Monday, November 04, 2013

Why are there so many Jewish Nobel laureates?

Elder of Ziyon

Why so many Jewish Nobel Laureates?

The medicine, physics, and other such Nobel Prizes are typically awarded for major game-changing contributions in their fields.

A Nobel laureate in physics, chemistry or medicine is an expert in his/her field. But rather than becoming dogmatic, s/he remained open-minded, keeping eyes open and searching intensively for the truth rather than in following the intellectual fashion of the day (I am thinking, for example, of the discovery of quasi-crystals).

As a result, the Nobel laureate saw something that nobody else saw. Given the same data that others had in their possession, s/he had game-changing insights. And s/he pursued these insights instead of following the crowd, and ultimately persevered.

Why are there so many Jewish Nobel laureates in these particular fields?

Jewish culture values discussion, not suppression. And this tendency is thousands of years old, part of our cultural and religious DNA. There is no pope in Judaism, and a page of the Talmud is a discussion, not a dictate. Jewish scholars have been debating and discussing and publishing their ideas for millennia. Ask two Jews for an opinion, and you famously get three opinions. And we're not shy about sharing those opinions with you. Look at Israel's political culture. This is a country of only 8 million people, and yet the diversity and fluidity of political opinion is incredible.

Jewish culture values truth, not convenient falsehood. Consider, for example, how readily Israel's enemies resort to the simple Big Lie ("Israel is Apartheid", for example), while Jewish advocates for Israel struggle to communicate the truth to the world. NGOs and media publish utter nonsense moments after something happens; the IDF refuses to comment until it has actually investigated and knows what happened.

Jewish culture values knowledge, not blind obedience. While Jews are as likely as the next person to cheer a prince or a sports hero, not all cultures have historically treated scholars and philosophers like "rock stars," as Jews have historically done. Also, with Jewish history littered with expulsions, pogroms, laws designed to prevent us from owning land, and attempts to destroy our people, prestige and measures of success among Jews tended to be based on something portable: knowledge, education, skills, ability.

"Modern" Jewish culture is relatively merit-driven, rather than worshipping authority or staying in hereditary boxes. Sure, leadership has been hereditary in a few cases, and sure, there are Levites and Cohanim. But Jewish communities throughout history have been repeatedly uprooted, expelled or smashed. The relatively well-off family of one generation might be driven out by antisemitic forces and forced to start over in the next generation. In the succeeding generations, talent and abilities allowed Jews to make a new start.

Jewish culture values entrepreneurship, and also values improving the world. This has been true for millennia, too. There has always been a willingness to start from scratch and build a new life, rather than simply crying in our wine. Memory impels us rather than debilitating us. And there have always been people - our prophets, our entrepreneurs and merchants, our pioneering doctors, the ingathered exiles who rebuilt Israel. Faced with an empty desert, these people see its potential to bloom. Even the crazy Jewish leftists are responding, at some level, to Jewish instincts (sadly, their minds have been trapped in the mirror-world of socialist nonsense, and they have closed their eyes and their minds to what is real). And there have been people who, faced with a scienti fic theory or approach that sort of works but isn't quite good enough, are willing to strike out on their own and find one that works better.

Jewish culture values perseverance. Of course it does. We would not be here otherwise.

So is it any wonder that Jews win a lot of Nobel Prizes in the sciences and medicine, despite the ridiculously small number of Jews in the world?

Peace and Literature

What about the Peace and Literature Prizes? Jews have indeed won a number of these prizes. However, the number here is drastically smaller than in the sciences and economics. Jews tend to win in the sciences and also in economics (often in areas related to psychology or modeling) because in these areas, the impacts of discoveries are more readily measurable. The personal, political, antisemitic or in some cases severe anti-American biases of Nobel committee members are less able to decide the matter.

Literature is interesting. Only 8 Literature prizes have been awarded to the United States since 1945, reflecting a near-permanent anti-American / pro-European bias on the part of the Nobel committee. Israel, the US, and a handful of other countries host the vast majority of Jews. Of the 8 US prizes, 3 were awarded to American Jews (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow and Joseph Brodsky). If the US were not virtually blacklisted by the Nobel Literature committee, it is likely that there would be many more Jews on the list (Philip Roth, for one).

In any event, forget about the Nobel literature committee. The real test of quality literature is time. Some of the most important Jewish books have lasted for thousands of years, and yet remain extremely relevant; they have been translated into virtually every human language, and are consulted daily by hundreds of millions of people. Now that's great literature. And with a literary tradition like that in our family, how could we help but strive for excellence in writing?

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