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Genius

No sparks

I have my doubts about the idea of genius; similar to my doubts about the idea of talent.
I know that there are people we call genius - an Einstein or a Picasso come to mind. Certainly their accomplishments are very far from the norm in terms of individual influence on society.

My sister sent me a quote:

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing. -Gertrude Stein, novelist, poet, and playwright (1874-1946)

Stein was being a bit smart alecky I think but there is a large kernel of truth in what she says.
My problem with it is that it implies that the ideas that we call genius just pop into the mind of the genius, and I don't think that's how it works.
Rather than "doing nothing" I'd expand to "doing something that nobody gets - yet".

Once, many years ago, I fell in with a High IQ group called the Prometheus Society. The concept of IQ is a bit vague - the actual measure of IQ doesn't work for extremely smart people. But I take it as just a word that now indicates a scale of smartness or intelligence among people. Though I never actually joined Prometheus for many years I was invited to a gathering of them held south of Seattle. Attending those was like coming home after wandering in the wilderness.

One of the ideas I got from them is that if people's IQ (whatever that is) differs by more than 30 points they each think of the other - this person is either really smart or really stupid - but can't really tell which. It's like they are in different worlds that don't contact each other much. And among the Prometheus people we were all kind of on the same wavelength even though we had very widely varying backgrounds. I was introduced to a core document of theirs. The Outsiders by Grady Towers.
The basic idea there is that unless you are pretty lucky too, being very smart can act as a disability because it can be very isolating. Everybody thinks you're a bit strange.
Been there, done that :-)
But there is a compensation in a way. One becomes self-sufficient and easily amused because you find the world to be so interesting.

But sometimes smart people are lucky too.
They grow in a supportive family that provides stimulating resources. They are lucky at being at the right place at the right time and get good opportunities for further growth.
But also, because they were smart they could solve problems whose solution had evaded others.
And always to do that, the giants had to stand on the shoulders of giants who were standing on the shoulders of giants . . . . it's giants all the way down.

Isaac Newton fits the concept of genius. He gave us an accurate concept of gravity and the math (calculus) to handle it. He did this while he was sheltering in a family estate far from the plague in the city. In a way he kind of fit Stein's image. He wasn't doing anything. He wasn't farming or making money or building. Well, he was just scribbling on paper and thinking.

I've proposed that those we call genius are very influential on society. It's not a matter of how smart you are. One Promethean was a woman with an IQ of over 200 - 'smartest woman in the world'. She didn't have genius accomplishments to her name. Another way of thinking of genius is as a skill so far above the normal that it seems like magic. What I'm resisting here though is the idea that genius involves some sort of 'spark' that some people have and others don't. It doesn't seem to me to be a spark - it's the product of a long and lucky development.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.