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Not knowing what to do or what others did can be an advantage. Einstein developed his theory of relatively by simply discarding all the known theories about how physics worked. In my own experience at IBM, I solved a bug that had been repeatedly opened over a series of 9 years by simply asking the question, "Is this number a hex or a decimal?"

"Einstein developed his theory of relatively by simply discarding all the known theories about how physics worked."

That's ludicrous nonsense. The primary breakthrough of the theory of relatively was taking what the math had been telling physicists about the universe for years seriously. In hindsight, everything necessary was there before Einstein, it just was very deeply assumed not to be reasonable. Relativity builds on numerous pre-existing foundations and is very much in the "standing on the shoulder of giants" tradition.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_relativity#Developme... , first paragraph

Yes, he knew them and discarded them. Adam Frank's excellent About Time does a good job of telling the story.

If you took out the bits of relativity that were developed by others, you'd be left with not very much. Relativity without the Lorentz transform... I'm not even sure how one would resolve that. As I said, the vast majority of the insight was just taking what the math was already saying seriously. Einstein put it into a final form, and this is important and valid work, but it's not like he invented all the mathematical tools from scratch.

Either you've misinterpreted Adam Frank's work, or it isn't excellent.

I'll counter-cite Reflections on Relativity, which contains a lot of deep analysis of the mathematical history of relativity both before and after Einstein: https://mathpages.com/rr/rrtoc.htm which makes it quite clear both what he did, and did not do.

I'm no astrophysicist, though Frank is. The two concepts I'm referring to as being "discarded" were Newton's idea that motion (ie: time and space) exist in a fixed frame of reference. I think it's fair to say Einstein tossed that out wholeheartedly. The other idea Frank mentions that Einstein threw away was the idea of an æther that filled the voids in the universe. According to Frank, Einstein didn't like this idea so he just worked without it.

> Yes, he knew them and discarded them.

That's the sign of an expert, not a generalist.

> by simply discarding all the known theories about how physics worked

But he wasn't ignorant of them. He knew the existing work. He was extremely well read in physics and maths. He wasn't a generalist!

If you get a group of random generalists to build your compiler, or your graphics engine, or your cryptography stack, they aren't going to know what they don't know, and it'd take them decades to come up to speed.

As somebody who wrote all of the above (and a lot more) I call B.S. on this one.

The amount of unique stuff in each subfield is not that great, and if you have a wide and solid base in different subfields, picking up the unique ideas and techniques isn't that hard or time consuming.

But after a generalist has it, he is a lot more productive and creative because he often applies stuff from other subfields to come up with better/novel solution to the problem at hand - something a specialist cannot do.

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