ISSUE-136

In any field of endeavor, it is impossible to make a significant contribution without first being strongly influenced by past achievements within that field.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


Is it possible to make a significant contribution in any field of study without ever being strongly influenced by the achievements made by one’s predecessors first? Some may argue that the influence from past achievements is not a strict prerequisite for any new advancement in a specific field. However, I beg to differ, with the only exception of being in an entirely new field of study where there are no such past achievements to begin with. In all other fields, it is almost inevitable that significant contributions are shaped by the influence of the past achievements within those fields, even counter-intuitively, including creative fields such as painting and music.

To begin with, it should be acknowledged that in those emerging fields where any new discovery can be regarded as breakthroughs, one does not need to be influenced by past achievements to make significant contributions. The logical justification of this argument is self-evident: if a field is completely new, there is few established achievements to begin with. One of such fields for example is machine learning, a rapidly developing field in which new exciting discoveries are being made each day. In this particular field, which is still in its infancy, past achievements are so few that researchers are almost stepping into uncharted territories. In such very specific scenarios, therefore, significant contributions do not necessarily rely upon past achievements, which are absent by nature.

Nevertheless, in other fields where human beings have accumulated a considerable amount of knowledge, substantial progresses cannot be made without the influence of past achievements. Here, my point of view applies to both natural and social sciences. First, for natural science and engineering, breakthroughs and innovations are built upon our cumulative knowledge. Step by step, researchers test new, bold hypotheses by adopting existing methodologies, which are the fruition of past achievements. On the other hand, it is hardly conceivable nowadays that a scientist would be able to make astonishingly new findings without any training in that field. Similarly, in social science past achievements still deeply influence how scholars think. For example, John Nash, who came up with the original idea of governing dynamics that later became game theory, was first under the influence of classic economic theory by Adam Smith. It is through critically evaluating the past

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achievements that John Nash refined the theories of human behaviors and laid the foundation of behavior economics.

Of course, some people would argue that my previous reasoning only applies to the field of science, with the realization that progresses must be made in an incremental fashion. However, they challenge that in fields that appreciate and are driven by human creativity, especially arts, one can make great contributions without any past influence. One example, French Impressionism was hailed as “The New Painting” by critics in the late 19th century. Bold and expressive, impressionist painters created a new form of art that audaciously illustrated the natural scene through a lucid brush. Clearly, as a new painting, Impressionism leaped forward to open up a whole new realm of artistic style that is not influenced by previous painters.

Such a criticism may seemingly be reasonable at first glance, but nevertheless it overlooks the importance of past achievements and their influence on human creativity. Contrary to popular belief, creativity does not stem from a vacuum; instead, in order to come up with something original, one still needs to look back and understand what has been achieved by his or her predecessors. Let’s take a closer look at the example of French Impressionism quoted above. While it is true that today we regard Impressionism as a new form of art, before its emergence many painters outside France have already innovated painting techniques and philosophies that eventually became the signature styles adopted by French Impressionists. In other words, Impressionism was indeed influenced by previous achievements, although people today would mostly appreciate the eventuality of a movement materialized by Impressionist painter: the Impressionism itself.

To summarize, I concede that in certain occasions significant contributions can be made without past achievements, when such achievements are absent. However, in all other fields it is certainly not the case. Even in fields such as arts, contributions that are seemingly creative and original at first sight actually have a deeper connection to what has been achieved in the past.



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