The philosopher Daniel Dennett has long described consciousness as “fame in the brain.” He believes different representations of reality compete with one another at a subconscious level, and conscious perception begins when one representation wins. It’s a surprising concept. And one that provoked us to look more carefully at fame itself.
What we found is that fame is far more than empty pursuit or idle distraction. It is a proper category of natural phenomena. For example, isn’t evolution a race among genes for dominance? And what about the development of languages, or the formation of cities, or scientific peer review? When we looked, we found competition among agents and representations in every direction. Winner take all.
In social systems, too, science is systematizing and deepening our view of fame. Consider the Forbes Celebrity 100 list—a numerical marvel. It considers eleven social media platforms, a 46-attribute opinion poll, the frequency of media mentions, and total income, to arrive at a measure of a celebrity’s “power” (Oprah is first this year).
From Forbes to Facebook, we have used science and technology to move fame from surmise to spreadsheet. The result is a different kind of creature than we are used to, crouching among networks and equations. So framed, fame deserves our attention.
Welcome to “Fame.”Read the Issue