Thursday 14 June 2012

Why is genius so rare?


If you are interested in creative genius, I would recommend two books:

Genius by HJ Eysenck, 1995

Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray 2003


Eysenck's is about the psychological basis of genius, Murray's more about the socio-political basis.


But why is genius so rare, even in places where there are a high concentration of geniuses - as there were here in England in the past few hundred years?

1. Genius requires very high intelligence - in a country with a high average IQ like England, this means in the top ten percent (above 120) and considerably higher for some subjects (e.g. mathematical subjects). But often geniuses are at intelligence levels of about the top one in ten thousand. Some societies have much lower average IQ than England.

2. Perseverance, self-motivation to pick-out and work in one area without need for external encouragement, autonomous indifference to the evaluations of others, ability to go it alone.

3. Creativity. This is Eysenck's big contribution.

Creativity is associated with a style of thinking that is relatively loose in its associations, inclusive in its linking of disparate elements - a style of thinking akin to that of dreaming sleep, psychotic illness, and intoxication.

Creativity is not positively associated with intelligence - or if so at a very modest level. Some societies with high average IQ have low creativity, and vice versa. European societies had (in the past) high average IQ and also reasonably high creativity.

However, creativity is moderately associated with mental illness, psychopathy and addiction - and also with impulsiveness and 'fecklessness' - with a lack of perseverance.

This means that most creative people, and most very intelligent creative people, lack the self-discipline and perseverance to attain the highest and accomplish great things.


Creativity is, in a nutshell, a bit crazy - and most crazy people are too disorganized to do much. But geniuses require to be a bit crazy, yet also do prolonged focused work - and this is a reason why there are so few of them.


So - high intelligence is very rare (and some societies have too low an average intelligence to generate more than a tiny proportion of very intelligent people).

Within this tiny group of highly intelligent people, on top of all this, to get the coincidence of a creative way of thinking with a sufficiently persevering personality type is very rare.

And among this small percentage of a small percentage, there are the workings of sheer luck, there is the higher than normal risk of (self) sabotage by mental illness and addiction, there are the problems of a higher than usual probability of an abrasive or antisocial personality - and (as Murray identifies) the likelihood that for a person to aim very high requires a belief in transcendental values (the beautiful, the truth, virtue) - and that some societies (such as our own) lack this belief.


Put all these together and it is clear why in all societies genius is rare; and why genius is completely absent from most societies.


Further reading: 



Simon said...

Tex Arcane's thesis is genius is a Neanderthal trait (those who express the DRD4-R7 gene cluster):

More results on his blog:

Nathan said...

Glad to see a topic on genius - it's something I've done a good deal of looking into.

With regard to IQ tests, I myself (emphasis here on this being completely subjective) have often found IQ measurement quite debilitating. Although I have not been able to take an IQ test, I know that I would not score highly, and this knowledge has caused (and still does cause, from time to time) a good bit of depression. Of course this is completely irrational, but it's how it is.

Other than the high IQ, I've always strongly identified with the given characteristics of genius, and many of my "best friends" have been certain geniuses whom I've been able to read about and have some internal dialogue with. That being said, one can't call something a duck that walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but flies like a chicken. Such a creature is, perhaps, doomed either to comedy or tragedy.

dearieme said...

Have you any explanation for the following observation which occurred to ma about 10 years ago?

The US and Canada, and their precursor colonies, have never produced one top drawer genius. I mean of the calibre of Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Mozart, Beethoven, Smith, Hume, Einstein, Clerk Maxwell, Copernicus, Pasteur, Descartes, Gauss.... the people who have made Western Civilisation. It seems to me a great mystery.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - one answer is that we would not expect genius everywhere, it is not randomly distributed, and there are large tracts of the world that seem never to have had any geniuses.

But you are asking about top drawer genius, genius among geniuses. I suspect that these individuals are only possible at certain stages of culture - because they are geniuses of influence, as much as of ability. The US was probably too late to generate people in the fileds you use as examples.

I have read a lot of American literature from the early 19th century, especially Emerson's precursors and his circle, and they were certainly aware of their lack of genius - ironically os, in the sense that Emerson was their first genius of literature.

But they felt that the American genius was for statecraft and administration - they regarded the setting up of the US, and the individuals involved in that, as their national geniuses. In terms of their impact on world history, they were perhaps correct - but this is a field where evaluation is exceptionally difficult, since mere influence is not really what is being evaluated in the idea of genius. You end up with a list of 'geniuses' like Ghengis Khan.

dearieme said...

"The US was probably too late to generate people in the fields you use as examples." But why assume that Western Civilisation must stop developing and that that occurred when it did? In fact, one could argue that the end of its development more or less coincided with the US becoming Top Nation of the West, which is perhaps another aspect of the same mystery. But even in your own terms I don't think your answer will do. By the second half of the 18th century the North American colonies had a population bigger than Scotland's (correct me if I'm wrong on that) but it wasn't too late for Smith, Hume, Watt. As I say, it's a great mystery.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - I think it is asking the wrong question to ask why a time and place did NOT produce genius, when that is the normal state of things.

The proper questiuon (IMHO!) is to explain what are the rarely-confluent factors that produce that ultra-rare thing called genius.

A lot of it is hereditary - in that intelligence and personality are substantially hereditary.

On top of this there are cultural necessities - but without the right kind of hereditary material to work on then genius is pretty much impossible (vastly improbable) - and a critical mass of geniuses is de facto impossible.

Wrt to the USA, the first explanation is therefore related to the settlers - and their intellectual and personality qualities (e.g. what sub-set of the native population of the British Isles and Europe do they come from); and only then would we move on to cultural explanations.

I thuink the settlers were certainly intelligent enough. Intelligence is necessary but it is not sufficient - and a highly 'conscientious' personality type is actually hostile to genius.

It may be that high psychoticism was rare in the intelligent founders - it certainly looks that way to me.

The New Englanders were the most intelligent (East Anglian stock), but also the most conscientious - which in terms of genius is a *bad* thing because uncreative!

JackVegas said...

This is why machines will ultimately dominate. They can have all necessary traits simultaneously; genius, creativity, perseverance... insanity. And if one machine can have these traits, thousands of them can. The meat puppets are done for.

Homer said...

dearieme, what about Richard Feynman? He was an American and definitely ranks as a top-drawer genius.

And bgc, it's quite a leap to say those of East Anglian stock were the most intelligent of the settlers. Do you have anything to back that up? As far as we know today, European Jews far surpass WASPS in average intelligence.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack Vega - Creative machines - where?

@ Homer - Feynman isn't regarded as one of the major physicists of all time.

Yes - I do have evidence, thanks! Jews came later. But none of this affects dearieme's point, does it.

Homer said...

Feynman most certainly is regarded as one of the "major physicists" of all time. He's not a historical figure because he lived relatively recently. But make no mistake about it -- the physics community considers him up there with the best.

And no, Jews didn't "come later," whatever that means. They were part of the American settler community (albeit not a large part) from the 17th century or earlier.

I'd love to hear your evidence in a comparison of the English and the Jews. Please enlighten!

stephen c said...

Dr Charlton an American might reply this way ... there are no American Shakespeares, but there are also no Cockney and no Yorkshire Shakespeares ... there is no such thing as a physicist or economist of genius, physics is too remote from human knowledge and too dependent on the exact state of previous conclusions to boast of any form of genius distinguishable from that of a very very good plumber, farmer or electrician, all of whom were plentiful in America, and no American cares that Newton got to the crossword-type puzzle of figuring out calculus before any American did. ;
Also, John Singer Sargent, technically speaking, may be the best portrait painter since Van Dyck, as good or better than Reynolds or Ingres or their equals; and finally any American born with the talent of a Mozart or a Gauss or a Keats would have (had such a child been born, which is a potential fact that we cannot know) ignored (and been encouraged by his parents to ignore)the hierarchical temptation to produce and produce more and more of the best quality products that he could, or to be a modern response to Horace and Sappho and Euclid, and would have gladly chosen to merely entertain his fellow castaways far from the courts and patronage of Western Europe's civilization, in exhange for a pretty wife, a fine life and that patriarchal feel that only the nobility used to get in Europe, where the ideal of every man on his land in the shade of his fig tree was repeatedly crushed ... Melville felt this way anyway (Melville, if I remember right, wrote a wonderful short story about a violinist of genius who chose obscurity and friendship over a career as a recognized genius)

Joseph Friedlander said...

Professor this post of yours is mentioned in
There I speculate, "If we could double the number of great geniuses who thread through the educational and societal maze to a productive career in the arts of science and technology our world would be vastly more creative. If we could increase the incidence of genius 10 times we would live in an entirely different world. Indeed such a transition would be singularity-like, dividing history into before and after periods (and raising the interesting question of diminishing returns or no).

One can imagine an analogue to the Gates Foundation but which recruits young geniuses and guides them through the maze Charlton describes."

Bruce Charlton said...


If you read Albion's Seed

but understanding that it is genetic rather than cultural factors which explain the differences.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Homer - The rankings in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment, in relation to phsyics, is summarized here:

"In physics we find the English mathematician, astronomer, theologian and alchemist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) in first place, tied with Albert Einstein (1879-1955), born in Germany to a Jewish family, later becoming a Swiss as well as an American citizen. Behind them follow the prolific New Zealand-born British nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937); the English naturalist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), a great pioneer in the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry; the brilliant Italian naturalist, mathematician and experimentalist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642); the gifted and highly eccentric English experimental and theoretical physicist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810); the quantum and nuclear physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) from Denmark, known for his contributions to atomic theory; the English physicist Joseph John “J. J.” Thomson (1856-1940) who discovered the electron, the first subatomic particle; the Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), whose insights into electromagnetism and light were of fundamental importance for modern science and technology; the French physicist Pierre Curie (1859-1906), a pioneer in the study of crystallography, piezoelectricity and radioactivity.

"After them comes Gustav Robert Kirchhoff of Germany (1824-1887), who developed spectroscopy for chemical analysis of the Sun and coined the term “blackbody” radiation, later used by fellow German physicist Max Planck; the Italian-born scientist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), who made many contributions to nuclear and particle physics; the German scientist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), remembered for his work in the field of quantum mechanics and the formulation of his famous uncertainty principle in 1927; the Polish-born France-based physicist and chemist Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934), known especially for her studies together with her husband Pierre of radioactivity, a term she coined; the English theoretical physicist Paul Dirac (1902-1984), who made great contributions to quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and predicted the existence of antimatter; the English scientific brewer James Prescott Joule (1818-1889), who studied the nature of heat and helped establish the conservation of energy principle and the First Law of Thermodynamics; the Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who among many other things developed a wave theory of light; the English physician and natural philosopher William Gilbert (1544-1603), who introduced the term and concept “electricity” and whose work De Magnete described experimental studies of magnetism; the English physician and physicist Thomas Young (1773-1829), whose double-slit experiments conducted around the year 1800 converted many European naturalists to a wave theory of light; and finally the dynamic English natural philosopher and instrument maker Robert Hooke (1635-1703).

"...Other prominent physicists are Max Planck, Wolfgang Pauli, Hans Christian Ørsted, Antoine Henri Becquerel, Ludwig Boltzmann, Heinrich Hertz, John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh), Evangelista Torricelli, Carl David Anderson , Hans Geiger, René Descartes, Otto von Guericke, Guillaume Amontons, George Gabriel Stokes, Archimedes, Amedeo Avogadro, Jacques Charles, Democritus, Hendrik Lorentz, George FitzGerald, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, Ernst Mach, Thales of Miletus, Johannes Diderik van der Waals and Charles T. Wilson.

"Some lesser, but still significant names are Victor Hess, Jean le Rond d’Alembert, Loránd Eötvös, Pyotr Kapitsa, Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre Prévost, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Joseph Sauveur, Charles Cagniard de la Tour, Carl von Linde, Louis Paul Cailletet and Raoul Pictet."


(Feynman is mentioned later in the article)

Homer said...

bgc, I wouldn't go to a Murray source for the ranking. Being a physicist myself, I would trust a survey of physicists worldwide. In such a poll, Feynman is ranked 7th in history.

"Richard Feynman, the legendary physicist from the California Institute of Technology, has been named the seventh greatest physicist of all time in a poll taken by the British journal Physics World. The poll surveyed 130 leading physicists worldwide.
Feynman, who died in 1988 after four decades on the Caltech faculty, is the only American to appear on the top 10 list, and the only one who did his most important work in the second half of this century. The others are (1) Albert Einstein, (2) Isaac Newton, (3) James Clerk Maxwell, (4) Niels Bohr, (5) Werner Heisenberg, (6) Galileo Galilei, (8) Paul Dirac, (9) Erwin Schrödinger, and (10) Ernest Rutherford."

You can see this ranking differs somewhat from Murray's. And being rated the seventh greatest physicist of all time certainly qualifies a man as a "top-drawer genius," wouldn't you agree?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Homer " being rated the seventh greatest physicist of all time certainly qualifies a man as a "top-drawer genius," wouldn't you agree?"

If the ranking methodology had any validity, no doubt!

- but an opinion poll of 'leading' modern physicists only reflects their ignorance of their subject, and that they are prone to avaiability bias, surely?

I have read a large number of books by and about Feynman, and I certainly agree he was a genius - so I have no axe to grind about him NOT being a *major* genius; but he just wasn't!

Feynman would be at the third or fourth level of accomplishment by world historical standards. I'm sure he would have agreed!

I mean the previous three of generations of Anglo-European physicists, to go no further, contained may persons of higher rank.

Homer said...

bgc: "... an opinion poll of 'leading' modern physicists only reflects their ignorance of their subject..."

Ummmm...what? I'm not sure at all what you're trying to say there. Who better to rate the contribution of physicists than other physicists? That's the whole rationale behind the peer-review process in science.

You seem to take Murray's writings as gospel truth. Here's just one problem I have with his ranking of physicists: The subject of quantum mechanics is one of the most abstract and intellectually-satsifying fields of inquiry in all of science. As you can see in the Physics World poll, the two quantum mechanics pioneers, Heisenberg and Schrodinger, are both ranked in the top 10. Almost any theoretical physicist would agree with this placement. However, Murray sticks Heisenberg in the second tier, with Schrodinger far down the page as an honorable mention.

As you said, methodology is important. What gives Murray greater authority in this area than a large group of leading physicists?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Homer - You'd need to read Murray's Methodology section. He is simply recognizing and summating the quantitative attention paid to various figures in samplings of standard authoritative histories and encyclopedias - he personally has not made any decisions as to rankings: what he did was to develop the method by which rankings were calculated.

"Who better to rate the contribution of physicists than other physicists?"

But surely the vast majority of 'leading' modern physicists know nothing about anything except the techniques of their exceedingly narrow field and how to raise grant money?

After all, they haven't made any breakthroughs for several decades.

I'm guessing they would not even recognize most of the names on Murray's tables.

Homer said...

bgc, you're describing Murray's methodology as if it's quantitative and objective, which it's not. The same sources coupled with a different set of weightings would produce different rankings. As I said, for specialized fields like physics, chemistry, mathematics etc., I would defer to those particular experts. You failed to answer why Murray didn't place Schrodinger in the top tier. But I'm sure your answer will be along the lines of "if he didn't rank Schrodinger up there, then Schrodinger doesn't deserve to be up there."

"But surely the vast majority of 'leading' modern physicists know nothing about anything except the techniques of their exceedingly narrow field and how to raise grant money?"

This quote reveals much of your ignorance and bias. I'm hardly a leading physicist, and I know a great deal about the history of the subject. And I do recognize the names in Murray's list; I just don't agree with his rankings.

As for no recent breakthroughs in physics, is that another Murray gem? I invite you to read Physics Today or other simiar periodicals that survey current physics topics. The problem is that the low-hanging fruit has all been picked, and therefore recent results are of the esoteric kind. These would require a good background in physics just to understand. There probably won't be another Newtonian or Einsteinian revolution, but that doesn't mean breakthroughs are not occurring. In fact, if Isaac Newton were a physicist today, his discoveries would not make news in the popular media, and his name would not be recognized outside of the field.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Homer -

"if Isaac Newton were a physicist today, his discoveries would not make news in the popular media, and his name would not be recognized outside of the field."

I suppose this represents the gulf between us!

I would regard Newton as one of the three greatest scientists ever (qua scientist: he was an evil man).

(The others of the three would be Aristotle and Einstein)

But you would regard Newton as insignificant compared with the talents of modern day physicists.

I regard the consensus of the ages as the arbiter - you regard the consensus of modern professionals as the arbiter.

A gulf!

Homer said...

bgc, no you misunderstand me. I agree that Newton ranks up there as probably the greatest scientist of all time. He was my childhood hero; you can't learn about physics and calculus without coming across his monumental achievements.

I was addressing your comment that no breakthroughs have been made in the last few decades. If Newton were a physicist today, I have no doubt he would be making significant discoveries. But they would no unnoticed by the non-physics community because they would be so esoteric. How would you yourself know about his work? As I said, all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

The physicists today who are public figures are the ones who write popular accounts, like Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku. These men may not be the most talented in their field, but they are profiled in news stories and PBS programs. I doubt Newton would be bothered to showcase himself in that way.

dearieme said...

The idea that Murray (or anyone else) can make an objective measure by bunging together a bunch of subjective measures is pretty feeble.

Physicists, like most scientists, are pretty ignorant about the history of their subject, which doesn't help.

Anyway, clever chap though he was, Feynman doesn't strike me as anywhere near top drawer.

I've raised this point a few times on blogs and have been struck that nobody has had anything to say of much interest, though some Americans have expressed injured amour proper. (No Canadians, as far as I can see.) One answer, however, has occurred to me. The US (but not Canada) has made one massive contribution to modern Western Civilisation - its popular music is overwhelmingly of American origin or inspiration. If you had to boil that contribution down to the most important single contributor, it would be Louis Armstrong. He was no Mozart or Beethoven, but he - more than Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Ellington - was, if you'll pardon the expression, the big noise.

dearieme said...

Spelling mistake: a deadly blow to my own amour propre - bloody Safari!

Anyway, however you rate Feynman within the little world of physics is irrelevant - he undoubtedly wasn't one of "the people who have made Western Civilisation". I'd be astonished if anyone who is intellectually serious would argue that he was.

The other serious answer that might be given (but wasn't by anyone else) is that it's probably too soon to see whether anyone of (roughly) post the Second World War will look, in retrospect, to be a maker of Western Civilisation. I'm confident that we can rule out Feynman, but can we really rule out all the medical people post-war, the biologicals, the computer geeks...? And yet, do any appear as individuals of the required standing? Francis Crick might have been the cleverest of the biologicals, but he doesn't qualify, amusing though his and Watson's Drang nach Nobel was. Nor Turing, nor von Neumann, nor...

Even proving Fermat seems to be about dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s. Has Western civilisation just got stuck intellectually?

I suppose the inventor of the atom bomb, Leo Szilard, might do, but his great idea was pre-war.

Homer said...

I tried to send this yesterday but it didn't go through:

dearieme, I suppose we disagree on how rankings can be determined. And definitely on physicists being ignorant of the history of physics. True, there are some who don't really care. But going through a rigorous graduate physics curriculum makes one familiar with the contributions of the various folks through the ages. How did you acquire your perspective on the subject?

It's nice that you regard Feynman as a "clever chap," but what exactly prevents him from being considered top drawer? The view of leading physicists that's he's in the top 10? The shared Nobel prize? His stellar contributions to quantum electrodynamics? Perhaps the only problem is that it weakens your thesis. It's more dramatic to say "America hasn't produced a single top-drawer genius" than "America hasn't...oops, ok one exception."

If Feynman had been from Europe, I'm sure everyone here would be heaping on accolades galore. And no, I'm not an indignant American...I'm not even American. I'm merely being objective.

dearieme said...

Being in the top 10 physicists just isn't enough. Where's the evidence that he was a maker of Western Civilisation? If his work had established some new discipline, the way that Newton established Physics or Lavoisier Chemistry, or Darwin, or Pasteur... or even Lyle and Hutton, yes. Or taken physics in a quite new direction, like Clerk Maxwell or Planck.

Another thought has occurred to me: one great postwar change has been a consequence of penicillin and The Pill. Anyone there? I doubt it, but don't know much about the calibre of the people involved. Of course, we're looking rather romantically for changes reasonably associated with one towering individual, rather than teams, or communities, of very able, creative, or lucky people.

Homer said...

dearieme, let me quote your initial post that got this all started:

"The US and Canada, and their precursor colonies, have never produced one top drawer genius. I mean of the calibre of Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Mozart, Beethoven, Smith, Hume, Einstein, Clerk Maxwell, Copernicus, Pasteur, Descartes, Gauss..."

So originally you were asking for a top-drawer genius. I replied with a man who is ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time (ahead of Copernicus, right between Dirac and Galileo). And your response now is that it's not enough -- you want a "maker of Western Civilization." Maybe you can explain why you feel Rembrandt qualifies but Feynman does not.

I think perhaps you weren't expecting anyone to name an American top 10 physicist. And now that I have, you must move the goalpost and ask if Feynman had taken physics in a new direction.

As I explained, Newton was a master of physics, but he also lived in an era when there was low-hanging physics fruit to be plucked. Can you name any European physicist from the last 50 years who meets your criteria? I doubt you can. That's because the amazing recent advances, and there are a plethora, remain unknown to non experts. Feynman did take physics in a new direction, as any physics PhD student can tell you, but you are unaware of that.

Maybe I can rephrase your question to make it clearer. Since you will dismiss any American candidate, even a top-10 physicist, you are already making it plain that only Europeans can qualify as top drawer. And therefore you want to know "Have America or Canada ever produced any Europeans?" I'll be the first to admit the answer is a resounding no.

Peter C said...

'IQ' and 'Genius' are abstractions--tags--the first quantitative, the second qualitative. As such they form a filter by which we measure the world, and as such, they are also limited by how we frame that world. Genius mightn't occur in some societies, to our eyes, simply because there's no mechanism for us to recognise it.

Indeed our perception in this regard is so dim, that I believe we fail to see its early signature and hence true prevalence in our own culture.

One important trait, indeed the most important for the expression and hence recognition of genius, is the serendipity of early recognition and cultivation via an adult mentor. I've read that every socially-recgonised genius has always had a mentor at an early age, who guided their trajectory.

Without this, it seems genius either doesn't happen, or as I'm inclined to believe, is simply overpowered by mediocrity. That being the case, the rarity of genius, is more a comment on the size of the prevailing blindness of the norm, than it is about the rarity of genius.

Bruce Charlton said...

@PeterC - Well, your point is valid in relation to how many geniuses emerge and are recognized - but this is a seondary factor, not primary.

Your model requires pre-existing genius for mentoring to occur, to start the process.

(Research by Zuckerman on science Nobel prizes does reveal this kind of apparent 'mentoring' in about half the cases; or else the Nobel-quality scientists home-in-on Nobel-quality mentors - or both.)

But there is no reason whatsoever to *assume* that the proportion of potenital geniuses is the same for all societies (and that differences are explained by how many potential geniuses are actualized).

The first assumption ought to be that there are different numbers of geniuses in different societies societies (numbers ranging between zero and many); *because* there are different numbers of geniuses in different societies.

Peter C said...

@bcg – Insofar as secondariness is concerned, I don’t believe it requires Genius to recognize Genius, otherwise the term would have no significance. We all recognise Genius when it is in a culturally recognisable form, but Genius itself is the ability to recognise culturally unrecognisable truth.

Genius is typically recognized, cultivated and directed by lesser minds who are well-grounded enough in conventionality to act as both cultural Launchpad and initial guidance. This provides the context within and to which genius is applied, and then often recognised by said culture. Examples of this can be seen in Mozart and Feynman’s fathers.

Genius, in a vacuum would still exist, but it requires context for potentialisation.

Sometimes the cultural/contextual catalyst is a relative or dedicated Teacher, or sometimes individuals acting in serendipitous concert at key moments along the way. However, the probability of sustained serendipity is just as rare as the Genius it promotes. This may be a contributing factor to the rarity of Genius, rather than the native lack of potential for the Genius itself.

So it doesn’t require pre-existing Genius to bootstrap Genius, unless we broaden the term. This may not be such a bad idea: ought not Genius, like all statistically relevant anomalies, to have a Normal distribution?

Regarding your comment on my previous post: it’s an inference, rather than an assumption, “that the proportion of potential Genius is the same for all societies (and that differences are explained by how many potential geniuses are actualized).” This isn’t either what I intentionally implied.

I don’t assume that the proportion of potential Genius is cross-culturally equal. In this regard I’ve no data to assume anything. I simply noted that our cultural definitions of IQ and Genius, when projected onto other cultures, might not recognise the potential for either. Likewise in our own culture we might miss it, if it was obstructed and never actualised in a socially-recognisable form.

With respect, I would think it circular-reasoning to assume: “that there are different numbers of geniuses in different societies…*because* there are different numbers of geniuses in different societies.”

As initially alluded to in my last post: all terms are approximations, filters, narrow nets cast across a broad, inscrutable sea. It is the genius of fish to evade and slip through, and the genius of man to make better nets.

dearieme said...

Homer, it is naughty of you to misquote me. Here's what I said: "The US and Canada, and their precursor colonies, have never produced one top drawer genius. I mean of the calibre of Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare, .... the people who have made Western Civilisation". Do you think Feynman a maker of Western Civilisation? I don't, and of course his name had occurred to me as likely to have been the cleverest American. I have since, as you'll have seen, come up with one name of an American who has a case for being a "a maker of Western Civilisation" as it now is, viz Louis Armstrong. You haven't yet. Surely you can find one contender? Just one. How about in a field where I'm too ignorant to argue much - biology or medicine, say? Or how about Shockley and his colleagues who took us all into the semiconductor age - an infinitely better claim than Feynman, surely? Can't you think of anyone plausible?

Anonymous said...

No love for Linus Pauling? He and Feynman were the two names that immediately came to mind regarding American genius, albeit perhaps not 'top drawer' enough to rate a mention.

And would Tesla have accomplished as much as he did if he'd remained in Croatia? Does it still count if -genius x- found America a more conducive environment for their genius than their country of birth?

Alrenous said...

Einstein - SR and GR. Gravity.

Planck - the Planck scale is named that for a reason.

Feynman - diagrams. He was an astounding teacher, but his actual contributions to physics are basically clerical. Stuff is tidier, and that's often underestimated, but there are very few new predictions we can attribute to Feynman's work.