Edited by Peter Bernholz and Roland Vaubel
Chapter 3: Creative clusters, political fragmentation and cultural heterogeneity: an investigative journey through civilizations East and West
Dean Keith Simonton Although historians often question the existence of any ‘laws of history’ (Norling 1970), it is certain that at least some historical generalizations have withstood considerable empirical scrutiny (Simonton 1990, 1994). Among these well-established regularities is the fact that creative genius is not randomly distributed over the history of any given civilization. On the contrary, illustrious creators tend to fall into temporal clusters separated by periods of relative sterility – Golden Ages and perhaps lesser Silver Ages punctuated by Dark Ages. For instance, Velleius Paterculus, a Roman historian, made the following observation over two millennia ago: For who can marvel sufficiently that the most distinguished minds in each branch of human achievement have happened to adopt the same form of effort, and to have fallen within the same narrow space of time . . . A single epoch, and that only of a few years’ duration, gave lustre to tragedy through the three men of divine inspiration, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes . . . The great philosophers, too, received their inspiration from the lips of Socrates . . . how long did they flourish after the death of Plato and Aristotle? What distinction was there in oratory before Isocrates, or after the time of his disciples and in turn of their pupils? So crowded were they into a brief epoch that there were no two worthy of mention who could not have seen each other. (Kroeber 1944: 17) Several investigators have tried to document this phenomenon in specific creative domains or world civilizations. For instance, Schneider (1937) demonstrated...