Mike the Mad Biologist

Science and the Myth of Solitude

I’ve been meaning to get to this post about Albert Alfred Hitchcock and the auteur myth by Jonah Lehrer. He writes:

I certainly don’t meant to disparage the genius of Hitchcock or Steve Jobs or to defend uninspired data driven design. But it’s also important to remember that nobody creates Vertigo or the iPad by themselves; even auteurs need the support of a vast system. When you look closely at auteurs, what you often find is that their real genius is for the the assembly of creative teams, trusting the right people with the right tasks at the right time. Sure, they make the final decisions, but they are choosing between alternatives created by others. When we frame auteurs as engaging in the opposite of collaboration, when we obsess over Hitchcock’s narrative flair but neglect Lehman’s script, or think about Jobs’ aesthetic but not Ive’s design (or the design of those working for Ives), we are indulging in a romantic vision of creativity that rarely exists. Even geniuses need a little help.


I can’t help but think that this also applies to science. Yes, Einstein figured out relativity while he was a postal clerk (although even then, he corresponded regularly with others). But most of us aren’t Einstein. Many honest, self-aware PIs will tell you that the success of their labs depends largely on the brains of the people they bring into the lab. And as science moves towards a more collaborative mode, I think we’ll see this myth of the genius–as opposed to the brilliant organizer and manager–break down.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    August 18, 2011

    It is my information that Einstein was employed by the Swiss Patent Office, not the Swiss Postal Office.

  2. #2 Wilfred
    August 20, 2011

    SLC is right. Furthermore he had a good education.

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