Monday, August 30, 2010

On The Shoulders Of...

Saying that you needed to stand on the shoulders of giants to accomplish anything would surely yield rounds of applause at most any ceremony. It confers high status to both the people who you are thanking and to yourself for associating with those giants. This should make us nervous; the concept of "standing on the shoulders of giants" is a prime candidate for an idea that has survived due to its signaling benefits as opposed to its actual truth.

Instead, I think that Jennifer Rohn is correct to note that we don't typically stand on the shoulders of just a few giants if and when we make any advances. Instead, it is probably more apt to say that we stand on the shoulders of many, many midgets. As Robin Hanson says, "most of the innovations that matter are the tiny changes we constantly make to the millions of procedures and methods we use."

Anyway, remind me of this the next time I'm making a receiving a hugely important award, which is bound to happen any day now.

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In determining the politically correct word to use this in post I happened upon the phenomenon of the euphemism treadmill, which is hella interesting. Basically it is the idea that any earnestly used word will, after a long enough time, be bastardized to have much more vulgar connotations. Thus, if you want to beat the masses to the punchline, you should study obscure academic lit in order to find your comedic material.