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Monday, January 16, 2006

No New Einstein

I've often lamented the dearth of new class acts in the footsteps of the great composers, architects like Sir Christopher Wren, et co. I might now have my answer in Sheldon Hirsch's response to John Horgan in the Jan 15 New York Times Book Review.

It seems that the reason why there hasn't been a second coming of Einstein is an example of a generalized phenomenon discussed by Stephen Jay Gould in Full House.


As a complex system matures, it equilibrates and variation decreases.

The entire system moves closer to a limiting wall of attainable achievement, and the bell curve of abilities and accomplishments becomes more vertical than horizontal. Standard deviations from the norm decrease.

This explains not only the absence of a second Einstein but also of another Beethoven, .400 hitter in baseball, and 100-point game in basketball.

The diminution of variation that typically accompanies 'the rise in general excellence' also explains the preponderance of draw games in chess, decrease in scoring in soccer and the closeness of recent presidential elections (with 'excellence' referring to campaign strategies rather than candidates), and has major implications, Gould writes, for theories of evolution.

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