Sunday, September 03, 2006

Scholars & Recluses

In a letter to the editor Professor Mark Gerstein of Yale writes:
One cannot help but wonder whether the way that Dr. Perelman sequestered himself from the minutiae of academic life and from e-mail and correspondence altogether is a principal reason he has been able to think so deeply about a problem.

Perhaps tranquil reclusion is a prerequisite for brilliant thought, as evident in other legendary geniuses like Newton and Darwin.

NYTimes, Sunday, September 3, 2006 There may be some truth in what Gerstein says. However, note that Gerstein is a professor of biomedical informatics and molecular biophysics. I think few law teachers genuinely share Gerstein's sentiments; legal scholars are generally gregarious (though not usually convivial or diplomatic) and legal scholarship is rarely done in splendid isolation.

If legal scholarship is rarely done in "tranquil reclusion," does it follow that legal scholarship is rarely the product of "brilliant thought"? The possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand!

Perelman, however, is not the only genius known to (wo)mankind. For example, Albert Einstein was a genius. But Einstein was not really a reclusive fellow. Nor were Aristotle, Descartes, Rousseau, G.W.F. Hegel, Bertrand Russell, Richard Feynman, Robert Oppenheimer, Charles Peirce (who, however, was a very strange man), Mozart, and many other "geniuses."

N.B. Today one does not count as a genius if one does not appear on TV. Proof: In internal memoranda circulated at my law school, faculty members' appearances in the mass media are routinely noted and celebrated -- but there are few equivalent internal memoranda celebrating faculty members' scholarly publications.

Post a Comment