Chapter 14: Findings and insights
As a child, I was taught that curiosity was a sinful tendency to have. Not curiosity about things, of course, but about people. Curiosity about other people means that you are tempted to stick your nose into things that are none of your business. And to violate somebody else’s private sphere is immoral. I still believe in this moral tenet that my parents have passed on to me. In this same vein, one of the Nobel Laureates that I have interviewed for this book, Robert M. Solow, says elsewhere that he is ‘put off by peeks into the hearts and minds of people who should in some important sense be anonymous.’1 But at the same time, it is not always easy to obey this rule of decency. For one, empathy makes one want to know more about others, and in many cases, one obviously should follow that instinct: reciprocity as the general law governing human interaction may require that one inquires.2 But what is more, everybody learns from the example of others – beyond the classic pattern of elite formation that sociologists may be interested in and which Harriet Zuckerman describes as a process of accumulative advantage, that is as ‘the spiraling of augmented achievements and rewards for individuals and a system of stratification that is sharply graded’.3 In her view, the ascent into the ultra-elite follows an almost commonplace script. The future laureates begin their careers by working hard and long at their research. Consequently, they produce a good deal...
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