Tuesday 18 November 2014

Geniuses are "vulnerable and fragile" and "need to be looked after"

Quoted from an article in The Daily Telegraph

Dr Michael Woodley of Menie, from the Free University of Brussels, believes that individuals who can be classified as geniuses have brains that are wired differently and are programmed to be unable to deal with small details. “They’re incapable of managing normal day to day affairs,” says Dr Woodley.
“History is littered with anecdotes of geniuses who fail at the most spectacularly mundane tasks. Einstein got lost on one of his sojourns in Princeton, New Jersey. He went into a shop and said, ‘Hi, I’m Einstein, can you take me home please?’ He couldn’t drive and the small things that most people take for granted were totally beyond his capabilities.”
Dr Woodley believes geniuses are “literally not hardwired to be able to learn those kind of tasks. Every time they attempt to allocate the effort into dealing with the mundanities in life they’re constitutionally resisted; their brains are not capable of processing things at that low level.”
Genius, Dr Woodley says, can be found in people with modestly high levels of psychoticism [often typified by interpersonal hostility] and very high intelligence, with IQs scores of more than 140 or 150. Furthermore they are, he says, often asexual as their brains use the space allocated to urges such as sexual desire for additional cognitive ability.
"You have a trade off between what Freud would have referred to as libido and on the other hand pure abstraction: a Platonistic world of ideas,” he said. The evolutionary reason for this may lie with the theory that geniuses have insights that advance the general population. “It’s paradoxical because you think the idea of evolution is procreation, and that might be true in a lot of cases,” he explains. “But what if the way you increase your genes is by benefitting the entire group, by giving them an innovation that allows them to grow and expand and colonise new countries?”
The lack of common sense is in keeping with the idea that a genius exists as an asset to other people, and so: “They need to be looked after,” he says. “They are vulnerable and fragile.”



Michael Woodley makes an important point here. Far from being high in reproductive fitness, in biological terms many geniuses or vulnerable and fragile, and benefit the group rather than themselves; and therefore they often need to be looked after.

The corollary is that when geniuses are not looked after, they do not fulfil their potential, and everybody loses.

If you look at the geniuses throughout history, which obviously only detects successful geniuses, and not those who were thwarted or crushed - there are a very large number who had some kind of 'minder' - typically a specific person who looked after them; whether an influential colleague, a sympathetic employer, a patron, or a monarch - or else their family or a group of close friends.


So, the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson was 'managed' by Colonel TW Higginson; and Jane Austen flourished in the obscurity of her family. Thomas Aquinas was looked after by his brother Friars; and Mendel in his monastery. Pascal by his family. Plus many a genius was sustained by a capable wife.

When there is a close-knit and idealistic community, this may also do it - for example, the community of mathematicians looked after Paul Erdos, who never had a home and camped out at in the house of one mathematics Professor after another for decades, while collaborating on research papers. The Indian genius mathematician Ramanujan was discovered and protected by the Cambridge Professors Hardy and Littlewood.

But poor William Sidis was exploited rather than protected by his parents, and was a sensitive man who had to survive in a hostile and mocking world; so his achievements were limited, and indeed largely unknown and unappreciated.


Modern society is dominated by 'bureaucracy', that is by voting committees and formal procedures - rather than individual humans making personal judgments.

And committees do not look after geniuses - rather they ignore them, or persecute them.

It is no coincidence that English genius very suddenly all-but disappeared in the era (from about 1955-1980) in which bureaucracy waxed dominant in national life - and nowadays geniuses are absent, invisible, or fighting for survival against the forces of mass media, committees, peer reviewers and other faceless officials.

This is sad for the geniuses; fatal for our society.



William Zeitler said...

Add to that a certain cultural resistance to 'genius'. That is, being so committed to 'egalitarianism' -- everybody is 'equal' -- we are frequently conflicted about supporting/protecting geniuses (which after all would be at the expense of resources that could be 'better' allocated to the low end of the bell curve). At the high school at which my wife teaches English, students graduating with honors are no longer permitted to wear the gold tassel on their caps that marks them as honor students -- because it 'hurts the feelings and lowers the self-esteem of students who were not honor students." Ha ha -- what if 'genius' were classified as a kind of disability? Then they'd get support out the gazoo!

Anonymous said...

Oh very interesting - and very sad. Thank you for a mentally stimulating post - i am going to share it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WZ - Yes, there is cultural resistance, but probably that was always the case. The difference was that in the past individuals could go against this; and some of these individuals has autonomous power.

Now it is mob rule all the way up - and an individual can always be overruled by one mob or another - whether the anonymous peer review cartel, the mathematical result of a majority vote, the faceless hysteria of the mass media.

William Zeitler said...

"mob rule"... Yes, that is the Achilles Heel of democracy, isn't it? That a democracy is only as good as its voting pool? As the intelligence and morality of the voting pool declines, so must that of the 'representative' leaders they vote into office. And, mass media is 'democratic' as well, each viewer voting with their channel changer, so we see in mass media the same decline that we see in our political leadership. Is it really a choice between the tyranny of an individual (dictator/king) or the tyranny of the mob? Will we ever outgrow our obsession with coercion?

Thursday said...

I wonder about the asexual bit, at least as it applies to artistic geniuses. It seems to me that an awful lot of great artists (literary, visual or musical) pursued and got quite a bit of sex, though there were others who were celibate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Th - Various people have calculated the reproductive success of geniuses (eg those in Charles Murray's human Accomplishment) and they come out below replacement level - whereas they would need to be above average (and way above replacement levels) for simple natural selection to be an explanation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WZ - It is only tyranny when the authority is illegitimate.

William Zeitler said...

"It is only tyranny when the authority is illegitimate."

Yes -- particularly when that includes 'moral authority' (e.g. Gandhi walking his talk). Alas, legitimate authority seems in short supply. Perhaps it always has been!

George said...

Being sensitive and genuine (honesty as necessary for discovering the truth), geniuses don't do well in a society where honesty is opposed, or a society where dishonesty and corruption is a prerequisite for "getting ahead" - a society where individualism trumps any tribal or group feelings and geniuses are simply seen a competitors for being smart, or enemies for being honest contra political correctness, or gullible fools to be exploited for trusting or assuming others are also honest-by-default. As such, we are absolutely and positvely anti-genius as a society.

Thursday said...

Various people have calculated the reproductive success of geniuses (eg those in Charles Murray's human Accomplishment) and they come out below replacement level

Did they do that for just the artists, or was everybody lumped together?

Thursday said...

And, anyway, the comment wasn't about natural selection?

Santoculto said...

It is noteworthy that 80% of autistic people do not have a job.

The West is imitating the steps of the East to promote neotenous or domesticated intelligence. I know many people who fit this pattern perfectly. The result is already known. The extinction of creativity. Or at least creativity significantly reduced.

Bruce Charlton said...

@S - Thanks for the above. I could not print your other comment because, sadly, it was incomprehensible due to abundant language mistakes - sorry!

Santoculto said...

I'm guilty and I'm not to blame for that. Believe me, in my native language, my vocabulary is much larger. Is that really, I'm not worried now study English. I do not have any desire for it. I am driven by the desire, I am natural and spontaneous, that to me is the manifestation of my God.

I'll summarize what I tried to explain in another comment.

There is not only iq performance,

There are savants who do not have great cognitive gap, they are '' normal '' people with great specific ability and IQ tests can be completely miserable to measure this cognitive profile,

Terman not evaluate geniuses. Lombroso and Galton yes.

Three most important factors produce human creativity,

will, novelty and manipulation of ''old creativity'', ''fossilized creativity'' or simply, ''intelligence''.

Anonymous said...

Less agreeable intellectual types these days get pathologized as ADHD or aspergey. I have also seen difficult intelligent types characterized as "unmanageable" in work situations.

Ironmistress said...

Remember that in the past a genius became only a genius if he was born in an upper class or Jewish family.

If he was born in lower or working class family, he was simply torn into pieces by his peers.