Friday, 26 July 2013

The Head Girl Syndrome versus creative genius



dearieme said...

The word you want for your creative genius stereotype is:

"Definition of THRAWN

chiefly Scottish
: lacking in pleasing or attractive qualities: as
a : perverse, recalcitrant".

Mind you, that Scottish genius James Clerk Maxwell was, on the contrary, a most agreeable chap - one of the few leading theoretical physicists who were.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Thrawn is one way of being a genius - but there are others. Other Scottish geniuses such as Adam Smith and David Hume were not thrawn, were they?

Agreeable people do find it very hard to be a genius, unless they happen to find themselves in a social mileu which does not disapprove of the antisocial aspects of genius-type behaviour.

Maxwell was perhaps lucky in finding himself in a time and place where that was the case - where he could follow his own evaluations and disregard conventional wisdom without being regarded as arrogant, offensive, aggressive, carzy... but these times and places are exceptional.

Geniuses ultimately have to ignore other people who disagree with them and wil not be convinced (ignore them as much as possible) and just get on with it. Often that necessary degree of autonomy goes with a number of antisocial/ egotistical traits.

dearieme said...

Ah well, I have long espoused the idea that it may depend on what you are studying. Smith and Hume were interested in humans in society - if you are going to say genius-type things about that it must help enormously that you have lots of experience of human company, especially in circumstances where they are reasonably relaxed, uninhibited, reflective, talkative, and so on. Smith and Hume did.

Sir Isaac, on the other hand, was interested (inter alia) in Physics, and the Maths necessary to pursue his physical interests. It didn't matter if he was thrawn - in fact it may have helped, since he presumably didn't linger over port.

It's Jimmy Clerk Maxwell who needs explanation - unlike, say, Einstein, he appears not to have been a ruthless, selfish man pretending to be otherwise - he really does seem to have been good at rubbing along with people.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - could you recommend a biography of Maxwell which gives a good impression of his character (and work)?

dearieme said...

The only one I've read is Basil Mahon's "The Man Who Changed Everything".

Otherwise I've based my remarks on tales I've heard.

dearieme said...

I should emphasise that I'm not saying that Maxwell was all hail-fellow-well-met. But he was capable of genuine, long-lasting friendships, took boyhood ribbing well, and did not get into any of those A-hates-B-and-it's-mutual stishies that litter scientific biographies.

Peter said...

John Boyd was an American version of this. He was unbeaten in aerial dogfighting as a fighter pilot and went on to co-develop the energy to maneuverabilty theory which led to modern fighter aircraft being maneuverable as well as fast based upon their mission: the F-15/16/18 and A-10 were all based upon this theory. He also developed the OODA Loop Concept of Tactical Warfare (not Strategic) which is now part of standard training and education for combat operations. Despite such accomplishments he was only able to reach the rank of Lt.Colonel in the Air Force and was called "Ghengis Boyd" and the "Ghetto Colonel" because he shunned the money and accolades and instead chose to devote himself in his mission. He was also known to have his "Roll Call" that was a speech he gave to his accolytes which fits into this discussion: "“Tiger,” he would say, “one day you will come to a fork in the road:”

“And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”