No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents. ― Ezra Pound
What distinguishes a genius from the merely creative? It's not intelligence, but a cognitive nimbleness with ideas, a capacity to think wide as well as deep according to the neuroscientist and medical doctor Nancy Andreasen.
That capacity for genius, however, may come at a cost. Following decades of work with the mentally ill, she has in more recent years studied the brains of extraordinarily creative people and finds between the two some commonalities.
One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks. Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. (As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) They have to confront doubt and rejection. And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol.
I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as 'obvious.' Since these ideas are almost always the opposite of obvious to other people, creative luminaries can face doubt and resistance when advocating for them. As one artist told me, 'The funny thing about [one’s own] talent is that you are blind to it. You just can’t see what it is when you have it… When you have talent and see things in a particular way, you are amazed that other people can’t see it.' Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness....
Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them creative geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill. And some people, like John Nash, are both.
You've heard the classic advice to list the pros and cons when faced with a tough call, but Shane Parrish at Farnam Street highlights a video from Ruth Chang, who wants to remind you that a hard decision is hard because the right choice cannot be found on a ledger. An accountant's scoring of the problem doesn't work because the problem isn't one of ignorance, but of agency.
Hard decisions bring us face to face with what we value. Ruth Chang:
A world full of only easy choices would enslave us to reasons.... So the lesson of hard choices reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for (emphasis supplied).
Thrivals is using Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist as the basis of Thrivals 4.0, using everything from evolutionary biology to economics to study the principle of exchange, and in particular, asking and answering the question, how do ideas develop?
They have sex of course.
And they are emergent.
Dr.Sugata Mitra, whose Hole in the Wall project inspired Slumdog Millionaire asks "can children, left to themselves, teach themselves?"
As it happens, he has some experience with that question. Feeling unhappy with the vast slums surrounding him in India while he was teaching privileged children, many years ago began experimenting. He first put a DIY ATM (since banks had experience with outdoor computers) in a building wall.
Then he left the country.
Coming back in few months, Dr. SugataMitra, chuckling at the thought, said that the children immediately told him "they wanted a faster processor, a better mouse." But because they had been given a computer that only spoke English, they had also, to his surprise, learned English. He shows the Thrival attendees at IdeaFestival 2011 pictures of a 10 year old boy and his seven year old pupil clustered around the terminal, learning.
At the end of five years, from 1999 - 2004, the children's literacy shot up in every location where Hole in the Wall operated - "to the level of an average office secretary."
He next challenged school children to speak well enough so that speech-to-text software on a computer would output understandable English. In his absence, the students had, again, made use of the Internet downloading software with English speakers, and taught themselves the speak the language with an English - not Indian - accent.
He recounts how Tamil-speaking children in southern India taught themselves advanced genetic concepts, and heard from one misguided child such student that "apart from the knowledge that the improper replication of the DNA causes disease, we have understood nothing else."
Dr. Mitra clearly believes in the value of the "grandmother effect," and uses it to great effect, asking children to act as grandmothers - to simply nod affirmatively behind students and say, "isn't that it wonderful. How did you arrive at that?"
C.C. Chapman tweeted a video of the Granny Cloud linked above.
Children will self organize around the big questions, not what is the Eiffel Tower? But who built the Eiffel Tower and why? Why do we dream? "You know," they've said, "there's this Freud and he...."
Self-organizing systems that discuss big questions and important ideas? Sounds a lot like the IdeaFestival.
Over time, Dr. Mitra has come to believe based on his work that "education is a self-organizing system with learning as an emergent phenomena," and that 1) reading comprehension, 2) information searching and 3) systems of belief are the three parts critical to the success of an education. But if "children can learn to read by themselves, then the educational system can be turned upside down."
Paul Gilster reflects on the latest information from the space-based observatory Kepler, which in a period of months has trebled the number of planets outside of our own solar system. Its haul of 1,200+ candidate bodies includes five that are believed to be near-Earth sized planets in the "habitable zone" of their parent suns, or orbits where liquid water is likely to be present. Follow up observations on the ground will further characterize these finds.
Above left is the field of view for Kepler. And at right, candidate planets are identified by their approximate location in the field of view. To put this in perspective, fifteen years ago we knew of no other worlds besides the nine described textbooks. Isn't it amazing that as soon we are able to detect planets elsewhere in the Milky Way, there they are?
Images: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech (l) and NASA/Wendy Stenzel (r)