Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Choice of Companions

I've been reading the book Einstein and the Generations of Science, an older work by sociologist of science Lewis Feuer who argues that amongst all the other factors in creating scientific revolutions, a major aspect that is overlooked is the choice of companions. Revolutionaries are not lone rangers, but rather emerge from groups of really smart, interesting, revolution-minded friends. He quotes Ignazio Silone:

"The revolt of a young man against tradition is a frequent occurrence in all times and all countries, and it rarely happens without at least some ambiguity. Depending on circumstances, the revolt may lead into the Foreign Legion, gangsterism, the film world or political extremism. What defined my revolt was the choice of companions."
Is he right? Is the choice of companions that important?

If so, do electronic companions count? Do on-line companions generate sufficient community to serve this purpose? Would be loners, alienated from those around them can now seek like-minded folks in various forums on the web. Should we expect more and more rapid revolutions in science, the arts, and thought in the coming generations as a result?