Anyone who wishes to make advances in a particular intellectual area have essentially two options:
- Be an uber-deathgod-genius like Newton or Einstein, or:
- Learn everything that came before you in that field, and then work to advance it.
Wait, scratch the first one–both Newton and Einstein studied existing work extensively before making their contributions.
Anyway, there’s one situation to avoid: Being the brilliant idiot. You know the guy…the one who always has these “awesome” ideas that his three friends think are proof he’s an undiscovered gem of an intellectual.
What neither he nor his fans know is that the brilliant insights he keeps having are mere glimpses of fully thought-out concepts, and that they already have names and books written about them. And those books were written hundreds of years ago.
So this person who could have contributed something to the world instead goes through life partially discovering old things, yet thinking he’s on to something new.
What’s his crime? A lack of education–that’s the crime. One can argue about who’s fault that is, but it matters not. There is only one solution to the problem, and that is to teach budding intellectuals a very basic concept:
Don’t automatically assume that you’re brilliant little idea is new or interesting. In fact, assume the opposite. Learn all you can about the work that has been done in a given field before you attempt to advance it.
Failure to do this ensures that as you attempt to stand on the shoulders of those before you, you’ll only end up around the belly button. ::