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Why were there so many geniuses ?

  1. Sep 7, 2006 #1
    I find it rather odd that there were so many geniuses (famous physicists or mathematicians) living in the period around 1850 -1950 (Minkowski, Hilbert, Heisenberg, Pauli, Einstein, Noether, etc.). It looks like there was a real "boom" of geniuses. I'm not a real believer in astrology, but I just wonder if we just have to wait a 100 year or so to see the new geniuses which will make order in our present chaos.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2006 #2
    Hey!! I resent that. Don't you think that any of us (perhaps member(s) of this forum) could be geniuses!? :tongue: :tongue: :tongue:
  4. Sep 7, 2006 #3


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    One reason was Gauss (and to a lesser extent Cauchy). They set up wonderful mathematical beginnings which attracted a lot of people. The roots of Riemannian Geometry are in Gauss's theory of surfaces (Riemann was Gauss's student). And Cauchy's theory of analytical functions of complex variables became THE subject matter that obsessed mathematicians good and bad during your period. Gauss also introduced the abstract way of looking at numbers which lead to modern algebra (Galois' group theory was picked up long after his death by the already maturing modern algebra of 1850 - 1900).

    Also the huge expansion of the German university system, associated with (a)modernisation of education and (b) unification of Germany produced a lot of jobs for one generation of savants. "Build it and they will come." Unfortunately they kept on coming after the positions were full, leading to the misuse of the Privat-Doszent system, similar to today's gypsy postdoc/untenured Adjunct abortion.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2006
  5. Sep 7, 2006 #4


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    I don't think there are any fewer geniuses today than there were then. In fact, there are probably more people involved in the sciences, and probably more geniuses. Unfortunately, few geniuses are really recognized in textbooks and such until after their deaths -- it takes a lifetime of achievement to be considered a contemporary Gauss.

    Also, keep in mind that science today is a much larger edifice than in the past, so scientists tend to work on only small pieces of it today. The large swaths of mathematical foundation built by early pioneers may seem like larger contributions than the narrow ones made by today's physicists and mathematicians, but I think, in terms of either effort or genius, they are at least on par.

    - Warren
  6. Sep 7, 2006 #5


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    The Victorian Age was the Golden Age of Science. It was an era when upper middle class became common and average folk had enough leisure time and finances to learn, explore and study. It was a time marked by a profound and widespread belief that everything there was to know could be - and indeed would be - explained through rational thought and scientific study.

    This didn't create all those geniuses, but it did nurture them and allow them to prosper, providing a culture that respected - and financed - them.
  7. Sep 7, 2006 #6
    Lets also not forget that that era witnessed several major paradigm shifts in physics, empowered by the earlier significant discoveries of Riemann, Gauss, Poincare, Cauchy, etc. As the saying goes, 1932 was a year when second rate men did first rate work (I forget who said that...). There has been no comparable period in terms of opportunity for discovery in the history of science.
  8. Sep 7, 2006 #7
    I would agree that there are many more geniuses now. Even if education levels stayed the same as the last century, just the sheer population increase alone would increase the amount of true thinkers. I do believe that it is worlds more difficult to make a noticeable difference in humanity now than > 100 years ago though. After all, how difficult would it have been to invent the wheel? Now you have to specialize. Learn the rules, (volumes and volumes of rules) before you break them. You can't deny that people in the distant future will look at our generation like it's the dark ages. It's our job to try and figure out why. Einstein had a good quote: "People who never make mistakes never try anything new." Thinking outside the box is what it's all about.
  9. Sep 10, 2006 #8
    - Because 100 years ago things were "easier" (i have discussed it in several post ) i don't think you must be a "genius" (form me only "Euler" the scientist and Da vinci in the realm of science could be considered as genius) to discover SE (a simple PDE linear equation) or "Photoelectric Effect" or "Wave-matter duality" (the easiest demonstration of all science) or other stupid "stuff" that it could have ocurred to me.

    - The "genius" is seen in a difficult problem...for example "G. Perelman" took ¡¡8 years¡¡ of his life to solve "Poincare Conjecture" that's a genius problem, not the arrogants of 20-th centry, for example Dirac who claimed himself his "wonderful" intelligence but couldn't solve Quantum Gravity problem.... :rolleyes:
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