Doublefamous

Da vinci, Ben Franklin, Noam Chomsky, Marcus Aurelius, Goethe, Winston Churhill, Bertrand Russell, (insert big gap here), Bo Jackson (also, Deon Sanders, Jim Thorpe, and to a lesser extent Danny Ainge), Arnold Schwarzenegger – not to be confused with Ronald Reagan (or Al Franken, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, etc), Lewis Carroll, Robert Hooke, also Rene Descart (and to a lesser extent Newton, Leibniz, Pascal and Galileo), Marcel Duchampe (although not really, I could perhaps add Garry Kasparov to this list), Bing Crosby (and also Frank Sinatra, Elvis is pushing it); but also Will Smith, Ice Cube and of course, Marky Mark; Marcus Tullius Cicero, (and also Julius Caesar), and last but not least, Thomas Jefferson (perhaps James Garfield as well?)

I’m sure I’m missing tons of people from this list, (especially since it’s very Western-Centric) although you could argue that half shouldn’t even be on it. In fact, you could that the only people who legitmately belong are Da Vinci and Ben Franklin (which is amazing to think of it!) If you’re still wondering what the hell I’m talking about, this is the list of people famous for two different things. Da Vinci was an inventor and an artist, Franklin a scientist/inventor and a statesman and an Author, etc etc. Half the list is almost silly, after all entertainers/politicians, musicians/actors and two sport athletes are all kind of beside the point; they’re all leveraging success in one endeavor to suceed in another. Having famous philosphers who were also mathematicians doesn’t sound silly, but there were so damn many of them that I almost think it is.

The point of all this is that its very rare to become great at two things; probably only a little harder than it is to become famous for one thing. (I realize I’m using two different measures here, “greatness” on the one hand and “fame” on the other, I think fame is, if not the better measure, at least the more objective one).

Does any of this mean anything? First, that it was much easier to be successful long ago; has there been any scientist in the past hundred years who have contributed to two different fields, yet it seems that hundreds of years ago if people contributed to one field of science, it was better than even that they’d contribute to another. Science (and in many ways everything else) has become more specialized; you have to spend years learning something before you’re able to contribute something novel, Newton developed Calculus when he was 24, and then continued to advance most every area where he studied.

Second, it means that success is hard work (and not just hard!). If successfully doing something was only a matter talent, it would stand to reason that, unless the talents were not at all transferable, that we would see many people famous for more than one thing; we typically don’t see that. (There are few scientists who are famous authors, except when writing about things they study). Instead, I think we can reason that success is a result not just of talent, but of hard work as well (not that this is a terribly controversial statement or anything).