Sorted by New

Wiki Contributions


The Curse of Plenty

That's a good point. It seems potentially relevant that TV seems to have been most exempt from this trend (with all the "Golden Age of TV" discourse over the last decade or so), and TV is probably the one medium where financial results are furthest downstream from the production itself. There's a lot tighter feedback loop between a movie's popularity and its profitability than there is with a TV show. Maybe there's a lesson in there for how to promote creativity in other domains, but I'm not sure.

The Curse of Plenty

This is great, I feel like I finally have a mental model for understanding why movies are all franchises and reboots now!

Adam Mastroianni's original post--and my previous take on this phenomenon--were pretty pessimistic about the state of creativity in our culture. But, for me anyway, understanding what's happening through the lens of this mental model restores a lot of optimism. The big takeaway for me is that looking at the creativity of the top performing works in a field isn't a good way to assess the creativity of the whole field.

When we see yet another big franchise installment or reboot topping the charts, it isn't because the producers have just run out of ideas or are too risk averse to make good original art. The good art is still being produced, and more people than ever are able to access it. It just gets eclipsed (somewhat mechanically) by the huge network effects driving people to also consume the familiar franchises. 

I see this most clearly in TV shows. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, etc. may not beat out American Idol and NCIS in the ratings, but they're still out there for tons of people to enjoy. And I would bet that a lot of people watch both the critically acclaimed original TV shows and the less creative franchises, for slightly different reasons. One more to enjoy the art itself and to talk about with a more close-knit community, the other for the wider communal experience (plus sometimes you just want to zone out and not pay as much attention to the TV anyway).

I think this argument may apply to science as well, though this is less clear to me. I could see, for example, scientists citing an older, fundamental paper just to acknowledge the intellectual landscape they're operating in, while also citing newer, more creative work that is more relevant to their own work. This process would lead to the ossification of the top citations that you point out, without necessarily being a mark against the creativity of the field.

The mystery of the miracle year

Expanding on the "Youth and freedom" idea a bit: My dad was a musician, and always said that most bands' best albums were their first ones. He figured the bands had been thinking about, refining, and practicing those songs for years and years before even having an opportunity to make an album. Then their first album looks like this singular piece of great work, but it was really the culmination of all the years of toiling in obscurity.

I think there could be something similar going on with at least some of these scientists and their miracle years. They spend all their early years thinking deeply about the problems that interest them, without knowing how to put the pieces together into a solution. Then maybe a new insight or mental model allows them to put everything together and unlock the ideas all at once. So the miracle year is like a band with a great first album: years worth of work coming together once the conditions were right to finally make it happen.

(I guess this is maybe a combination of the "Youth and freedom" and "Right problem at right time" ideas?)