Biographies of collaboration

Interesting read from Ethan Zuckerman exploring the tendency for the figure of the lone genius to triumph over teams and collaborators in accounts of innovation. Two excerpts:

“It doesn’t lessen Jobs to recognize that creative genius comes from collaboration. Letting go of the idea that Shakespeare was a solitary genius writing masterworks in an attic without outside input and accepting that he was a member of a popular theatre company, incorporating the influences and feedback of other writers and actors into his creations makes him more fascinating to me, not less. Since we don’t have much access to the historical details of Shakespeare’s life, it’s easier to see these collaborative dynamics in modern biographies. Jobs may be one of the best examples of the collaborative genius idea, as the solitary genius narrative simply makes no sense in considering his history. We can imagine Shakespeare alone in a garrett or Einstein puzzling out equations alone at a blackboard, but Jobs alone is just an angry vegan too picky about design to furnish his own mansion.”

And

“How do we tell the stories of partnerships and collaborations? Shenk’s book promises to tell the stories of creative pairings, both visible ones like Lennon and McCartney and invisible ones like that of Vladimir and Vera Nabokov. But his essay hints at the intriguing problem of telling stories of more complex collaborations, like the one I experienced at Tripod. How do we tell a story about creativity and collaboration at Wikipedia that doesn’t become a biography of Jimmy Wales? Is there a story about Linux that’s not a portrait of Linus Torvalds, an examination of Free Software that isn’t a character sketch of Richard Stallman? Not only are humans creatures who think in terms of stories, we are social beings, which means there is nothing we are so attuned to as the life stories of successful people.”

The meaning of neural activity

“The meaning off neural activity lies outside the brain…brain activity can be understood, that is, has meaning only to the extent that it is a representation of the state of the body, of the external world, or of a potential behaviour. Just as it would be pointless to analyse a book by investigating the chemical composition of paper and ink, a reductionist analysis of brain activity, that is, taking it apart and analysing its nucleic acids, enzymes, receptors, and ion channels, fails to explain what brain activity accomplishes”

Howard Fields, quote in The Story of Pain, Joanna Bourke

The consolations of isolation

“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night. She had no wish to overcome it. Rather, it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship, more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experienced in either of her marriages”

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland (pp 237)

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