"It's amazing how much 'mature wisdom' resembles being too tired." --Robert Heinlein

The Church of Reality





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Insights from Lost & Found

I wonder what I'll find out next!

This is Matthew Dominic Hunter's 'blog.


Legitimacy, Authority, and the Polymath

If you want to cite a researcher directly, cite them from their own published works, or from repectable, peer-reviewed journals, not random Internet crap.

I snipped the above from an Internet argument (I'm not sure it rises to the level of "flame war") between two scientifically minded persons I've never met. Here's more:

And even when you do cite legitimate researchers, it should be in their field.


I'm one of those people who knows a little bit about a lot. At times I can seem absent-minded, and I write much better than I speak. I can't always remember where I learned something, I'm much better with faces than with names ... but in general I'm an intelligent guy. I would call myself a polymath -- a person of encyclopedic knowledge.

I work as a tax attorney, but I'm new to this field. I have published something in the Federal Register, and some people come to me with questions related to that publication, but I don't think of myself as an expert yet. I'm not even sure I want this to become "my" field!

In a way, being a tax attorney is just a day job for me. I have a wide variety of other interests, a rich life of the mind. I also like keeping my body in shape via running, biking, lifting weights, walking, and other activities. Working for the government allows me these luxuries in a way that private practice would not.

Some people have called me a "Renaissance Man" ... but is that a good thing? That doesn't get me invited to any panels of experts. That doesn't get me taken seriously by people who take themselves very seriously.


I recently had dinner with a couple of scientists who are recognized experts in their fields, and they told me that my job allows me to have "a life" ... something which their jobs don't allow them, apparently. I believe that "a life" means lots of time for family, friends, lovers, exercise, intellectual and artistic pursuits, etc.

I'd rather have a life than be a recognized expert in my field. Are those incompatible goals?

But ... why does being an expert in a field require so much dedication? Can't I hold forth on philosophy without being a professor of philosophy? If I wanted, I could subscribe to the best academic journals in the field and figure out what they are up to. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff published in those journals doesn't really add value to the field. A lot of it is junk science, performed because of "publish or perish" employment guidelines. You can't become a recognized expert without a long list of indecipherable published titles bearing your name.


I don't mean to sound anti-academic. I value much of what academics do. What turns me off is the idea that a lack of academic status is, in itself, proof of ignorance. That somebody would ridicule my positions not because I took them, but because I am not a professor in the field, strikes me as absurd.

There is a class system at work here. Maybe that's a duh, but I'll say it anyway.

I have found people of genius in every occupation, in every age group, in every education level. Often times people of genius are trapped by circumstances in low-wage routine jobs, were late bloomers, are not as disciplined as the top students, spend their lives raising or teaching young children ... they might not be interested in fame or winning, instead satisfied to reason within themselves or among their friends.

The Internet has allowed a lot of "crap" to bloom, but it has also allowed countless individuals a way to express their genius without first convincing an editor of their ability to sell, or without first convincing an academic that they are willing to put up with all manner of shit to complete their thesis.


I suppose that there is only limited room at the top, in that place where experts are duly recognized, and that people must cut each other down to hold on to their status. There are only so many research dollars, and professors need grants to fund their projects.

I'm merely asking that people be polite when they disagree, that they don't call each other "stupid" or tell each other that their information sources are "crap".

It is possible that the next Einstein might be a civil servant working at the Post Office. As Einstein was when he derived his great theories.

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