Understanding Genius

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    1. I want to expand a little on my suggestion toward the end of the roundtable that the discussion was “cortico-centric” in its emphasis on the significance of cortical features (architecture, cellularity, etc.) for intelligence. While the discussion did briefly touch on the role of instinctual vicissitudes, of primary versus secondary processes and their relation to creative thought, there is much we are still learning about the influence on intellectual function of affective experience as a primary, mammalian brainstem-generated, i.e., non-cortical, phenomenon. By this, I am referring not simply to the insights provided by psychoanalytic work with men and women with extremely high IQs (as stated in the roundtable, a very high IQ being a necessary but not sufficient condition for genius status), but whose lack of achievement consonant with their potential is a consequence of intrapsychic conflicts/developmental inhibitions/relational disturbances that can restrict the potential of those with less exceptional IQs, with respect to drive, curiosity, risk-taking and originality, creative urges, self-esteem; but I am also asking what relevance to genius variations in the relative strengths, due either to excitatory or inhibitory factors, of affective subcortical systems might have in their reciprocal relationships with cortical functions. (With this consideration, we can regard intrapsychic conflict as encompassing intra-cortical, intra-subcortical, and cortical-subcortical “conflict.”)

    2. Steve Hsu offered the interesting possibility that it may be harder today for someone to be identified as a (scientific) genius than in the past given–among other social factors (not least of which is the mythopoeic)–the enormous complexities required today for notable advances, requiring increased reliance on the collaborative intelligence of many individuals. Do others agree? Might this view, on the other hand, be susceptible to what Hayek defined, in his 1974 Nobel Prize lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge” (our current knowledge), or underestimate, in Schopenhauer’s sense, yet unseen targets?

    3. 3. David Galenson, the University of Chicago economist, theorizes that in every field of intellectual endeavor there exists a continuum defined by two extremes of creative types: the conceptual innovators who make their mark with the revolutionary brashness of youth; and the experimental innovators who achieve greatness through years of perseverant tinkering, with the former traditionally (since the Renaissance) being laureled with genius (it being associated with an innate capacity). What do others think of Galenson’s idea and the implied underscoring of value judgments in determining “creativity” and “genius”?

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