We’ve all heard the expression, “Birds of a feather flock together,” meaning similar people tend to associate with each other. A presumption regarding this old saying; Great minds gather and share great ideas in desperate times, because of an ingrained survival mechanism. Is this true though? Or are we a kind of virus, a species whom will be defined by their addiction to self sabotage? Whether to a better future or our demise and the demise of our planet, ultimately we will flock together...
Great minds unite with greater minds and the wise value their enemies… But to what avail?
One may wonder if humanity depends much on their instincts anymore, or if they recognize the need for others. An evolutionary ecologist who studies the causes and consequences of family-living in animals discovers why some species help each other raise their young while others go at it alone. One such scientist named Rubenstein was left with the following conclusion after his research, "If you can't count on the rain coming when it's supposed to, thus producing the food you will need for yourself and your young, you're going to need a lot of help from other members of your family." (One of the first great cities discovered through archeology comes to mind; city-state Ur in ancient Sumer. The people there lived in a land constantly affected by the elements; floods or dry spells, and these tough conditions helped them evolve intellectually faster. Seems as though when people are too comfortable, or life becomes too easy the random bursts of human insight decrease and the need for others becomes less.) The causes and consequences of family-living in humans are no different than their animal counterparts at the core, although in recent years one may wonder if humanity is losing their primal instinct to survive.
Greatness begets more greatness, and no one can advance very far alone. So, even if someone is only out for themselves they better include others in their plans. After thorough research Rubenstein discovered, "Everyone's looking out for their own best interest," he said.”If you breed on your own you will be producing offspring that are more related to you than if you are helping someone else. But if you can't go it alone, you can pass on at least a share of your genes by helping to raise relatives." In the savanna, where rain and food is less predictable, a smart starling chooses to maintain a close relationship with its kin to ensure propagation of the family lineage.
When studying history one can’t help but notice valuable connections among the great people who fill the books; paths crossed which brought about life changing events. An example of a Great Mind who crossed paths with other greats is Mark Twain, and he is one of many.
If not for Mark Twain and the others he crossed paths with, would we have ever heard of Helen Keller?
Mark Twain was an American author and humorist, most noted for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885),which was labeled as "the Great American Novel. Twain was called the "greatest American humorist of his age," and William Faulkner called him "the father of American literature." Twain moved to San Francisco, California in 1864, and as a journalist there he met writers such as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, and Dan DeQuille. The young poet Ina Coolbrith and he shared a romance. Upon making friends with these notable writers he had his first success as a writer one year later with his humorous tall tale, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." This book brought him national attention. A couple years later Twain married a woman, from a wealthy and liberal family, named Olivia Langdon. Through his wife he met abolitionists, "socialists, principled atheists and activists for women's rights and social equality," including Harriet Beecher Stowe (his next-door neighbor), Frederick Douglass, and the writer and utopian socialist William Dean Howells, who became a long-time friend. Whether intentionally or not Twain seemed to draw great people towards him like a magnet, perhaps if not for these people he would have never been great at all.
Mark Twain was fascinated with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close and lasting friendship with Nikola Tesla, (an inventor, physicist, and electro-mechanical engineer, who was known as "The Wizard of the West." He was instrumental in developing AC networks, and invented the radio.) The two great minds spent much time together in Tesla's laboratory. Twain had three inventions patented while in close relation with Tesla, the most commercially successful one was a self-pasting scrapbook; a dried adhesive on the pages only needed to be moistened before use. We can assume Twain was inspired by Tesla. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court features a time traveler from America of that time, who uses his knowledge of science to introduce modern technology to Arthurian England. Twain was inspired to write this type of storyline after spending significant time with Tesla. The idea of alternate history presented in this book would later become a common feature of a science fiction sub-genre.
Thomas Edison, (an inventor who was involved in some of the greatest inventions and technological developments in history), visited Twain at his home in Connecticut and decided to film him. The footage was used in The Prince and the Pauper (1909), a two-reel short film. Thomas Edison was a man who had history with Nikolas Tesla prior to being acquainted with Twain. When Tesla first arrived in the United States, in New York he had a letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, a former employer and close associate to Edison. In the letter of recommendation to Thomas Edison, it is claimed that Batchelor wrote, ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.' Edison hired Tesla to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla's work began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving some of the company's most difficult problems. He was even offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison Company's direct current generators. Tesla was destined to become rivals with Edison.
The bad blood between the two brilliant men started when "Edison accused Tesla of being ignorant of American Humor.”Edison offered him $50,000 (~ US$1.1 million in 2007) for redesigning Edison's inefficient motor and generators, and making an improvement in both service and economy." When Tesla inquired about the payment for his work, Edison broke his word and replied with, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor." Earning just eighteen dollars per week, Tesla would have had to work for 53 years to earn the amount promised to him. (The offer was equal to the initial capital of the company.) Needless to say Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise to twenty five dollars per week. He eventually found himself digging ditches for a short period of time, ironically for the Edison Company. Despite Edison's claim Tesla likely did understand American humor, because his eventual good friend Mark Twain was the forerunner to stand-up comedy.
While Mark Twain was a positive person with an ostentatious sense of humor, he was in severe debt off and on during his life. At one point he credited Henry H. Rogers, a Standard Oil executive, with saving him from financial ruin, their close friendship in later years was mutually beneficial. The Rogers became a surrogate family for Twain after he suffered a personal loss. The two men introduced each other to their acquaintances, one of whom Twain especially admired; the remarkable deaf and blind girl Helen Keller and her governess Anne Sullivan. Twain is credited for labeling Sullivan the "the miracle worker". Twain introduced these two to Henry H. Rogers, who with his wife paid for Keller's education at Radcliffe College. Later William Gibson's play and film adaptation was named after Twains label of Sullivan; The Miracle Worker. Twain also introduced Rogers to journalist Ida M. Tarbell, who interviewed him for a muckraking expose that led indirectly to the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust. On cruises aboard the Kanawha, Twain and Rogers were joined at frequent intervals by Booker T. Washington, the famed former slave who had become a leading educator. With a friend like Rogers, Twain met many other great people. Down the many paths of inspiration one of the last ones led him to Helen Keller. Despite her apparent disadvantages, physically and financially, the young Keller pursued her vision in life. She benefited from Twain's support during her college education and publishing. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1904, at the age of 24.
If not for Jules Gabriel Verne and the great minds he came across, would we have heard of space flight so soon in our history?
In showing how the connections to Verne began let's start with him as a young day dreaming student to the French inventor Brutus de Villeroi. Villeroi was a professor of drawing and mathematics in 1842. Brutus later became famous for creating the US Navy's first submarine, the USS Alligator. A logical assumption would be that De Villeroi inspired the imaginative Verne's conceptual design for the Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. His father discovered he was slacking in his studies; writing his own little short stories instead of paying attention in class. He stopped financing his sons' education and at this point Verne was forced to support himself. While finding work as a stockbroker, Verne hated his occupation, even though he was rather successful. During this period, he met Victor Hugo; (who's best-known works are the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), and Alexandre Dumas; (best known for his historical novels of high adventure The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Three Musketeers); these two authors offered Jules Gabriel Verne writing advice. When Verne crossed paths with these authors the circumstances seemed rather common place; he did not seek them out. He grew as a writer upon being inspired by his new friends, and triumphed as an author. His success as a writer led to another important connection years later with a man named Tsiolkovsky. After reading Verne's novel "From the Earth to the Moon, one of the future founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics Konstantin Tsiolkovsky refuted Verne's idea of using a cannon for space travel. He concluded, "A gun would have to be impossibly long. The gun in the story would subject the payload to about 22000 g of acceleration." However, Konstantin was nevertheless inspired by Jules Gabriel Verne's story and he went onto developing the theory of spaceflight.
If not for H.G Wells and the great minds he inspired, would we have ever heard of the Atom Bomb and Nuclear Warfare?
One of Wells earliest connections was in 1889–90 when he found a post as a teacher at Henley House School where he taught and admired A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh. Another positive influence he had was on C. S. Lewis. In Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength, the character Jules is a caricature of Wells, and much of Lewis's science fiction was written both under the influence of Wells and as an antithesis to his work (or, as he said, an "exorcism" of the influence it had on him).In much of H.G Wells’ science fiction radioactive decay plays a large role, and this leads to the more destructive influence he had on great minds. The book The World Set Free contains what is surely his most prophetic "hit". The novel revolves around "an (unspecified) invention that accelerates the process of radioactive decay, producing bombs that explode with no more than the force of an ordinary high explosive—but which "continue to explode" for days on end. "Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century", he wrote, "than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible [but] they did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands". Leó Szilárd acknowledged how Wells’ book inspired him to theorize the nuclear chain reaction. He wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature which resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb.
There have been connections like the one between writers John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr.; the American writer who is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, and his close associate, playwright Arthur Miller. Ernest Miller Hemingway; was an American author and journalist who had crossed paths with several great minds also. While working in Chicago as an associate editor of the monthly journal Cooperative Commonwealth, he met Sherwood Anderson; (an American novelist and short story writer, who's most enduring work is the short story sequence Winesburg, Ohio). Other writers Anderson had influenced other than Hemingway, were William Faulkner, J. D. Salinger, Amos Oz, and also John Ernst Steinbeck Jr.
In Paris, Hemingway met writers Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound for to whom he said "could help a young writer up the rungs of a career". Hemingway met influential painters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Juan Gris. All these acquaintances he had before writing his greatest novels, and being recognized in the mainstream. Hemingway met F. Scott Fitzgerald, and they formed a friendship of "admiration and hostility". Upon reading The Great Gatsby Hemingway was inspired, and decided his next work had to be a novel.
J.D Salinger met Hemmingway during World War Two in the campaign from Normandy into Germany where Hemmingway was working as a war correspondent. He had arranged to meet with him, for Hemmingway was a great influence to him. Salinger was impressed with Hemingway's friendliness and modesty, finding him more "soft" than his gruff public persona. Hemingway was impressed by Salinger's writing, and remarked: "Jesus, he has a helluva talent." The two writers began corresponding; Salinger wrote Hemingway in July 1946 that their talks were among his few positive memories of the war.
The great minds seem to be drawn to each other for better or worse, whether by coincidence or some kind of instinctual reason. They can lift up the next generation of thinkers, inspiring them to accomplish greater good, or they may motivate them into discovering more inventive ways of bringing destruction. At times life seems to be either a satire or a tragedy. Perhaps mankind's sparks of ingenuity bring about more trouble down the line than any positive outcome. They say "Birds of a feather flock together." The question is; are we heading towards a better future? Or are we ultimately destructive by nature, even when we don't try to be? Will our species be defined by our revolutionary thinkers in a positive light, or will we be defined by our addiction to self sabotage? Whether to a better future or our demise … ultimately we will flock together."