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The Story of Success: in Symbiotic Mannerism

Joanna is an online writer who enjoys researching historical and scientific topics.

The Story of Success

It takes some brilliant mind to compute extraordinary discovery yet it takes another route to reach success and to make it known to others.

We see ideas that worked as success and plans that didn't as thwarted. We see a successful book as having fine qualities and unpublished manuscripts as lacking. we put high emphasis on those who thrive and brush off those who don't. "We judge people and initiatives by their results, and we expect events to happen for good, understandable reasons." We are so accustomed to the ways things are that we failed to accept that things could be different. We put high emphasis on talent and success. We misjudge people by defining his success as a measurement. The truth is, that another ingredient in success is the role of timing, luck, connections, and socio-economic background.

Every day new scientific papers are produced, some take months or not years of work. Agonizingly, success is never guaranteed. Throughout the time we were presented with people who discovered amazing things yet succumb without triumph, or worst saw someone else take the credit for their work. Many scientific papers get forgotten, swam radiantly in an abyss of many others - sometimes rediscovered and brought into a level of prominence, but most of the time never. There were many reasons, some mundane, some extreme.

Not all who went down the path will end up rich or famous. Most of those who are courageous enough to take a leap of faith failed. For every big success in the world, there are thousands, even ten thousand failures. The probability of failure is high but never definite. Failure is inevitable but never guaranteed. either we win or learn from it. Ability does not guarantee achievement or vice versa. The role of changes needs to be added to the equation. Since good luck and bad luck are correlated, if the need to accept bad luck is a must, then good luck has an equal say.

Reciprocity brings out the best in people

According to the accident theory of life, the connection between actions and rewards is random and this random has a great impact. It is well-known as the butterfly effect. Our minor decisions can lead to inconsequential random events that led to big changes - people we met by chance, a job opportunity that came our way.

Symbiosism in Success

The symbiotic relationship can be explained in both a natural and economic sense. In nature, symbiotic is the life-long relationships of animals with other animals to exist. in economics, it is the practice of exchanging things - tangible or intangible - with others for mutual benefit.

Below are four people who have great travails they could offer the world. Yet, their lacking, or unlucky, has hindered their destined success. Fortunately, others have stepped in and made the potential to be known.

They are a few great people who benefited from the concept of symbiotic relationships either in terms of mutualism or commensalism.

1. John Michell

John Michell, a Yorkshire clergyman, geologist, and astronomer was one of the overlook geniuses of 18th-century science because he neglected the need to develop his revolutionary ideas into full-pledged theories. Michell has no interest in the merit of his work.

John Michell

John Michell

All in his lifetime accomplishment, nothing was far greater in originality and impact other than his machine to measure the mass of the Earth. As pretentious as it may sound, Michell never built it. It was his brilliant and magnificent retiring good friend, Henry Cavendish, who built it. Before he died, Michell passed down to Cavendish the idea and equipment needed to build the machine.

Henry Cavendish was a natural philosopher, the greatest experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age. At the age of sixty-seven, in the late summer of 1797, Cavendish runs his last known experiment. The experiment was not initiated by himself but left to him, evidently out of simple scientific respect. And it is the machine Michell has left for him. Cavendish did not claim the glory himself. He gave Michell full credit for the idea.

Michell's torsion balance, used in the Cavendish experiment

Michell's torsion balance, used in the Cavendish experiment

How does Michell's invention work?

A fiber is fastened to the middle of a six-foot pole and suspended horizontally by two 1-kg lead balls at either end. The rod began to rotate clockwise after he placed a large lead ball next to each of the smaller ones, creating a gravitational attraction. Cavendish was able to determine the force that each of the huge balls applied to the 1-kg balls by tracking the movement of the rod. He was able to calculate the gravitational constant, the Earth's mass, and its typical density using the results of these computations.

Michell’s Black Hole

Earth was not the only astronomical object mass Michell had tried to calculate. Michell come up with an impressive scientific discovery 200 years before it become a part of mainstream science. Michell is the first person known to have proposed the existence of black holes. In 1783, Michelle worked on a method to calculate the masses of stars by calculating the speed of light, before E=mc^2 exist. Using Isaac Newton's understanding that light was made up of particles, and corpuscles have mass; Michell theorized that gravity would slow down the speed of light, and calculating the speed of light coming from a star will eventually reveal its gravitational influence and its mass. Although this theory is wrong, Michell has come up with an extreme case where the star’s gravity was so strong that even light would not escape. Michell has come up with the idea of black holes. Well, he never called it the black hole. He called it the dark star. Yet, according to the theory of general relativity, an object whose gravity is large enough to prevent light from escaping must be a black hole.

2. James Hutton

James Hutton was a Scottish geologist, chemist, and naturalist. After completing his study in 1769, Hutton spent four years in Edinburgh associating with the luminaries of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Reciprocity brings out the best in people

As Cavendish has helped Michell in unfolding the potential of Michell's discovery, James Clerk Maxwell helped Cavendish in his. Henry Cavendish was a great scientist ahead of his time. At the end of the nineteenth century, Maxwell edited Cavendish’s papers and discovered most of his experiments with electrical conductivity which by that time, most of his discoveries had been given to someone else.

Hutton, as painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1776. National Galleries of Scotland

Hutton, as painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1776. National Galleries of Scotland

It is in Edinburgh Playfair met Hutton. Hutton’s style of writing can be presumed as erroneous misrepresentations and has cause attacked from the few that had read it. It was only after five years after Hutton’s death that his ideas were supported.
Undeniably, Hutton has a great idea but has not had the knack to make it presentable for others to grasp his idea. This is when Playfair’s role has been the greatest help.
John Playfair (1748-1819), a Scottish geologist and mathematician, was a great friend of Hutton. Whilst writing a memorial after Hutton’s death in 1797, Playfair made a detailed study of Hutton's geological work and made published it in 1802 under the title “Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth”.
Playfair's very powerful popular account, Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth, boosted uniformitarianism's acceptance. Playfair only meant to compose a biographical memoir for his friend after Hutton died. Playfair’s part in presenting the theory in a simple and fluent style presentation by a series of chapters explaining Huttonian theory, plus facts to support an argument given against it. Playfair works have claimed Hutton the credit and fame Hutton deserves in the first place; now he is regarded as the first great British geologist. Interestingly, it somehow continuously became a reply to critics of Hutton’s theories of geology and motivated Playfair’s five years of work (1797-1802) geological work on Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth.

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Here are a few examples of how Hutton’s ideas were opposed:

1. Neptunism vs. Plutonism

Neptunism is a theory that rocks in Earth’s crust were formed by the crystallization of minerals on the seabed. For example, in Neptunism's point of view, granites are the oldest rock kind, having formed from an ocean.

Plutonism is a theory that the process that builds and arranges rocks into the existing landscape is driven by heat hidden within Earth’s interior, and rock-formation processes are both constant and slow. Unlike Neptunism, Plutionism believes that granites are among the Earth's youngest rocks.

Hutton’s background as a farmer had him the attention of how resilient the land was to rain and wind. While it was not Hutton who first propose plutonism, it was he who expounded the theory to the Royal Society of Edinburg and the general scientific community.

1. Catastrophism vs. Uniformitarianism

Catastrophism is the notion that the majority of Earth's features are caused by violent, large-scale events that occurred over a short period. As a result, an extinct species was most likely wiped out by a massive natural calamity. Worldwide earthquakes and eruptions are thought to have shaped a magnificent mountain range.

Uniformitarianism, on the other hand, states that the characteristics of the Earth’s surface are slow, continuous geologic processes, rather than sudden catastrophic catastrophes. In other words, 'the present is the key to the past. Landform erosion, sediment deposition, continent shifting, and volcanic eruptions all happened long ago, on nearly the same scale and at roughly the same rate as they do now.

Even though Hutton supported the view that God created the earth, he was at odds with Bible as scientific evidence. For this matter, his ideas were either attacked or ignored.

Reciprocity brings out the best in people

It was Charles Lyell who grasp the importance of Hutton’s work, but only a generation after Playfair published Hutton’s work. Through John Playfair’s book can only Lyell has all that he wanted to know about Hutton’s ideas. John Playfair’s book has helped Lyell in acquiring the information needed about James Hutton’s ideas. Even Playfair's excellent editing does not do the magic when it comes to a theory that is opposed not only by the church but by fellow scientists as well. It takes Lyell’s expertise, roughly a decade later, for the theory finally to be recognized by many.

3. Srinivasa Ramanujan

Godfrey Harold Hardy was a great mathematician with great achievements in number theory and mathematical analysis. But one of his notable acts, which has changed the world of mathematics was his tirelessness in adopting and mentoring a self-taught Indian Mathematician genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan. It was Hardy's eagerness to nurture Ramanujan's talent that brought Ramanujan to unleash his potential. Yet, in Hardy's own words "so I had to try to teach him, and in a measure I succeeded, though I obviously learnt from him much more than he learnt from me."

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan

Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar came from a poor orthodox Brahmin family in Madras. He was a brilliant student at school. Ramanujan has shown a remarkable reputation earlier in his life. At the age of ten, Ramanujan scored top in his district standard exams. He became famous because of his witty memories, and ability to recite digits of numbers such as pi or the roots of Sanskrit words. He graduated high school at the age of seventeen and was given a scholarship for college due to his mathematical prowess. Ramanujan started learning mathematics on his own in high school and even started conducting his research notably on the numeric evolution of Euler's constant, and on properties of Bernoulli numbers. It could be assumed that his ability expanded at great expansion after acquiring a copy of 1055 pages of a comprehensive summary of high-end undergraduate mathematics when Ramanujan was sixteen. In college, he failed his other classes because all he ever wanted to do was his mathematics. From there on, he tried other colleges, has bad medical problems, and married a 10-year-old girl named Januki, yet still pursued his independent mathematics research. To sustain life, Ramanujan worked as a math tutor, publishing in the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Society, and as an accounting clerk for the Port of Madras.

Reciprocity Brings Out the Best in People

It was at his workplace he came to be connected with British expatriates who helped Ramanujan to get to Hardy. Ramanujan is a case of standing on the shoulder of giants. His workplace was a hub of opportunity for the great thing that will happen to Ramanujan in his future. He interacted with the head of the port of Madras and introduced Ramanujan to British expatriates. They assess Ramanujan and after deciding on his great potential, they wrote to a professor in London who suggested some books for Ramanujan to study. It was that on Thursday, January 16, 1913, Ramanujan sent his letter to G. H. Hardy, desperately to gain recognition from leading mathematicians. Although it was Ramanujan's decision, his friends helped significantly in composing the English in his letter.

Ramanujan has written to two other professors before Hardy but he did not get any response from them. The first two professors, H. F. Baker and E. W. Hobson returned Ramanujan’s papers without comment. At first, Hardy does not seem convinced by the letter. According to Robert Kanigel, it takes Hardy a few readings on Ramanujan’s letters and a reading by his colleague J. E. Littlewood to convince himself of how remarkable the letters were. Bertrand Russell commented, that he “found Hardy and Littlewood in a state of wild excitement because they believed they had found a second Newton, a Hindu clerk in Madras making 20 pounds a year”.

Taxicab Number (1729)

Taxicab Number (1729)

One of the interesting results of their path crossed is the Taxicab Number. When Ramanujan was hospitalized, Hardy went to visit him. Arriving in with a cab licensed plat 1729, a number Hardy claimed to be mundane, Ramanujan beg to differ. to Ramanujam 1729 bears a meaning - perhaps because he has calculated the method before. Ramanujan explained that 1729 is the sum of two smallest two cubes.

Hardy-Ramanujan “taxicab numbers”

Hardy-Ramanujan “taxicab numbers”

Estimation of 3000 theorems identities and equations (including properties of highly composite numbers, the partition functions and its asymptotics, and mock theta functions) were conjectures or proved by Ramanujan.
His frustration has taken a toll on him with depression and illness. He once attempted suicide. Even his stay in the sanatorium and returning to his family could stop the toils that befall him in 1920. At the age of 32, Ramanujan died.
Some of his groundbreaking and very unusual discoveries, including the Ramanujan prime and the Ramanujan theta function, have stimulated a tremendous amount of additional study and have found uses in a variety of disciplines, including crystallography and string theory.
Hardy, too, later in his life has once attempted suicide by overdose. He died 27 years after Ramanujan. Some blamed Riemann Hypothesis for Ramanujan and Hardy's depression; making the theory a reputation as a curse.

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier from 1953 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier from 1953 © Estate of Vivian Maier, Courtesy of Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery, NY

John Maloof is a filmmaker and street photographer. While coauthoring a book about Portage park in Chicago, Maloof decides to buy a large box containing thirty to forty thousand negatives as his sources but to no avail.

After sitting for a while in his closet, Maloof takes a final look before deciding either to sell or donate the box. To his surprise, among the 150 000 of Maier’s collection were pictures taken in New York, Chicago, France, South America, and Asia throughout the ‘50s to ‘70s. The pictures have inspired Maloof to document Chicago the way the negative did: John Hancock Building under construction, State Street theatres bustling with people, classics cars women with crying children, and life on the stress captured in black and white and on medium-format film.

His fascination has made Maloof discover the photographer of the negatives. Maloof found a name scribbled on the scarp paper among the negatives, prints, and undeveloped rolls of films. Her name was Vivian Maier. Her father was an Austrian, her mother a French, she grew up both in France and New York. Maier moved to Chicago in 1956 working as a nanny - shuffling from family to family, spending her whole life caring for children and the elderly, and capturing her surrounding with her cameras. Maier worked as a nanny for over 40 years. Guardian’s Adrian Searle reported, that Maier often brought the children she looked after wandering on the street, often through poor neighborhoods, to shoot pictures.

Those who know her describe her as paranoid and secretive, for she kept a massive deadbolt on her bedroom door, uses a variation of names working from one family to another, used an alias at shops or with acquaintances, and never show her photos to anyone. It could be because she has trouble trusting anyone. After all, she was on her own - never married, any children, no close friends or family. Despite her odd behavior, it did not change the fact that Maier is a prolific and masterful photographer yet it was a shame that no one knew how good she was at photography in her lifetime. When Maloof Googled Maier's name in 2009, he found her name listed in an obituary announcing her death. She died in a nursing home, slipping from ice.

Maloof then directed a documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, which took him four years of completion time travel around the world meeting more than 90 people consisting of Maier’s relatives, employers, and acquaintances. In another sense, the film does not only put Maier’s talent in the spotlight but rouses another matter that should not be taken lightly. According to Rose Lichter, the film displayed a domestic worker and street photographer as invisible - who are the world, but not of it.

Even so, her invisibility is what makes her the right person to capture the world unnoticed. It is perhaps her watchfulness that makes people take her in as a nanny. Being a nanny allowed Maier to be with people, yet not of them by allowing herself, never intended to gain money as a photographer. She also gave fakes name all over town, had separate room locks in her employers’ homes, forbade anyone from entering her room, lied about being born in France, and dressed in an outdated style.

In Lichter's writing, a point that hits me hard was how the film “Finding Vivian Maier” suggests Maier’s choice on becoming a nanny as symptoms of pathology, mental illness, trauma, or sexual repression rather than acknowledge her choice as something of structural challenges or a matter of preference.

Whilst it is true that Maier lives a poor life, she has no interest in money because if she would, she could have cashed her Social Security checks that have piled thousand of dollars amongst her belonging. Despite being poor and with no connection, at least she had control of how she lived, looked at and what to photograph - either she chose to live her life with or without pain, it is hers to decide.

She may seem invisible to us, but not to herself. To her, she is her art. She is the urban and the suburban streets depicting the fluctuating economy, the growing city, the cycles of seasons, the emotions expressed in the children she cared for, and how her body advanced later in life. She is with the world around her, but not of it. In her sense, she and the world are parallel lines; at the same plane, never intersecting and mostly always at a distance apart. Since nothing tied her anywhere, she could always walk away. To the world, she lived a mundane solitary life yet it just a consequence she is willingly accepted by choosing her way of living. And that is something no one could take it away from her.

By then, major press outlets such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Time magazine, and art galleries and books displayed Maier’s works.

Reciprocity Brings Out the Best in People

Maloof has been granted the right to Maier's works.

For how long her legacy remains is unknown but the Maloof Collection (a collection of Maier’s works) is presented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, one of the prestigious photography galleries in the world. Her works have been displayed in Germany, France, Portugal, and Sweden among others ever since.


The symbiotic relationship has shown how great people benefited from the concept of symbiotic relationships. Mutualism can be seen in the first three stories while commensalism can be seen in Maier's.

Further Reading and Sources

American Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). The Country Parson Who Conceived of Black Holes. Retrieved August 21, 2022, from

Wikiwand. (n.d.). John Michell. Retrieved August 21, 2022, from

Morrison, J. (2016, August 29). The Blasphemous Geologist Who Rocked Our Understanding of Earth’s Age. SmithsonianMAGAZINE.

Hazen, R. (2021, December 16). James Hutton: The Founder and the Great Champion of Uniformitarianism. WONDRIUM DAILY.

"James Hutton." Famous Scientists. 22 Jan. 2016. Web. 8/21/2022


University of Illinois Board of Trustees. (n.d.). Plutonism. Retrieved August 21 2022, from (n.d.). Catastrophism vs. Uniformitarianism: Competing Geological Theories. Retrieved August 21 2022 from,

School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland. (1999, August). John Playfair. Retrieved August 21 2022, from

Bollobás, B. (2016, April 22). Opinion: The man who taught infinity: how GH Hardy tamed Srinivasa Ramanujan’s genius. The University of Cambridge.

Story of Mathematics. (n.d.). GODFREY HAROLD: RAMANUJAN’S MENTOR. Retrieved August 21 2022, from,

Lichter-Marck, R. (2014, May 9). Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women. The New Yorker.

Kuta, S. (2022, June 16). How Vivian Maier, the Enigmatic Nanny Who Took 150,000 Photographs, Found Her Place in History The late artist is getting her first full-scale exhibition in the United Kingdom this summer. Smithsonian Magazine.

© 2022 Joanna Maxine Jack

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