That’s Chuck Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier back in 1947. When future historians (if we still have those) look back at the 2020s, they’ll recognize this as the era we broke the attention barrier. Thanks for reading Polytrope! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Insightful commentary on the consequences of a field growing past the ability for individual participants to keep up.
But- this phenomenon predates the modern era. I've heard it said that Helmholtz, who died in 1894, was the last true polymath -- he was the last person to be able to stay at the cutting edge of the entirety of (Western) science.
It seems that each field of study initially starts out tractable, but grows in proportion to its usefulness and memetic fecundity until it breaks the attention barrier, at which point it must schism. There's probably plenty to be said about such schisms-- seems likely that esoteric/exoteric becomes an important delineation, that there's pressure to produce externally legible results as a field, etc. I won't work out the consequences here.