Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Skeptoid on Spotify   iTunes   Google Play

Members Portal

Support Us Store


Get a Free Book



Is Scientific Genius Over?

by Stephen Propatier

February 6, 2013

Share Tweet Reddit

Donate Is scientific genius extinct? A recent Fox news article proposes just this question. Fox news is not a world renown science reporting outlet, butnowadays who is? I would disagree with the premise that scientific genius is extinct. Science is just a little more complicated than that.

"Modern-day science has little room for the likes of Galileo, who first used the telescope to study the sky, or Charles Darwin, who put forward the theory of evolution, argues a psychologist and expert in scientific genius.Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California, Davis, says that just like the ill-fated dodo, scientific geniuses like these men havegone extinct."

In some ways, true. Ground breaking work about Evolution and Astronomy still happens but it is mostly incremental/cumulative.

The author quotes Dean Simonton "Future advances are likely to build on what is already known rather than alter the foundations of knowledge, Simonton writes in a commentary published in Thursday's issue of the journalNature."

It is wrong to assume that prior scientific knowledge is "genius", and subsequentinnovationis somehow less.FranklyI think that he is minimizing how science works. Singular researchers working in an isolated location, counter to all knowledge, is usually ascientificfail, not genius. Fringe/pseudoscienceuses this perception to promote non-scientific ideas. Ideas based upon a "real genius". Thestereotypical, isolated brilliant individual avoiding the trappings of education IE: Good Will Hunting. This narrative is used to support implausible ideas by fringe scientists. It is morelikelythat they are fringe researchers because other opinions are not welcome. Could a single person build and run the LHC, a fusion reactor, or the hubble space telescope? I think not. Science is not a end result, it is a process. A process that relies on what we know to learn about what we don't know.

"An end to momentous leaps forward?
For the past century, no truly original disciplines have been created; instead new arrivals are hybrids of existing ones, such as astrophysics or biochemistry. It has also become much more difficult for an individual to make groundbreaking contributions, since cutting-edge work is often done by large, well-funded teams, he argues.What's more, almost none of the natural sciences appear ripe for a revolution.Sherrilyn Roush, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California. "The core disciplines have accumulated not so much anomalies as mere loose ends that will be tidied up one way or another," he writes."

The fact that most science can be broadly categorized into labels says nothing about the level of genius involved. Secondly I think it is only human arrogance that leads us to believe that we are at the end ofknowledgeas opposed to the beginning. Worse is the idea that "loose ends" are all that remains to be learned.

I am not a leadingacademician but in my humble experience scientific knowledge has glaring gaps. There is plenty of room for "Genius". Medicine has problems much bigger than just "Loose Ends". There are gaps in knowledge; cellular aging, brain function, psychiatry, immunology, infectious disease. I think it would be "genius" to discoverpreciselyhow prions function. It would be "genius" to develop a method to clone complete replacement organs in vitro. Organ cloning is science fiction right now. It is possible given what we know and it would change human lifespan dramatically.

Medicine is my discipline but it is an example of "room for genius". I only have a passing knowledge of other fields. Still I see greatopportunityfor changing what we know about the universe, ourselves, and reality. Great cosmological questions like what is Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the true nature of the cosmos? In physics; a quantum theory of gravity, "theory ofeverything", andpossibilitiesofmultipledimensions. In biology the true origin of life on earth. Thepossibilityofcompletelydifferentlife forms on other planets IE: silicon life. We only have our small speck of the universe and what we can learn atdistancesfor examples. The list goes on and on. Seems more than just a few loose ends are left.

Now is anexcitingtime to be alive. I would call now the beginning of understanding, not the end. We have huge amounts to learn about ourselves, the universe, and reality. We are standing on a soapbox at the bottom of the hill. We still have a lot of climbing to do.

The perception that pastscientific genius was superior or done in avacuumis itself a fallacy. Einstein is widelyregardedas a genius yet he did not invent the science of physics. Nor did he personally develop the physics behind the speed of light measurements. He did endNewtonianphysics as a primary theory, yet he used Newton's Calculus to figure it out. Living genius like Stephen Hawking built on his knowledge. No science takes place in avacuumand it does not minimize the genius involved.

Genius, whatever that means, is still open for all.For the first time in human history we have a reliable tool to learn and develop current knowledge. Galileowas a groundbreaking scientist because he lived in a time whensuperstitionandreligiousdogma surrounded human knowledge. Science was new. He helped us to learn that science is the best way to discover. It is not depressing that we have the "giants" of science to stand on. It isexhilarating. We will always have more to learn. Science history has taught us thatevery timewe think we are at the end of knowledge, we are at thebeginning. Genius is not extinct, we just lack the "Genius" to see the possibilities.

by Stephen Propatier

Share Tweet Reddit

@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit








Want more great stuff like this?

Let us email you a link to each week's new episode. Cancel at any time: