March 17, 2014

Fame: It's who you know

Alexander paying respects at the tomb of Achilles, Panini
Book critic Dwight Garner writes in the New York Times:
There are many varieties of fame. ... Pantheon, a new project from the Macro Connections group in M.I.T.’s Media Lab, is giving that a stab. It has collected and analyzed data on cultural production from 4,000 B.C. to 2010. ... 
For now, you are legitimately famous, the M.I.T. team has decided, if a Wikipedia page under your name exists in more than 25 languages. We have taken a smattering of the most famous, according to Pantheon data and classifications, and wandered down rabbit holes of fame. There are many ghosts in the machine — spirits that C├ęsar Hidalgo, the project’s director, likes to tend. (The ranking system takes longevity into account, which helps explain why many of its most famous people have been dead for at least 1,500 years.) 
“Poetically, we can say that Isaac Newton’s ghost — understood as information — lives reincarnated in the hard drives that populate server farms,” he says. And these ghosts gather to make a point. Even in an era of Kardashians, actually making things matters. “Tangible achievements,” Hidalgo says, “whether these are songs, books, works of art or scientific discoveries, are better tickets to long-term immortality than the accumulation of material wealth.” 
Most Famous People of the Last 6,000 Years 
1. Aristotle
2. Plato
3. Jesus Christ
4. Socrates
5. Alexander the Great
6. Leonardo Da Vinci
7. Confucius
8. Julius Caesar
9. Homer
10. Pythagoras

It's hard to see how Mohammed and Buddha don't make the Top Ten, but the point I want to make is:

Judging by the four Ancient Greeks in the Top Five, this fame thing is more a Who You Know, Not What You Know deal (even though Aristotle certainly knew a lot): Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught Alexander. And this isn't metaphorical: each younger man in this series probably spent hundreds of hours in the company of the older man. 

On a vaguely related topic, via Dyspepsia Generation, Kevin Simler at Ribbon Farms offers an extensive analysis of status as an economic good that can be exchanged, rather like money. There are many good insights, but I would question Simler's assumption that "Status is zero-sum (to a first approximation)." Each of the six Ancient Greeks in the Top Ten benefit from their relationships with each other because they make for a better story we can hold in our heads. The more we know about a particular civilization, the more easy it is to learn more. For example, in my writing about the Ukraine crisis, the name Thucydides keeps coming up. It doesn't hurt that Socrates fought in the Peloponnesian War chronicled by Thucydides.

In contrast, when I flip around on the UHF dial here in L.A., I've noticed from all the historical costume dramas on the Korean language stations that Korea has, evidently, had a whole lot of history. Indeed, there's no a priori reason to assume that Korea has had significantly less history than Greece. But my pathetic base of knowledge of Korean history -- "There have been a bunch of guys named Kim" (rather like my knowledge of contemporary Ukrainian affairs of state: There are a bunch of politicians with Ys and Ts in their names) -- doesn't conveniently facilitate my learning more about Korean history.

For example, Anne Boleyn makes the MIT top 100. She was an interesting person, but she's there for her relationship to two other people in a fascinating story. Ann was the second wife of Henry VIII, for whom Henry broke England away from Roman Catholicism, and the mother of Elizabeth I (who was the monarch of Shakespeare, who is pretty famous himself). Anne is a central figure in a gaudy story. And fame has much to do with coherent narratives.

For example, on his conquests, Alexander is said to have visited the tomb of Homer's hero Achilles at Troy. That makes for a good story and thus augments the historical status of both. Similarly, Bill Clinton and Bono like to be photographed hanging out together because it's a positive sum status dealing for both.

Getting even further afield, here's Eric Falkenstein's 2010 mega-blogpost "Why Envy Dominates Greed" on how, among much else, financial economics theory would fit the data better if you assume that portfolio managers are less concerned with optimizing return v. risk and more concerned with optimizing status v. other portfolio managers. Among much else, this offers a more compelling theory of the formation of bubbles, such as the Recent Unpleasantness. Achilles certainly would have agreed that status dominated wealth in his considerations, and that he looked at it as a zero sum game. (And yet poor Hector retains considerable status to this day for having been the loser in Achilles' drive for status dominance.)
    

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare and Beethoven more famous than Da Vinci. Literature and music are more portable than art.

Pants said...

Pederasty R Us.

Jesus Saves

Steve Sailer said...

Leonardo has been famous longer, which helps under this methodology. Plus, he was the first world famous celebrity of the Renaissance, and the Renaissance is a big deal. And he was hugely famous in his own time, which Shakespeare was not. Finally, he has multiform fame: Bill Gates bought his manuscripts because he sees him as a fellow tech geek, but Dan Brown entitled his bestseller after him because Leonardo retains the aura he had in his own time as a wise man, a magus, a potential magician in the line of Merlin.

Newton had even stronger leanings in the esoteric, mystical direction, but his Enlightenment Age refused to pay attention to them, so Newton only gets a subsidiary role in The Da Vinci Code.

Anonymous said...

The top 100 seems for the most part reasonable.

Famous women in the 100:

Cleopatra
Nefertiti
Joan of Arc
Virgin Mary
Mary Magdalene
Queen Elizabeth I
Anne Boleyn

I don't know about Anne Boleyn on that list, but then again, the only possible replacements in the top 100 are some figures such as Empress Theodora, Empress Irene, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen (Bloody) Mary, Empress Maria Theresa, Empress Catherine the Great, and a hodge podge of famous Christian saints, and I am not sure any of them really merit a higher place than her.

Steve Sailer said...

Anne Boleyn is famous: there is a huge amount of historical fiction for ladies published annually that involve the Tudors.

Anonymous said...

something to consider is relative population size. To be the most famous man in ancient greece you need to be the most famous out of "x" people. To be the most famous in modern America, it's probably several orders of magnitude more.
Someone like Plato could (and liekly did) have gone about and *individually* met his "important peers". It was still very much a human scale. Whereas today, although you give the example of Clinton and Bono, what is the likelihood that the best mathematician can hang out with the best general or the like?

Euthyphro said...

Judging by the four Ancient Greeks in the Top Five, this fame thing is more a Who You Know, Not What You Know deal (even though Aristotle certainly knew a lot): Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught Alexander.

Yeah, absolutely. Since neither Plato nor Aristotle nor Alexander did anything that merits our knowing about them apart from their friendship with other people on the list.

Wait, what?

Or as another famous person might say, "By the way, Sailer, what have you done that's so great?"

Steve Sailer said...

Von Neumann and Eisenhower were fairly close.

Anonymous said...

also, "known in 25 languages" is a frustrating rubric. Most famous in Hindi or Chinese wikipedia should really count more than most famous in icelandic wikipedia, as we are talking about the difference between 1B and 300k speakers.
It seems designed to give undo emphasis on Euros.
(look! I have a reference in English, Gaelic, Welsh AND Cornish! You are just Confucius, whaddya got compared to my 5 language pages!)

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the book The 100 by Michael H. Hart:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_100:_A_Ranking_of_the_Most_Influential_Persons_in_History

Anonymous said...

Steve:"Anne Boleyn is famous: there is a huge amount of historical fiction for ladies published annually that involve the Tudors."

Dear God yes. The chick appeal of the Tudors seems to be the chief reason why we have to suffer an endless series of films and television series about their endless squabbles...

One of these days, I expect to see middlebrow women's entertainment reduced to Tudor docudramas and Jane Austen adaptations...

Steve Sailer said...

"One of these days, I expect to see middlebrow women's entertainment reduced to Tudor docudramas and Jane Austen adaptations..."

There are worse possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Yea Christ or Paul wins hand down pick on but it's a joke to have Aristotle and Plato above either Christ or Paul. Call me when Aristotle super star drops.

My question is why should we take the world of someone who has neither riches not status.

Simon in London said...

>>(And yet poor Hector retains considerable status to this day for having been the loser in Achilles' drive for status dominance.)<<

"And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods."

Man against Superman - I always had a soft spot for Hector.

Eric Falkenstein said...

Thanks for the plug. Note in that post I hit on some of your themes (eg, Franklin’s advice). I have a short book on this called the The Missing Risk Premium, going over the evidence in about 150 pages.

Evolution works mainly on relative fitness, I started thinking about this reading Razib Khan over on GNXP in the early ought’s. We are hard-wired for envy.

People prefer to live in a world that, once moderately affluent, they have higher relative wealth, vs. one where they would have higher absolute wealth: When you ask people if they would rather live in a world where they make $120k, everyone else $200k, or they make $110 and everyone makes $100k. Most choose the poorer world where they are relatively richer but absolutely poorer.

In economics the idea that self-interest means 'greed irrespective of the wealth of others' exists in an if-and-only-if relation with the risk premium: absence of one implies the absence of the other. So, if we don’t see a risk premium, we shouldn’t see an absolute utility function. My specialty is in this sphere. The idea that there’s a risk premium like the idea there’s a courage premium that gave the aristocracy their natural position in society. It turns out this was merely a ruse to maintain status, that courage by itself doesn’t give people higher status, as WW1 vividly demonstrated.

Why do economists continue to believe absolute greed explains everything? A lot of libertarians like to presume people act as if they were merely greedy, not envious, and that’s just the moralistic fallacy, presuming ‘is’ based on ‘ought.’ Economic models have more unambiguous results under the standard assumption, as for example one can focus on GDP and assume that higher is better regardless of the distribution. Even egalitarian economists (of which there are many) usually proceed under the assumption that greater equality causes greater growth as opposed to being an end in itself.

Bad analogies underlay most bad ideas, and the bad analogy here is that because some risk is good, essential even, then risk is positively related to returns. If risk is relative, that’s not so. Too much risk and too little risk are both risky, because they both deviate from the consensus. If risk is symmetric, it can’t be priced in equilibrium. Just as the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, the opposite of risk isn’t doing nothing, rather, it’s doing what everyone else is doing.

Don’t presume people act as if they were indifferent to relative status, because they aren’t. I think people have higher, nobler instincts too, ideas about The Good counter to envy that are probably based on tribal selection: you want to live in a successful tribe, one with good norms. Yet, these ‘good’ tribal norms are not so obvious and easily hijacked by selfish (ie, envious) prejudices.

Anonymous said...

Yea Christ or Paul wins hand down pick on but it's a joke to have Aristotle and Plato above either Christ or Paul. Call me when Aristotle super star drops.

Yes, it doesn't seem to make much sense to put them above Jesus. I suspect more people have heard of Jesus. Furthermore, people have heard of and identify Jesus as a single figure, while many people probably are unable to identify Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates as distinct figures and meld them together in their minds as "famous ancient Greek philosopher guy". This melding isn't wholly unjustified in the case of Socrates since most of what we know about him comes from Plato's dialogues.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the four Ancient Greeks in the Top Five, this fame thing is more a Who You Know, Not What You Know deal (even though Aristotle certainly knew a lot): Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught Alexander.

Right. And Alexander of course established an empire and spread Greek culture throughout the world, making his teacher and his predecessors even more famous.

LeonK said...

Best Steve Sailer post ever.

roundeye said...

What about the First Qin Emporer also known as the Yellow Emperor? The fellow with all those Terra Cotta warriors?

BB753 said...

Do articial languages like Esperanto, Ido and volapuk count? There's a lot of those in the Wilipedia.

Aaron said...

It actually doesn't surprise me that Aristotle and Plato are above Jesus on the list. Aristotle would be considered the father of science and logic and Plato perhaps the greatest philosopher ever and teacher of some of the greatest minds in history. The man Jesus was different from the religious icon that was built around him by his followers. Not to mention that Plato and Aristotle have a good 700 or so years on Him if you consider Christianity only came to prominence in the Roman empire during the 4th century. You could argue that He was the most influential person ever but again the Roman Catholic Church that came after him was responsible for spreading His message and not Christ Himself.

As an aside, lists are silly.

keypusher said...

Five Greeks (and one Macedonian) in the top 10. And none more recent than ~300 BCE.

BB753 said...

Most fanous American: George W. Bush! Lol!

eah said...

varieties of fame

I wish the 15m kind was more common.

Steve Sailer said...

I like to keep track of how many years Andy Warhol has been famous for saying that everybody in the future would be famous for 15 minutes: we're up to 46 years now, and Andy isn't getting any less famous.

Anonymous said...

Um Aaron what you are describing is mechanics of fame buddy. You are basically arguing Kennedy isn't more famous than Truman because all that Camelot stuff developed after he was dead yea that's what fame is.

Also I really don't get the Plato thing. I mean Aristotle absolutely huge deal maybe rivals Christ/ Paul but what influence has Plato really had on us except for the influence Platonism had on Augustine and consequently Christianity and the west. I mean sure Magritte milked Plato's theory of mimeses for a few good jokes.(He had Steve's penchant for nevering letting a joke go I repeated.) And I guess his idea in ion about art being a kind of infection or charismatic epiphany has been influential. But have you read Phadreus or Meno recollection as the process of learning no one believes that crap. I really like Plato and I'm certainly glad I studied him quite a bit in college but the western mind had in large part been developed and canalized by the time he re-emerges from his suppression by the medieval church. Even in the Renaissance Plato's significance wasn't that great nor widespread.

Dave Pinsen said...

That was a great post by Eric Falkenstein. Also worth reading his post about business frauds and bubbles.

Steve Sailer said...

Plato was an incredible writer and that's the source of much of his fame. You try writing philosophical prose and having it still be read after 2400 years.

Nicky Haflinger said...

Steve I think you've been tripped up by a principle you where perhaps not aware. In zero sum games as the number of participants increases cooperation becomes a more and more viable strategy. This doesn't make the game non-zero sum. A lot of modern strategic thought comes out of game theory which concentrates on two player games not because of the the cold war origins but because in general two player games are solvable and more then that are not. For example imagine guy A and guy B splitting up a big pile of money, if guy A can clearly defeat guy B then it won't be in guy B's interests to contest the ownership of any part of the pile that interests guy A. If we introduce guy C to the game things are likely to really change. It is much less likely that one player could physically dominate the other two so now any two players that can cooperate can split the swag. However this is unstable because a player left in the cold can always offer a better deal to one of the coalition of the victorious to defect for a better deal. Increasing the number of players only makes things more byzantine.

This points to insights for many of your other interests as well. Imagine two populations A and B. In pop A when a situation like this comes up the members all immediately and peacefully resolve the game in some completely random way. Pop B however engages in political struggle when these situations occur. If The two populations do not mix and these situations run from once in a lifetime to common in frequency then Pop A will have more time and effort to devote to tech, infrastructure, institutions and culture and in the long term they will blow Pop B away. However if the populations mix then members of Pop B will have a systematic advantage within the resulting society leading to a Pop B type society. Figuring out how to create Pop A style behavior over the very long term is laudable but not easily rewarded.

Anonymous said...

"Plato was an incredible writer and that's the source of much of his fame. You try writing philosophical prose and having it still be read after 2400 years."

Ok sure but the idea isn't that Plato couldn't write obviously he could as could Cicero. For that matter Paul has some of the most powerful images ever created like "through a mirror dimly." And number four on this list has zero extant writings so obviously this wasn't a who is the better stylist competition.

David said...

Corroboration of Falkenstein: Movie producers aren't interested in money, said the elderly Orson Welles; money, he said, is merely "the counters in the game."

What they are truly interested in is status -i.e., ego trips, who is up and who is down. Bluntly put: comparison or envy dominates. There are easier ways to make more money than producing a movie (note that the risk involved in producing a movie is large and must be heavily mitigated at a cost). This may apply to other fields and even be a factor in all.

Fame: historic achievers are generally the tip of a societal iceberg. They count on many connections (direct or less direct) with people working in the same field. Their success is their peers' success. This is why we see fame clusters and why in any big historical event, good or bad, there is a narrative involving several individuals who are all famous. Failure may be an orphan, but it doesn't lack company. Everyone knows who Goebbels is.

Heck, how many people are connected in some funny way even to Kevin Bacon?

Anonymous said...

"Also I really don't get the Plato thing."

"Republic" would be my guess.

.

"What about the First Qin Emporer also known as the Yellow Emperor? The fellow with all those Terra Cotta warriors?"

The list is language mediated so I think there'd be a lot more non-western figures who'd pop up otherwise.

Even if you just added mega historical romances there'd be a bunch of extra women for example - and as the post suggests each would bring along their particular star-crossed lover.

Dave Pinsen said...

Aristotle was the more influential philosopher.

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstand the mechanism by which fame-status is zero sum. It's not, "A fights B and A wins so A gets some of B's status". It's more "A fights B and A wins and it was a really impressive fight so A and B both get status at the expense of all the little people who don't get in as many impressive fights and suddenly have to live up to the example of A and B".

eah said...

And BTW ... it really should be whom you know, not "who you know".

Here's a useful tip about that.

Matt Buckalew said...

"Also I really don't get the Plato thing."

"Republic" would be my guess.


Very glib as expected but what exactly was the lasting influence of the Republican. Which again has a lot of very, very strange ideas that we reject out of hand. I mean guess you could add Platonic love to the previous posters list, but was that really that important. I mean compared to Montesquieu's idea of balance of powers. It that it is fame not influence, but still.

Anonymous said...

Augustus may be more famous than his great uncle. Augustus is also mention in the bible and when Justinian in the 6th century wrote all his titles in the Justinian code he wrote ever Augustus. I feel Augustus is more important than Julius Caesar since he founded a lasting political system with the emperor for 500 years.

Dave Pinsen said...

There's also the Apology. Socrates' decision to stay in Athens and stand trial was the original example of civil disobedience.

manton said...

The problem with this post is that it was not simply the association with a great(er) man that made Plato, Aristotle and Alexander (the Great) great. Each accomplished great things in his own right. Certainly, having a tremendous teacher helped in all three cases. But Socrates, Plato and Aristotle each had dozens (or more) of students, nearly all of whom we've never heard of. And many of whom were ninnies, as Plato's dialogues and Xenophon's writings show. Socrates had a large mass of followers, only a few of whom were really talented. We also know from Diogenes Laertius that some of Plato's students were not all that bright.

Anonymous said...

It's just absurd to dispute the position of Socrates & Plato on this list.

Socrates was, even more than Galileo, the ultimate hero & martyr of freedom of thought & inquiry.

Plato was not only the greatest writer of the Athenian golden age, but the founder of what remains the position to beat in philosophy of mathematics: Platonic realism.

vinteuil

McGillicuddy said...



The results are obviously wrong, but the list is based on fame, not greatness or influence. It would be great if Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates were 3 of the 4 most famous people, but obviously they're not.

And I don't know about fame, but Plato is certainly much greater than Aristotle. What is the big deal with Plato? Are you kidding?

Let's start with influence. Christianity is Platonism. The soul over the body, the permanent imperceptible world over the impermanent perceptible world. That's all Plato; without him, it's just folk morality. And as Russell says, Western Philosophy is but a series of footnotes of Plato.

And speaking of philosophy, Plato is a philosopher in the strictest sense (perhaps because he basically invented the discipline); it is thought-on-thought and counter-intuitive and with a heaping of mysticism. Aristotle is not really Philosophy. Reading him is like reading Confucious or Tao. He just comes up with ad hoc explanations to justify the status quo, and advises that the median way is always right.

And reading Aristotle is a grid.

Plato, on the other hand, even in translation, is the most eloquent writer I've ever read. Beyond eloquence, the structure and the ingenious plots beyond the actual philosophy make his dialogues supreme works of art.

And it doesn't have anything to do with the quality of his thought per se, but the fact that his ideas of the Good obviously run completely counter to his personal inclinations (of course, this is impossible, as he teaches us) is to me extremely admirable. He, clearly, has a deep literary sensibility, and like his Socrates, I'm sure he was a lover of Homer. But his line of reasoning led him to believe that harsh Cromwellian censorship of literature was best for citizen morality, and he did not flinch from this conclusion.

Also like Socrates, he was a bull of a man in build, and according to Aristotle, no one loved life more, and yet he concluded that the body was an evil distraction, that pure mind is the ideal state.

If Aristotle were around today (I know, it's unfair and irrelevant), he would be like Krauthammer, if Plato were around today, he would still be Plato.




Cogswell's Cog said...

Re Falkenstein: relative wealth matters a he'll of a lot when it comes to buying real estate, politicians, or your way into Harvard, Andover, etc. Choosing to be poorer in absolute terms but richer relative to the average is not a ridiculous notion.

Movie producers are more interested in status than money because money is about old success (George Lucas, etc.) and status is more about who's presently making hits.


David said...

>Aristotle is not really Philosophy. Reading him is like reading Confucious or Tao. He just comes up with ad hoc explanations to justify the status quo, and advises that the median way is always right.<

You haven't read him.

Or, charitibly, you have no interest in logic or scientific outlook.

Platonists have never explained why opposing one's own values is admirable per se. The real v. the Forms is just sort of a priori with them.

dcite said...

"The chick appeal of the Tudors seems to be the chief reason why we have to suffer an endless series of films and television series about their endless squabbles..."

All history is endless squabbles. Shakespeare has recorded a few.

The "Tudors" are interesting psychological tapestry punctuated with beheadings. They've got it all.

btw, Ann's lips were still moving in prayer when her head was picked up to display to the crowd.

You learn a lot reading about them. There's a reason the English vocabulary contained the largest number of original words during that era, and has been declining ever since. I don't think the squabble between, say, Lenin and Trotsky, is going to be nearly as alive and well in 500 years.