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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Mar 23, 2022


Erik Hoel has an interesting new essay, Why We Stopped Making Einsteins. It argues that an apparent decline in great minds is caused by the replacement of aristocratic tutoring by ordinary education.

Hoel worries we’re running out of geniuses:

Consider how rare true world-historic geniuses are now-a-days, and how different it was in the past. In “Where Have All the Great Books Gone?” Tanner Greer uses Oswald Spengler, the original chronicler of the decline of genius back in 1914, to point out our current genius downturn […]

There are a bunch of other analyses (really, laments) of a similar nature I could name, from Nature’s “Scientific genius is extinct” to The New Statesman’s “The fall of the intellectual” to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Where have all the geniuses gone?” to Wired’s” “The Difficulty of Discovery (Where Have All The Geniuses Gone?) to philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel’s “Where are all the Fodors?” to my own lamentation on the lack of leading fiction writers.

If you disagree, I’ll certainly admit that finding irrefutable evidence for a decline of genius is difficult—intellectual contributions are extremely hard to quantify, the definition of genius is always up for debate, and any discussion will necessarily elide all sorts of points and counterpoints. But the numbers, at least at first glance, seem to support the anecdotal. Here’s a chart from Cold Takes’ “Where’s Today’s Beethoven?” Below, we can see the number of acclaimed scientists (in blue) and artists (in red), divided by the effective population (total human population with the education and access to contribute to these fields).