Sunday 9 September 2012

Genius is about understanding, creation an acknowledgement of inner reality


To be a genius is to understand, to understand is to have appropriated to the imagination.

And this appropriation is not so much 'mastery' as being-mastered-by that which is understood.


Most people's 'understanding' on most (or all) topics is at the level of accepting. Accepting what people say, accepting rules or laws or maxims - and applying them.

Everyday so-called-understanding is passive, submissive, sociable, empathic, ego-denying: moves from the outside inwards.

Hyper-intelligent people are typically no exception - they simply grasp, memorize and apply instructions more rapidly - they don't understand them.


But for the genius in relation to the thing about which they are a genius: understanding is an act of internalizing; making of the thing a part of themselves - no, it is more than this - it is to bring that thing within them, and give that thing life (or allow it life).

To understand a thing is, therefore, to have it inside the imagination and in connection with the mind and body - to observe and feel its growth and workings.

To understand is therefore to-be-possessed-by that thing.

Extreme 'understanding' of one's imagination is therefore psychosis: when a person is possessed by the reality of their own thoughts and hears the thoughts as objective voices, believes ideas as delusions - but genius is also to be possessed by (for instance) thoughts and ideas, but in a manner which can be moved-into and out-from.


And this is the basis of creativity.

To be creative is first to understand in this inner, imaginative and real sense - to feel the thing at work within and to have a relationship with it, indeed to be mastered by it - and then to perceive the implications of this real, lively, living, dominating thing within: to see what it means.


Thus the genius is at root a type of personality,  and personality is a way of thinking.

The genius is rare because balanced between externally-dominated normality and the internally autonomous state of psychosis.

Compared with normality, a genius is possessed by his imagination, and this inner life is independent from normal social influence; but compared with a psychotic the mastering imagination of a genius retains significant communication with the external world.


(All of which is to re-state HJ Eysenck's perception that genius is a state of moderately-high Psychoticism; midway along the scale; where Psychoticism is a trait with the socially submissive, socially-engaged empathic, conscientious rule-follower is at the low extreme and an egotistical, psychopathic psychotic is at the highest extreme.)


Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Bonjour Dr. Charlton,
Interesting insights on the internal life of human mind. Coincidentally, I just read the other night the first chapter of Jacques Maritain's book The Range of Reason in which he speaks about the Thomistic theory of knowledge. Maybe you would like it.

FHL said...

This is so true.

I am not a genius, and would never claim to be.

But as someone who seems to have a high degree of this "psychoticism" trait, it is very clear to me that inside, and I mean truly inside- in my heart and soul, I see no frame. And I can sometimes (or at least it appears to me...) see things for what they are. Yet they fit no description. As I heard one of my professors proclaim in a philosophy class once (and I don't even know if I understood this phrase in the way that he meant it, but it is still true in its own way): "The words and language refuse to wrap around the reality."

The difficulty arises when I attempt to express my thoughts; everything must be filtered thoroughly, and I don't even mean something like "I have to make it PC appropriate." No, what I mean is EVERYTHING I say has to be filtered and molded and sculpted in such a way as to retain as much truth as I can while still remaining coherent.

Yet, I am always distant though... no matter how I say things, they are never what I am truly thinking of. When I had that complete psychological breakdown several years ago, and my parents took me to see the psychologist, I remember being so frustrated: "I wish I could tell you what I thought, but as soon as I say it, as soon as I put it into words, it becomes something different, something other than what I thought. As soon as I start speaking, I will start thinking: no! wait! that's not what I meant to say! I don't know why it keeps coming out wrong!"

Yet I know it is the linguistic world that is unsuitable as an expression of reality, and not my mind. Derrida gets a lot of heat for being one of the principle founders of postmodernism, but I agree with him more than is probably healthy.

It is like I imagine in 3d, but then have to figure out a way to paint a 2d image.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - thank you.

@FHL - it is possible that the people with whom you are/ were trying to communicate were not cognitively capable of understanding.

Or, they may have been capable, but were not motivated (understanding takes a lot of effort, it entails abandoning other goals).

Understanding is a rare thing indeed; communication of understanding even rarer.

Luckily, humans do not have to understand in order to live well and do right.

FHL said...

Or, perhaps, to use a very a nerdy metaphor, it is like someone trying to build a website. You have all the ideas in your head: “I know exactly how I want it to be, I have a picture of it in my head, the title with the cool logo goes up there, and on this side will a bar with links, and that side will feature pictures, and down there I'll link my blog, and oh! It will be perfect!”

And so you get to work typing out the mundane HTML language that should translate your thoughts into reality.

But different browsers will interpret HTML differently, it never appears the same on two different browsers and you can't control the type of browser your viewers use. You have to try to hit all of the main ones effectively, always worried about some error you may have missed, or some future browser will no longer be able to translate your HTML properly into your vision. The results are always somewhat unpredictable and varied- sometimes not catching or producing all of the HTML language and sometimes producing unexpected results. “Oh no!” you think, “This isn't how it should be!” Yet it is simply what you have entered, whose fault is it that it was produced contrary to the image in your head?

NOTE: After typing this, I just found out that you have replied to my previous message. I agree, while sometimes people don't understand me, I think to myself: in the long run, why would they have to understand me? Really, there is no real benefit they would gain; my deepest ideas are almost always purely abstract and do not relate practically to any situation, whether physically or spiritually.

Perhaps God has planned our natures this way so that we would each live our lives independently seeking for Him yet still retain a community? I don't know.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - The class of classic creative genius requires an 'audience' and it is a remarkable thing if he finds one.

Think of Einstein, what strange interests and insights he had. Nothing seems more probable than that he would never find anyone sufficiently able and interested and with the right kind of mind to understand him - but, in fact, there were enough in that time and place.

A couple of hundred years before, or in most other places, or nowadays, there wouldn't be.

I use Einstein simply because he is well known - but there are many people whose obsessions (I mean most vividly real inner life) are equally idiosyncratic; and since they are obsessions, such people are stuck with them - mastered by them.