Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Purpose of Lists

@Jason_Silva argues that to understand is to perceive patterns. He has produced a list of people he calls pattern seekers - those who he thinks have made a profound impact on the world by extracting meaning from chaos, and discovering what he calls metapatterns.

@milouness asks why do these lists always have so few women. One possible answer to Carmen's question can be determined by looking at the people Jason includes in his list. For example, he credits Watson and Crick for a pattern that was actually discovered by Rosalind Franklin. This is a common error whose explanation is complex - one reason Franklin doesn't receive the popular credit is that she was already dead (of ovarian cancer, as it happens) when Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for their work together. Another reason was that she was more cautious than her male colleagues about publishing speculative models without further empirical evidence. This omission suggests that Jason is unaware of the detail from which his claimed pattern emerges.

Jason's list seems to have been hastily assembled from the obvious intellectual celebrities of the twentieth century, and therefore merely reinforces established celebrity rather than identifying underrated genius. I'm sorry, but I don't see such lists as contributing very much to our understanding of anything. Is a list just a journalistic meme for having nothing much to say?

See also Zeitgeist magazine reveals the top lists of 2011 (Newsbiscuit).

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