Monday, May 25, 2009

Creativity and Societal Strife

Here is Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles in The Third Man:
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance; in Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Of course, this is just an anecdote, but let's assume that there is at least some truth to it, which seems fair because it is in the top 250. If so, what types of achievements are more likely to be achieved in times of strife?

To borrow from Thomas Kuhn's terminology, normal puzzle-solving advancements might slow down, because there would be less person hours to be spent in working on them. However, it is possible that truly paradigm shifting advancements would be more likely to occur under times of economic or structural dissonance. If artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs are put into a "death ground" stance by their circumstances, they might be more likely to question otherwise unquestionable priors and truly shake things up.