Chet Raymo at Science Musings:
Which of the following works would you choose to be lost, if only three could be saved: Michelangelo’s Pieta, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, or Einstein’s 1905 paper on relativity.
French microbiologist Antoine Danchin asked this question in his book, The Delphic Boat: What Genomes Tell Us.
The answer is easy, he says. Trash Einstein’s paper.
Not because Einstein’s theory of relativity is any less creative or any less important than the works of Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart. In the long run, relativity may have vastly more significance for human life than the work of any single artist.
However, if Einstein had not invented relativity, someone else would have done so. The idea was in the air in 1905. Sooner or later, every detail of Einstein’s work would have been reproduced by someone else, or by a group of people.
The same is true of most big breakthroughs in science. Newton’s theory of universal gravitation was probably inevitable in the late-17th century, if not from Newton then from Robert Hooke, say, or Gottfried Leibnitz. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was conceived simultaneously by Alfred Russel Wallace.
But if Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart had not lived, the works of their particular geniuses would be lost forever.