I really enjoy this elven mathematicians thing Lintamande and Kaz have going and a comment about niches and the difficulty of breaking into a field where all your predecessors are still alive reminded me of these two quotes from the same source.
This is a world where things move at their own pace, including a tiny lift Fortey and I shared with a scholarly looking elderly man with whom Fortey chatted genially and familiarly as we proceeded upwards at about the rate that sediments are laid down.
When the man departed, Fortey said to me: “That was a very nice chap named Norman who’s spent forty-two years studying one species of plant, St. John’s wort. He retired in 1989, but he still comes in every week.”
"How do you spend forty-two years on one species of plant?" I asked.
"It’s remarkable, isn’t it?" Fortey agreed. He thought for a moment. "He’s very thorough apparently."
Something that had been puzzling me was the question of how you assured a chain of succession in these arcane fields. Clearly there cannot be many institutions in the world that require or are prepared to support specialists in barnacles or Pacific snails. As we parted at the Natural History Museum in London, I asked Richard Fortey how science ensures that when one person goes there’s someone ready to take his place.
He chuckled rather heartily at my naïveté. “I’m afraid it’s not as if we have substitutes sitting on the bench somewhere waiting to be called in to play. When a specialist retires or, even more unfortunately, dies, that can bring a stop to things in that field, sometimes for a very long while.”
"And I suppose that’s why you value someone who spends forty-two years studying a single species of plant, even if it doesn’t produce anything terribly new?"
"Precisely," he said, "precisely." And he really seemed to mean it.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Both of which would be pretty relevant issues in the natural sciences in Aman, I think. Okay, the second one would actually be inverted with the whole not-dying thing and the problem would actually be new people wanting to study something that already had a specialist. There’d be lots of ‘but they’ve been studying Taniquetil mountain lilies since before the Darkening, do you really think you can come up with something new’ and ‘trust me, they don’t take to competition well’. It would be a really, really tough environment for new people. (I imagine horror stories include how long they had to spend studying things like moss before their teacher allowed them to move onto something more exciting.) And if you don’t have a teacher, someone whose reputation was respected, to back you up? Forget being taken seriously.
Side-note: the Vanyar have pseudo-monasteries in the Pelori and the Noldor their universities in Tirion, but I have no idea what the Teleri’s centres of learning would be?