Sunday, 8 November 2009

Explaining why Australia has not produced scientific or artistic genius

Ever since I began to study Australia culture, I have always been curious about the lock of internationally known Australian scientists and artists. Though I first read about this in an EG article back in 1996, it is only recently with the absorption of more serious writing on the topic that this absence becomes so obvious.

Having read a good deal about how unique the achievements of Western Civilisation are, I have wondered even more why Australia has produced so few important artists and scientists (or for that matter social activists or economists). If what is said by people like Anthony Esolen and Charles Murray is at all correct, one might expect Australia to have been a hotbed of creativity in science and the arts. In fact, Australia has produced far fewer important figures than many European nations with lesser populations, and continues to fail to produce really important artists or scientists.

If one looks through the factors Murray says prevent creativity in science and the arts, the only one that might rule out Australia is low population density. Murray does give some suggestion that even urban Australia was and remains much too sparsely populated to develop cities in which intellectual creativity can flourish. His argument could also be applied to White South Africa, the American South and Mountain West, and even to Canada and New Zealand.

He does little to explain why extremely high population densities are so important a prerequisite, however. More than that, Murray cannot contradict my explanation in terms of Australia's extreme resource abundance stifling creative thinking through eliminating incentives to develop new technologies even with a metaphysical basis that is very effective at producing creativity. It also explains why even as people are drawn by Australia's abundant housing space and slow pace of life, how Australia fails to greatly increase the number of awards it wins.

The fact that the only exception to this rule lies in sporting talent, where with the like of Bradman, Clarrie Grimmett and in more recent times the likes of Peter Sterling Australia has long had a prominence far above its population size is itself revealing. Because sport originated as a form of recreation, the mass of Australians tended to have more time for it than people in other nations. The result seems to be an extraordinary number of talented sportsmen relative to popualtion size.

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