CHAPTER 14: FINDING THE PROPER EXPERT
I have pointed out that it is unfair that no one knows who invented the wheel and have also said it is unfair that no one knows who was inspired by the wheel to build the first chariot. But what is really unfair is when the chariot maker claims he also invented the wheel.
Suppose Tom, who invented the wheel, is talking to Fred. Tom is excited. He has even made a couple of samples by baking wheel-shaped clay in his kiln. As Tom demonstrates how easily his wheels roll around, Fred admits they are cute, but then adds that he has an idea. Can Tom bake him a couple of wheels with holes in the center? Tom is happy to oblige. Poor naive Tom.
Later, Fred, an engineering genius, uses a round stick as an axle to connect the two wheels, builds a platform to sit on top of the axle, and invents the tongue so his horse can pull the entire contraption. Mounting the platform, he and his horse race to the village to show his chariot to his friends.
His friends are properly amazed. Fred points out that he feels safe traveling almost as fast as a man riding on a horse, a new feat that few have dared try. Fred also notes that he stands higher than those around him and one arm is free to hold a sword and strike down at their enemy. Fred is the toast of his village. He does not mention Tom.
Without the internet, this travesty could not have been avoided.
In the future, however, the internet can make sure this entire process is observed. Both the friends of a future Tom and the friends of a future Fred will see everything. The friends of a future Tom will make sure he receives proper credit. We will live in a world that is more fair.
. . . .
I have entered a large number of essay competitions, including the Elizabeth Sloan Tyler Memorial prose contest sponsored by The Woven Tale Press. One of DeWitt Henry's tasks, at both Solstice and The Woven Tale Press, was to judge essays. I am very grateful that he felt my entry was worthy of inclusion in a future issue of WTP.
Maybe I am also grateful to someone else – a very important someone else.
Sometimes judges at publications do not read every entry. Someone on the staff selects entries they consider worthy of the judge's attention. Maybe I owe a debt of gratitude to someone on the staff. Maybe this person is not like me. Maybe this person exists. Maybe I should think more about this person.
Maybe this hypothetical person selected my essay because he knew DeWitt liked science or she personally liked science. Better the latter.
Suppose she is an interested non-expert in the science-loving group. The experts in this group are probably science writers. Science is such a diverse field that no one can become a recognized expert scientist. You can become an expert quantum physicist or an expert microbiologist specializing in something, but you cannot become an expert scientist.
Further suppose, having read my essay or, better still, this book, she mentions it to another science-loving non-expert. One important thing to remember is few, if any of us, love all science equally. Some would rather study human cells, some would rather study bugs, some would rather study the stars. Another important thing to remember is our time is limited, we must choose what we read and what we ignore.
In today's world, when I say “she mentions it”, this may well mean she posts it to social media or her blog – along with tags that specify what my essay or book is about.
Before social media, “she mentions it” might mean she said to a friend something like “I read a book about quantum physics you may like”.
Today, “she mentions it” might mean that she has said to a thousand social media friends:
I read a book about quantum physics you may like;
I read a book about microbiology you may like;
I read a book about cosmology you may like;
I read a book about psychiatry you may like.
Out of a thousand social media friends, one has no interest in reading the fine literature produced by the literary elite. In fact, he is bored with most writing. He is only interested in two subjects. We are not concerned with the first, stamp collecting. We are interested in the other, microbiology.
He has a microscope and has always been fascinated by cellular processes. He will read both technical and non-technical journals, as long as the primary subject is microbiology. He is an active non-expert in the microbiology group. He knows of the work and theories of the experts. He may have even arranged to meet some of this group's experts.
Now, with luck, he will know of some of my strange ideas.
I want to find the proper expert, the guy out there somewhere, who when exposed to my weird thoughts, will open his eyes and view his own work in a different way. He will have an eureka moment and see how his own research can be improved and changed, how he can now make our world better, fairer, less unpleasant. He will understand how to nurture one of my seeds of optimism buried in a flowerbed of pessimism so that it grows and blooms.
I don't care if he is praised for the flower, but I want credit for the seed.
If there are ten people who are like me, i.e., members of the literary elite group, all are much less likely to be close to this microbiology expert who is not like me, than this non-expert who is not like me. I want this non-expert to read my book.
The name of the game is to get noticed, to be noticed by that wonderful expert, no matter who or where he is, who can be inspired by a seed of optimism to produce a beautiful flower for all mankind. I have planted many seeds. I need many experts.
The interested, non-expert is more important to me than ten people like me. If he reads my book, he will be inspired and tell the expert microbiologist who will open his eyes and see vast possibilities – except that is not what I am saying at all. It is much more complicated.
My ideas are not just strange, but very complex. Asking an expert if he has, while pursuing his work, considered one of my ideas would be pointless. He would need to read my book and he doesn't have time.
With social media, our non-expert could recommend my book to any expert microbiologist who shares a group with him. I suspect he would be ignored, so let us return to his original microbiologist group where both he and the expert are not like me.
With social media, our non-expert may either accidentally or intentionally share his recommendations of this book with other non-experts in the group. Many of these people have time to read.
I have a theory. Five people in a group not like me are more powerful than fifty people in a group of people like me. If five separate people in this microbiologist group, either directly or via social media, tell the expert he should read my book, he will finally open his eyes and read. I will have been noticed and he might well produce a spectacular flower that will benefit all mankind.
They say you should hold your friends close, but your enemies closer – the idea being you want to keep a close watch on your enemies. I don't think of people not like me as enemies, but I do want to keep friends like DeWitt Henry close, while trying to keep people not like me closer.
If I can use non-experts to find proper experts, I will have helped mankind. But this story is not quite finished.
Our expert microbiologist, for example, will be praised for his work. He will hold his flower high and give short, modest speeches about his brilliance. His life will be better – except he suddenly has five non-expects demanding at least a minimum amount of credit. He reluctantly decides that if he must give any credit away, it should go to me.
Finally, I hope you can understand why I want to appeal to people unlike me.