Human Accomplishment (Charles Murray)


This book was very interesting much of the time, somewhat interesting some of the time, and dumb at some time. However, the first part was much larger than the other two, so i think its a great book. The chapters where Murray speculates beyond the data are worst ones IMO.



Chinese medicine, unlike Chinese science, was backed by abundant

theory, but that theory is so alien to the Western understanding of physiology and pharmacology that Western scientists even today are only beginning

to understand the degree to which Chinese medicine is coordinate with modern science.42

It worked, however, for a wide range of ailments. If you

were going to be ill in 12C and were given a choice of living in Europe or

China, there is no question about the right decision. Western medicine in

12C had forgotten most of what had been known by the Greeks and

Romans. Chinese physicians of 12C could alleviate pain more effectively

than Westerners had ever been able to do —acupuncture is a Chinese medical technique that Western physicians have learned to take seriously —and

could treat their patients effectively for a wide variety of serious diseases.


Murray is being way too nice to the chinese here. Their theories are crap and their treatment generally dont work.



The second blind spot is the tendency to confuse that which has been

achieved with that which must inevitably have been achieved. It is easy to

assume that someone like Aristotle was not so much brilliant as fortunate

in being born when he was. A number of basic truths were going to be

figured out early in mankind’s intellectual history, and Aristotle gave voice to

some of them first. If he hadn’t, someone else soon would have. But is that

really true? Take as an example the discovery of formal logic in which

Aristotle played such a crucial role. Nobody had discovered logic (that we

know of ) in the civilizations of the preceding five millennia. Thinkers in the

non-Western world had another two millennia after Aristotle to discover

formal logic independently, but they didn’t. Were we in the West “bound”

to discover logic because of some underlying aspect of Western culture?

Maybe, but what we know for certain is that the invention of logic occurred

in only one time and one place, that it was done by a handful of individuals,

and that it changed the history of the world. Saying that a few ancient Greeks

merely got there first isn’t adequate acknowledgment of their leap of imagination and intellect.


Murray is wrong again:


But yes, many cultures never invented logic, or much else.


I had been looking for this!



The earliest and most commonsensical explanation for the “something

else” is that the source of great accomplishment is multidimensional—it does

not appear just because a person is highly intelligent or highly creative or

highly anything else. Several traits have to appear in combination. The

pioneer of this view was British polymath Francis Galton in the late 1800s.

Even though he had been instrumental in creating the modern concept of

intelligence, Galton argued that intelligence alone was not enough to explain

genius. Rather, he appealed to “the concrete triple event, of ability combined

with zeal and with capacity for hard labour.”13 Ninety years later, William

Shockley specified how the individual components of human accomplishment, normally distributed, can in combination produce the type of hyperbolic distribution—highly skewed right, with an elongated tail—exemplified by the Lotka curve.14


Galton <3



Establishing the outer boundaries of the population is easy. Modern scholars

have helpfully produced large and comprehensive biographical dictionaries

with the avowed purpose of containing everyone who is worth mentioning

in their particular field. For the sciences, an international consortium of

scholars has been laboring for more than four decades on the Dictionary of

Scientific Biography, now up to 18 volumes.1 In philosophy, we have the Encyclopédie Philosophique Universelle,2 only two volumes, but fat ones. For Western

art, we may turn to the 17-volume Enciclopedia Universale dell’Arte compiled

by the Istituto per la Collaborazione Culturale. At least one such encyclopedic reference work is among the sources for every inventory.


Old book. No wikipedia!



That the basic ideas were in the air for so long without being developed

suggests how complex and mind-stretching the change was. Indeed, a major

continuing issue in the history of science is the degree to which it is appropriate to talk of a scientific method as a body of principles and practice that

has clear, bright lines distinguishing it from science practiced by other means.

It is not a debate that I am about to adjudicate here. In claiming the scientific

method as a meta-invention, or a collection of synergistic meta-inventions, I

am associating myself with the position that, incremental as the process may

have been, a fundamental change occurred in post-medieval Europe in the

way human beings went about accumulating and verifying knowledge. The

common-sense understanding of the phrase scientific method labels the aggregate of those changes. I use the phrase to embrace the concepts of hypothesis, falsification, and parsimony; the techniques of the experimental method; the application of mathematics to natural phenomena; and a system of intellectual copyright and dissemination.


COPYRIGHT?! unfortunately, Murray does not expand on it.




In De Motu ,Galileo reported that the lighter body falls faster at the

beginning, then the heavier body catches up and arrives at the

ground slightly before the lighter one. Since this should not be true

of the objects that Galileo used, a wooden sphere and an iron one, if

they are released simultaneously, it has been inferred that Galileo was

either a poor observer or making up his data. But in replications of

Galileo’s procedure, it has been found that when a light wooden

sphere and a heavy iron one are dropped by hand, the lighter

wooden sphere does start out its journey a bit ahead—a natural, if

misleading, consequence of the need to clutch the heavier iron ball

more firmly than the wooden one. This causes the iron ball to be

released slightly after the wooden ball even though the experimenter has the impression that he is opening his hands at the same time. Then, because of the differential effects of air resistance on

objects of different weight, the iron ball catches up with and passes

the wooden ball, just as Galileo reported. There is a satisfying irony

in this finding. The modern critics of Galileo were making the same

mistake that the ancients made, criticizing results on the basis of

what “must be true” rather than going out and doing the work to

find out what is true35


interesting story.



In recognizing how thoroughly non-European science and technology

have been explored, let’s also give credit where credit is due: By and large, it

has not been Asian or Arabic scholars, fighting for recognition against European indifference, who are responsible for piecing together the record of

accomplishment by non-European cultures, but Europeans themselves.

Imperialists they may have been, but one of the by-products of that imperialism was a large cadre of Continental, British, and later American scholars,

fascinated by the exotic civilizations of Arabia and East Asia, who set about

uncovering evidence of their accomplishments that inheritors of those civilizations had themselves neglected. Joseph Needham’s seven-volume history

of Chinese science and technology is a case in point.[10]

Another is George Sarton’s Introduction to the History of Science, in five large volumes published

from 1927–1948, all of which is devoted to science before the end of 14C,

with the bulk of it devoted to the period when preeminence in science was

to be found in the Arab world, India, and China.


The irony.. :)