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June 24, 2004



I think you're over-analyzing it a bit too much. Sure, there are going to be some rather useless ivory-tower academics on the list, but in general, intellectuals contribute a great deal to our culture and society.

Think of them as inventors of ideas, providing conceptual advances rather than technological. Like inventors, most of them are looking for the next great thing in toilet paper, but a few are going to be the next Einstein or Darwin or even Freud (as much as we've discredited him, he did completely revolutionize his field).

Mick H

Dave - I've no argument with the idea that people who invent ideas etc. contribute enormously to our culture. It's that term "intellectual" I have a problem with. Neither Einstein or Darwin were what I would call intellectuals: they were scientists.


If you're going to make that distinction, then I suppose there are only a small fraction of intellectuals that contribute meaningfully.

The problem in the intellectual community as I see it is a sort of academic inbreeding, where someone comes up with a nifty idea, and everyone else beats it to death, or applies it where it shouldn't be applied. See: post-colonial theory, Orientalism, etc.

Backword Dave

Oh Lord.

This is a difficult issue.

I think it comes down to, as Tony Benn would say, ishooes. Dave, Freud was brilliant in the 1890s: he had insights, he wrote very clearly (for a German), etc -- but Freud? Ugh! See Popper.

Basically, I'm with Mick. Ideas are fine (but remember that Newton was wrong about the very very very fine details, and Darwin was ignorant of Mendel), but you're only as good as your last goal. These polls are fun, as self-revealing... they're crap for telling us anything about society.

Rereading Dave's first comment, I'm struck by the problem of "public intellectuals." Richard Feynman said that if his work could be explained to the press, it wouldn't be worth the Nobel, and Alistair Cooke noted that he once tried to produce a program about the double helix, only to realise how difficult it was. Way beyond a TV audience.

Laban Tall

Adair Turner was a businessman and sometime CBI chief. I wonder if Peter Bauer made it ?

Of course I presume Billy Bragg is there ...

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