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Old 06-20-2013, 03:09 PM   #31
Ninjalawyer
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There are far more people today with a decent level of education that have the free time to engage in idle thinking and chatter than there ever were when salons were a thing. There are also far more ways to engage in conversation with people that don't require having those people be within the range of a typical horse-drawn carriage.

It makes me a little sad when there are people posting on an internet forum (the name "forum" should be a clue), wondering at the loss of the salon and where all the thinkers have gone. The salon hasn't gone anywhere, it's now everywhere and accessible by (nearly) everyone.

And naturally, there's the usual subtext from the usual suspects of "things used to be better x number of years ago".


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Intelligent conversation is almost completely dead....
I think you might be generalizing from your own particular circumstances. There are uncountable places to find intelligent conversation, both online and off; maybe try widening your horizons beyond MobileRead?

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Old 06-20-2013, 05:05 PM   #32
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College dorm rooms.
Wait, people do more in dorms than sleep and booze up?
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Old 06-21-2013, 05:53 AM   #33
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Saloons: I'm sure that if you were there in the saloon at the time, listening to them talk, you'd probably just think they were loud, opinionated drunks. It's only the passing of time that allows us to say that they were the great thinkers of the time. On a side note, have you seen the film Midnight in Paris where the main character goes back in time to meet all these characters in the saloons of the day - it might be worth watching.

College dorm rooms: I don't think I should say what happened in my room but I certainly look back on those days with a smile. I certainly don't remember talking much.

TED talks: they are probably close to what you're after but they're not a discussion, they talk and you listen.

Internet forums: places such as these are great but of course it's not reality as such. There's also the issue of forum guidelines, karma, likes etc that mean we have to edit our thoughts and avoid certain avenues of thought. It's a bit like being in the saloons you talk about but then having your grandmother sit behind you ready to throw you out the bar if you say anything she dislikes - I understand it's necessary to keep the peace but it doesn't lead to great thinking.

I'm not even sure how many great thinkers there are out there these days that I'd like to have a beer with. Stephen Hawkins might be difficult, Craig Venter perhaps, Thomas Heatherwick probably - but I can't see it happening
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Old 06-21-2013, 06:33 AM   #34
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Saloons: [...]
Could we please avoid the double-o in salon? It’ll take me a day now to get the picture of Gertrude Stein with a cowboy hat selling whisky out of my head!
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Old 06-21-2013, 06:56 AM   #35
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I'll try
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Old 06-21-2013, 07:14 AM   #36
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I'll try
Thanks, compañero.
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Old 06-21-2013, 07:16 AM   #37
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Would everyone be too busy seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and thinking no evel .....mmmmm .....
The first precept of zen: First you must stop the monkey mind.
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Old 06-21-2013, 07:18 AM   #38
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Could we please avoid the double-o in salon? It’ll take me a day now to get the picture of Gertrude Stein with a cowboy hat selling whisky out of my head!
This! Two completely different concepts.
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Old 06-21-2013, 08:19 AM   #39
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I'm not even sure how many great thinkers there are out there these days that I'd like to have a beer with. Stephen Hawkins might be difficult, Craig Venter perhaps, Thomas Heatherwick probably - but I can't see it happening
There are probably far more "great" thinkers today than there ever have been. It would be nothing for me to name off 10 or 20 names of people I consider great thinkers that are alive today, and there's no reason to believe that the world has suddenly (in spite of literacy rates that are close to 100% in developed countries and better education) stopped producing great thinkers.

And you know what? A lot of great thinkers are or have been available in some form to chat with, no matter where you are. Twitter, Google Hangouts and Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) have made great thinkers available to chat with. Reddit AMAs in particular have featured a ton of famous scientists, actors, politicians and astronauts (e.g. here is Chris Hadfield, answering questions while orbiting the Earth).

People also mention TED talks, but actually just watching TED talks won't provide a back-and-forth conversation. For that, they would need to attend a TED talk in-person; being at a TED conference in-person is a much different experience and lets famous thinkers and common folk mingle and chat for hours, so is probably closer to the "salon" idea some are thinking of.

TL;DR Version: Great thinkers are available in a salon-like setting if you're willing to look.

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Old 06-21-2013, 09:55 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Ninjalawyer View Post
There are probably far more "great" thinkers today than there ever have been. It would be nothing for me to name off 10 or 20 names of people I consider great thinkers that are alive today
Could I hear your top 10 then? Obviously it's going to be subjective so I'll offer no criticism of your choices.

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literacy rates that are close to 100% in developed countries
I think it depends on where you get your figures. This list on wikipedia shows the UK & the US as having 99% literacy however other reports show 1 in 5 in the UK have severe problems reading (similar story in the US). My wife teaches people with literacy issues so I believe the truth may be closer to the latter.

Maybe it boils down to a person's definition of literate. Is it someone who can recognise simple words? someone who can read a book? someone who actually has read a book? or someone who reads for pleasure and who can discus the ideas found within them?

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Twitter, Google Hangouts and Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) have made great thinkers available to chat with. Reddit AMAs in particular have featured a ton of famous scientists, actors, politicians and astronauts
I'm not sure I'd find it particularly enlightening talking with actors though I'm sure they have great stories to tell. Politicians certainly don't fall into the "enlightened thinkers of our time" category either - I'd probably pay not to sit at the same table! Astronauts are certainly brave and would have fascinating stories but again, I don't think that makes them great thinkers.

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People also mention TED talks, but actually just watching TED talks won't provide a back-and-forth conversation. For that, they would need to attend a TED talk in-person; being at a TED conference in-person is a much different experience and lets famous thinkers and common folk mingle and chat for hours, so is probably closer to the "salon" idea some are thinking of.
To attend the next conference in Vancouver costs roughly $7500 + hotel bills + travel. I don't need to be a genius to know that's a bit steep to hope that some of their genius might rub off.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:18 AM   #41
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There are probably far more "great" thinkers today than there ever have been.
There have always been a lot of great thinkers. They just didn't blog as much.

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a woman born in 1918. After the funeral some gathered at a restaurant to reflect and remember. Her son shared some western union telegrams he found among her belongings. She and her future husband planned their nuptials via western union. Each read as a text message or email. That was in 1943.

Thinking and process haven't changed much -- it's just that the tools are getting better.
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Old 06-21-2013, 03:00 PM   #42
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I'm not sure I'd find it particularly enlightening talking with actors though I'm sure they have great stories to tell. Politicians certainly don't fall into the "enlightened thinkers of our time" category either - I'd probably pay not to sit at the same table! Astronauts are certainly brave and would have fascinating stories but again, I don't think that makes them great thinkers.

To attend the next conference in Vancouver costs roughly $7500 + hotel bills + travel. I don't need to be a genius to know that's a bit steep to hope that some of their genius might rub off.
To answer your post in no particular order:

1. If your definition of "great" thinker is so limited as to exclude all actors, politicians and astronauts, I think that might be your issue in finding "great" thinkers. That said, even excluding those people, you will find there are multitude of philosophers, scientists, economists, policy analysts and artists that would fit most reasonable definitions of great thinkers. Many of these people have also done Reddit AMAs.

2. A few great thinkers off the top of my head: Stephen Hawkings, Stephen Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett, Ray Kurzweill, Noam Chomski, Tim Berners-Lee, Richard Dawkins, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Garry Kasparov, Margaret Attwood, Marvin Minsky, Douglas Hofstadter, Thomas Friedman, Freeman Dyson and Craig Venter. I think I said 10, but I thought I would throw in a few bonus individuals in case any on my list had died without me noticing.

3. My comment on the TED Talks conference was more to show that there are venues for great thinkers that are like the Salon, even if I don't think it's that necessary to leave your house to access a lot of these people.

4. It doesn't really matter what your definition of "literacy" is. It's a simple matter of probability: Someone in the heyday of the salon would have to have both a brilliant mind and find themselves in a situation where they also have a basic level of literacy. If we assume that there are as many potential great minds being born today as then (a very conservative assumption given the greater population today), there will be more of those people who are exposed to at least a basic level of literacy and more of those that will have the high level of literacy you seem to be looking for.

Of course, I would argue that, for many great thinkers, a basic level of literacy is sufficient (e.g., Marvin Minsky). Stephen Hawking may not be classically well-read, but it would be difficult to say that his discoveries (e.g. Hawking Radiation) don't result in him being considered to have a great mind.

In any event, an 80% effective literacy rate (assuming 1 in 5 having reading problems) is still far better than it was back when the salons were running. Enough anyway to make sure those potentially brilliant minds get the nourishment they need.

5. BONUS: Just as an aside, there's good evidence that people, as a group, are getting smarter not stupider (e.g., the Flynn Effect). There's no reason to think that in any group of people there will be fewer brilliant thinkers today than yesterday given the general rise of intelligence.

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Old 06-21-2013, 04:07 PM   #43
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I don't exclude those professions but actors chose to mimic others which seems an odd thing for a great thinker to do, astronauts are admirable in almost every way but I don't think they're the greatest thinkers and politicians are just politicians. I'm not sure why I'm defending my position though as you don't seem to have any either

Oddly your list of great thinkers is very similar to my own. Perhaps there really aren't that many great thinkers out there to chose from? I'll admit I didn't have quite so many from Google or any chess players. Oddly none on the list are particularly young.

My suspicion is that people aren't getting smarter. There was a film called Idiocracy which explained why - it's a fairly low brow comedy but it seemed to have it's finger on the pulse (well worth watching if you worry about your fellow man).

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Old 06-21-2013, 05:14 PM   #44
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I don't exclude those professions but actors chose to mimic others which seems an odd thing for a great thinker to do, astronauts are admirable in almost every way but I don't think they're the greatest thinkers and politicians are just politicians. I'm not sure why I'm defending my position though as you don't seem to have any either

Oddly your list of great thinkers is very similar to my own. Perhaps there really aren't that many great thinkers out there to chose from? I'll admit I didn't have quite so many from Google or any chess players. Oddly none on the list are particularly young.

My suspicion is that people aren't getting smarter. There was a film called Idiocracy which explained why - it's a fairly low brow comedy but it seemed to have it's finger on the pulse (well worth watching if you worry about your fellow man).
The individuals on my list are older because: (i) great thinkers often only became great after getting some life experience; and (ii) it takes awhile for someone to get famous enough as a thinker for someone like me to recognize them as such.

I've also seen and enjoyed Idiocracy, but its main premise (people are getting stupider because stupid people breed more) isn't based on facts. People generally seem to share the lurking suspicion that the world used to be better in some undefined past and that people are getting less intelligent, but that suspicion doesn't stand up to research.

The Wikipedia article on the Flynn Effect might prove an interesting read on this. I'd also really recommend Stephen Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature if you want an incredibly well-researched argument that the world is becoming more not less civilized (Pinker talks about rates of violence from all causes, but I'm going to cheat and equate that with being civilized), and has been for thousands of years. Pinker's book also discusses the Flynn Effect and related research, although it isn't the main thrust of the book. The book is dense (around 1,000 pages), but it's probably one of the most uplifting I've ever read.


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Old 06-21-2013, 06:34 PM   #45
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I have to ask - what is a great thinker?

Because how you define "great thinker" determines what "subset of great thinkers" you are interested in. An area of thought? A level of fame? Expertise, general or specific?

They may be all around you, but if they don't fit your pigeonhole, you'll never notice them. Don't dismiss the idea - think of all the jokes about the great wise man/woman/other at the top of the inaccessible mountain. Maybe he went there because he determined that nobody was interested in his style of wisdom.

It takes a special kind of person to want to have their mind stretched. unfortunately, in this day and age, fewer and fewer people seem to want to do so...
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