March 3, 2009

Theme of the day

Productive mediocrity requires discipline of an ordinary kind. It is safe and threatens no one. Nothing will be changed by mediocrity; mediocrity is completely predictable. It doesn't make the powerful and self-satisfied feel insecure. It doesn't require freedom, because it doesn't do anything unexpected. Mediocrity is the opposite of what we call "genius." Mediocrity gets perfectly mundane things done on time. But genius is uncontrolled and uncontrollable. You cannot produce a work of genius according to a schedule or an outline. As Leonardo knew, it happens through random insights resulting from unforeseen combinations. Genius is inherently outside the realm of known disciplines and linear career paths. Mediocrity does exactly what it's told, like the docile factory workers envisioned by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

h/t Mental multivitamin from How to Procrastinate Like Leonardo da Vinci


I just finished John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction. Much of his emphasis is on how schooling carefully cultivates medocrity, in part by rewarding exactly the type of punctuality and organization that gets you good grades and guarantees you'll be a good little mindless worker bee when you graduate. He rails against schools' monopolization of time, eliminating the possibility of large chunks of alone time that allow you to be with your own "non productive" creative thoughts.

From Monique in email in response to the article above by Mental Multivitamin.


The highlight, predictably, was lunch with some of the graduate students, where we got to let our hair down and talk about big ideas concerning time and causality and determinism. (Almost all professional academics start out fascinated by big ideas, but the interest is gradually beaten out of them along the way by the demands of professionalism and career advancement. Grad school is probably the peak combination of background knowledge and willingness to confront the hard problems.)
h/t Cosmic Variance

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