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12/14/09 / Jaquith

On genius and polymaths

I wrote something similar before, but it occurred to me while driving that the canons of so many disciplines are comprised of the works of just a few men. How does it come to be like that? It’s like a big bang of sorts: the early minutes of a new discipline are intense, characterized by startling and rapid discoveries by a handful of players. Then, over time, that intensity disperses as more practitioners enter the discipline; rate of advancement slows as the discipline expands its reach until it begins to encroach on other disciplines’ territories (think biology and chemistry being boiled down to physics, or physics encroaching on math and philosophy).

For example, we talk about the same people in such respected professions as math, physics, and philosophy that revolutionized those fields of study centuries and even millenia ago:

Math: Euclid, Pythagoras, Reimann, Fermat, Newton, Leibniz, Pascal, Fibonacci, Laplace, Euler, Cantor, Descartes

Physics: Newton, Maxwell, Schrodinger, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Feynman, Gauss, Fermi, Tesla, Planck, Euler

Philosophy: Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche, Hume, Kant, Descartes, Hegel, Leibniz, Marx, Spinoza, A.N. Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, Sartre

Communication: Aristotle, Burke, Dewey, Mills, Habermas, Foucault

And then, even in these fields, you notice some overlap. Some minds were so brilliant – and working in an area of study so infant and fertile – that their discovering and contributions fell into several disciplines after disciplinary boundaries solidified over time.

Life accounting

I failed accounting in college but maybe I can get a better macroscopic grasp on life accounting…



  1. Housing
    • Rent

      • Monthly rent
      • Renter's insurance
    • Own

      • Monthly mortgage
      • Homeowner's insurance
      • Taxes
      • Maintenance

        • Parts and equipment
        • Service cost


  2. Transportation
    • Public transportation

      • Taxes
      • Fare
    • Car

      • Registration
      • Monthly loan
      • Car insurance
      • Taxes
      • Driver's license
      • Gas
      • Maintenance

        • Parts and equipment
        • Service cost


  3. Food and beverages
    • Groceries
    • Dining out
    • Drinks/cocktails

      • Wine
      • Happy hour
      • Beer


  4. Health
    • Health insurance
    • Gym membership
    • Vitamins and supplements
    • Doctor visits

      • Physician
      • Dentist

        • Braces
        • Fillings
        • Surgery
      • Optometrist

        • Eyeglasses
        • Contacts
        • Surgery


  5. Entertainment/self-improvement
    • Movies

      • DVDs
      • Theater
    • Books

      • Library fines
    • Magazine subscriptions
    • Music

      • CDs, MP3s
      • Concerts
    • Seminars
    • Vacations

      • Gambling
      • Road trips
      • Flights
      • Hotels
      • Rental cars


  6. Electronics
    • Extended warranty/insurance
    • Computer
    • Television
    • Camera
    • Music player


  7. Utilities
    • Water
    • Electricity
    • Cable
    • Cell phone
    • Garbage disposal


  8. Casualties
    • Illness

      • Disability insurance
    • Theft
    • Accidents
    • Loss
    • Citations (traffic tickets, etc.)


  9. Other
    • Clothing
    • Gifts

      • Birthdays
      • Weddings
      • Anniversaries
      • Graduations
      • Babies


  1. Work
    • Skills
    • Education
    • Confidence
    • Experience
    • Intelligence
    • Ambition
    • Luck


  2. Inheritance
    • Good relationships
    • Luck


  3. Lottery
    • Luck
    • Persistence

And this is without having any kids of your own!

Of course there isn’t an easily discernible 1:1 or even 1-to-many mathematical relationship between the right and left columns, but I find the exercise elucidating in putting the importance of the intangible elements in the right column into perspective. That is, confidence, intelligence, ambition, etc. – those intangibles ultimately let us afford the various tangibles (products, services) upon which our capitalist society is based.

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