The world is too big to know

We are drawn to edges, to our own/parapets and sea-walls. - Robin Robertson

I wasn't going to blog this piece, but having run across a related post that helpfully makes a point I had missed earlier, I will. This ranking of the world's most influential thinkers "uses network analysis similar to Google page rank" to compile its results.

Fair enough. The key word, though, is "influential."

According to "The World's Most Influential Thinkers Revealed" at Technology Review - yes, there is some sarcasm in that lede - influence comes in descending order beginning with economists and political theorists, which in my current charitable frame mind is not the best way to start any list of big thinkers. Technology Review hastens to add that the list is dominated by thinkers in the west and that the source material was generally written in English. It doesn't mention the fact, raised in the comments section, that the overwhelming majority of those that are listed are men. That of course has to change.

My point is that to have influence one must have standing. But as you read this, there may be a mind trapped by mental illness or chemical dependency that nonetheless holds within its folds a workable theory that unifies quantum mechanics and general relativity, or, because this influential mind of the future is only now discovering the talent, might be able to lay down meter with the spare, haunted and elegiac geometry of a Robin Robertson. Her influence will be aesthetic. And if I may: we need poets now more than ever.

In fact, we need every kind of mind.

Moreover, the world, like any "best-of" list, is much too big to know with any completeness. I am as heartened by that fact as I am saddened by people in possession of One Big Idea. I'm also certain that the wonderfully talented and influential people first mentioned by Technology Review share this common trait: they have restless and curious minds. Not knowing drives them toward vast expanses that empty ever onward, and like many before and many to come, they are motivated by reasons they may not understand and by finds that will demand from them answers, the only suitable ransom for the new questions they now have. They are pricked and poisoned. They are urgent, these people. Some find themselves at the IdeaFestival.

We hope you will too. Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee