Sunday 6 July 2014

On being in a minority (of one, or a few)


I suppose my usual experience of 'intellectual life' - whether in medicine, science or beyond - is being in a minority of just myself, plus or minus a handful of others.

Of course there is a large-ish set of shared assumptions, evidence, modes of reasoning and so on - an area of discourse - but it has been normal for me since I began publishing in the middle-late 1980s too find that nobody else agrees with my 'position'. And it has been normal for many people through intellectual history - or so it seems: the people I read or read-about are sui generis and there is nobody much 'like them'.

Are, for example, The Inklings alike? Are JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis? Only slightly, only in general terms and compared with the average - yet people group and pair them. The reality for both these men for most of the time was that they were in a minority of one, with a handful of others that had some kind of sympathy or interest in their views and productions.

Even in science, most of the good work has been done in the context of very small groups - Invisible Colleges, as they are called - which are the real creative intellectual units.

This is why the modern invention and forcible imposition of 'peer review' - or government of intellectual life by corrupt-committee - has been lethal to real intellectual work. And it explains why intellectual 'influence' is so unsatisfying to the originator - because other people virtually never understand the context of a creation or a discovery in the same context as does the creator.

The creator experiences his discovery or production as having been wrenched from its proper context, misunderstood and misapplied.

And he can do nothing about it. After all, he is in a minority of one!


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