From: Scott R (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue Jan 06 2004 - 17:42:02 GMT
> Just as I was about to give up on the possibility for a numerical
> accounting of value at the intellectual/aesthetic level, accepting DMB's
> judgment that values at the third and fourth levels are difficult to
> quantify because "they are more dynamic and therefore exhibit a much less
> consistent pattern of preferences," I happened across a review of book by
> Charles Murray titled "Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in
> the Arts and Sciences from 800 B.C. to 1950."
> Murray's approach is numerical and mathematical, listing 4,002 significant
> individuals over 2,750 years who comprise humanity's all-star team by
> reviewing 167 respected encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, and
> other references, tallying up the size, frequency, and content of the
> entries on specific individuals, then crunching the numbers.
> Using something called the Lotka Curve, Murray established a pattern of
> excellence based on Lotka's observation that most contributors to
> scientific journals write only one article while a tiny few --the giants--
> write dozens.
Or, some contributors have attained celebrity status. How does the solitary
genius who challenges the Kuhnian paradigm get published? Usually, they
>As example of the validity of the Curve, consider golf.
A biological accomplishment. It is rarely difficult to establish betterness
in sporting events (except maybe gymnastics and such).
> More than half of all the professionals have never won a tournament, and
> of those who have won, a majority have won only one. But Jack Nicklaus won
> eighteen majors. As Murray notes, you can come up with as many postmodern
> theories about social construction of reality as you like: It won't change
> the fact that Jack Nicklaus was a much better golfer than most great
> golfers. This pattern tends to hold true for science, art, literature,
> philosophy and every other realm of the human pursuit of excellence.
> Murray makes two factual assertions. The first is that his numbers reflect
> the definitive consensus among those who know what they are talking about.
That is, intersubjective agreement.
> His second claim is that this consensus of opinion reflects objective
> fact. Behind these assertions is the his basic assumption that excellence
> (value) in art, science and philosophy exists and therefore can be
How do you tell whether the high measurement comes from "objective fact", or
whether it comes from some social or scientific fad, like celebrity (science
too has its celebrities)? Carl Sagan is an example in my mind of someone who
was valueless as a thinker outside of his specialty, yet had high celebrity
> This is what I was seeking--an "objective" measure of value at the upper
> levels based on an application of mathematical methods that have been so
> successful at the lower levels. Whether you agree or not with Murray's
> approach, you have to give him credit for pushing boundary that others had
> pretty much given up on.
> What Murray has accomplished IMO is objective proof of Pirsig's basic
> assumption that "some things are better than others" and that betterness
> is NOT just a matter of "whatever I like."
By Murray's methods, Pirsig would be rated nowhere as a philosopher. How
many articles has he had published in academic philosophy journals? How
often is he cited by his "peers", that is, other philosophers? So if you
like Murray's "objective proof", then you should ignore Pirsig.
ZMM was rejected by 30 publishers before it was accepted. What if Pirsig had
given up at 25? The hilarious novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" was also
rejected by everybody, leading the author to kill himself. His mother
finally found a prominent novelist (Walker Percy) to read it, and he got it
published. Now "everybody" sees it as a great novel. How many other
"Confederacy of Dunces", or ZMM's, are there that never made it?
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