely that my blog posts will continue to be part of intellectual history for 1000s of years.
However tiny that part is, it is larger than zero. I had thoughts. I wrote about those thoughts, shared them, even pushed them into other’s minds. I was one of the zeitgeist’s cooperative minds in my era. I had a part in guiding humanity’s future.
That is my place in intellectual history. I am proud of both my place and my understanding of it. They are a serious responsibility, and I take both seriously.
*I have not been including warnings. Seriously, you should not believe anything you read without careful consideration of whether the facts are true and ideas are in your best interest. Also, warnings disarm your mind, prevent you from being properly critical, so you shouldn’t read them.
Anything that makes a writer seem more human, more like you, is especially dangerous to critical thought, to your ability to think with complexity in pursuing your individual, family and community interests. Barely noticable frames such as the ‘proudly humble’ attitude are especially dangerous to your mind’s critical thinking.
Why do you think we include warnings like this?
**Another kind of immortality I have not seen discussed. Who knows, I may have just founded new religions. Which reminds me, I need to continue that line of thought that puts sex at the heart of all philosophical inquiry. That is a lovely thought, imho, the kind of thing that can produce great insights by colliding thoughts from areas thought to be distinct.