Cranky thoughts

The following words are by Alan O. Kelly of Carlsbad, California, printed in the February 1952 issue of Scientific Monthly, without further comment.

“It is our observation that the great majority of people who deliberately decide to be scientists, and so educate themselves, are those who are psychologically unfit it to be real creative thinkers. They go into science because they are afraid to think for themselves. They lack self-confidence; they want to lean on the Orthodox, great authorities. The average scientist never dreams of questioning authority. …

…He takes for granted what the average scientist appears to be different; he fears to be called a crackpot or a crank. He may claim that he cannot afford to jeopardize his job or his professional standing, but actually he knows that he hasn’t got what it takes.… Living by authority himself, he cannot understand one who does not.… He considers himself a thinker or as belonging to a class of outstanding individuals who are thinkers. He has been trained to believe that conservatism and book knowledge are thinking and will somehow lead to the advancement of science without imagination.

[Dr. Laurence] Lafleur argues that we cannot afford to discard accepted theory for new when the great body of scientistsagrees with the old; that we cannot ignore this great weight of scientific opinion. We should like to inquire how, if they refuse to think for themselves, they can be said to have an opinion or how it can carry much weight?

The crank, on the other hand, “has no fear of making mistakes,” yet “this is a major requirement for anyone who would propound a new theory or to do creative work. Edison, as everyone knows, was the outstanding example of a crank who made thousands of mistakes and cared not a whit what anyone else thought or said.” [Taken from same letter.]

14 thoughts on “Cranky thoughts

  1. Francis Bacon had some idea of science as an army of drones collecting data… That this systematic approach would ultimately outdo the brilliant tinkerers and crank geniuses… This seems to be partly what we have indeed had with institutional science, and indeed they have had some genuine results, lol.. It’s not ALL phoney baloney propaganda…

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    1. Although the scientist as drone is not very romantic, so movies and such still prefer the A Brilliant Mind model… And friends may balk if you paint science that way, as it clashes with their mythology of what a scientist is.

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      1. All my reading and listening and watching on climate change, that is what I realized that a climatologist does: Collects data. What to do with the data? Manipulate it, either honestly or dishonestly. Very few of them are creative enough to do any original work, and that which is creative is dishonest. .

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  2. I work with a voice teacher who recently showed me that the way virtually every Western voice teacher insists singers and speakers should breathe (into the belly) actually doesn’t produce as powerful or as free a sound as another type of breathing that is commonly taught in other countries (breathing into the lower back). When she demonstrated back breathing and had me try it, I was amazed at how much more natural and liberating it is; it seems as though that’s exactly how my body wants to breathe and for years I have been fighting my natural instincts in order to breathe the “correct” way. My teacher–who trains professional singers and actors from all over the world–says most of her students feel the exact same way. In explaining why so many highly respected voice teachers insist on belly breathing EVEN WHEN THEIR STUDENTS CLEARLY GET BETTER RESULTS WITH BACK BREATHING, my teacher shared a bit about the history of milk thistle. It’s used all over the world as a medicinal plant. It was commonly understood by herbalists all over the world that, in order to remove the bitter taste, milk thistle had to be treated and prepared a certain way. One day, somebody consumed it without doing all that preparation and discovered it wasn’t bitter at all. When grown in a certain area of a certain country, yes, it is bitter, but milk thistle grown anywhere else in the world has all the same medicinal properties without the bitterness.

    When I returned to school at the age of 42 to finish my undergraduate degree, I was amazed at the way professors in all fields–not just the sciences, but the arts as well–think they are intelligent and perceptive but are really slaves to academic consensus. While talking to the head of the theater program (I was a Theater major), I talked about an essay I’d read by the great Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, in which he critiqued the work of another Russian author, the playwright Anton Chekhov. Though Nabokov appreciated much of what Chekhov was trying to do, he argued–persuasively, I thought–that Chekhov “hadn’t read enough” to be a truly great writer. My professor was appalled. Chekhov is commonly regarded as an untouchable among the theater elite, much like Shakespeare. The professor’s response was (I paraphrase): “I suppose if you’ve established yourself in the academic world and have a large body of work to give you credibility, you can criticize Chekhov, but otherwise you just sound foolish.” So… you have to prove how good you are at thinking like everyone else before you dare to have a thought that goes against received academic wisdom…even in the arts…where originality and creativity are supposedly the whole point. I now realize just how destructive much of what we call “arts education” really is.

    Thanks for the blog post, Mark.

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    1. What a great comment!

      BTW, is voice teaching the reason why we have all of these youthful and annoying throaty female singers? They are the reason for my BOSE at the gym (“no highs, no lows, must be BOSE”) – that at least drown out the PA system.

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  3. I don’t knows about no BOSE, but I have thought that actually if young people were given the tools and techniques that would allow them to reach their fullest potential in the arts, it would pose a serious threat to the mindless passivity our leaders have so carefully cultivated in us. No doubt you have noticed that American TV, film and Broadway shows are jam-packed with European actors pretending to be American. This is because unless Americans who aspire to be professional performers get into really expensive schools, they are at the mercy of all the mediocre charlatans in academia (like the theater professor mentioned above) who will mentally masturbate with them for four years, give them a degree, and send them out into a world that has absolutely no use for their undisciplined and untrained talent. I was one of those young people. Having spent so much time in so many acting and performing classes over the course of my life, I was shocked when I finally made it into grad school at the age of 45 and discovered tools and techniques my mind and body had been craving all of my life but that I had never even known existed. It’s sad, but I’m grateful I found it, even at an advanced age. So many people never find it at all.

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    1. 45 is “advanced age.” [Chuckles.] That was my age when, on a mountain hike in Montana, I met my now-wife. She changed everything for me, and 25 years later, I am still pinching myself, thinking that life can’t possibility be this good. You’re still a kid, ScottRC, with gazoons of productive life ahead.

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      1. Well, it didn’t exactly feel that way when I shuffling and creaking my way through classes otherwise populated by spry Millennials, but these days I’m more inclined to agree with you. lol. Thanks.

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