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Posts Tagged ‘genius’

The Necessity Of Genius

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

monkey_tool_use

The cornerstone of the Alt Right is that genetics determines culture, and culture determines everything else. Genetics also determines hierarchy. The question then arises, how do we find the best? Dr. James Thompson advances a good entry-level argument that centers the debate on the actual topic, instead of the tangents that most people will pursue:

In summary, you can spot exceptional minds early, if you bother to test for them. Verbal and mathematical tests provide powerful predictors. Adding spatial tests (done for some of them in later testing) assists in getting even better predictions. There is no upper limit after which additional smarts make no contribution. On the contrary, every increase in ability, like additional height in a basketball player, adds to achievement in life. Very bright people contribute a lot to society.

My digression is to note that although a simple explanation for the different directions these very bright people take in their occupations is that they play to their strengths, the observed differentiation is similar to the patterns of international trade as noted by Ricardo in his theory of comparative advantage. Ricardo sought to explain why a country like England which in 1817 could produce many things more efficiently than most other countries (such as Portugal) still bothered to trade with them. Similarly, why do very bright people, very much better at virtually all intellectual tasks than most people, still bother to specialise in only one of their manifold talents? Applying Ricardo’s theory to these very bright people, if any two eminent minds capable of producing two products, say Words and Sums, engage in a free market then each eminent mind can increase their overall consumption by selling the good for which they have comparative advantage while buying the other good, provided there are differences in productivity between both eminent minds. Bright people who are better at words will do wordy work, even though they are very much better than 9,999 other people at Maths. It is comparative advantage rather than absolute advantage that is responsible for intellectual specialisation and the trading of intellectual products.

While the basics are sound, it misses a couple of other key points:

  • Economic system is a proxy. Smart people are useful when they are rewarded for their work, because not rewarding them creates a de facto disadvantage because rewards for performance and non-performance are the same, making performance inefficient.

  • There are grades of highly intelligent. The above makes an initial cut for the talented people who are genetically gifted enough to offer thinking that no one else can do, and sensibly divides them between words people and maths people. But there are divisions within that structure as well.

In addition, we should identify that rarest of rara avis, the creative genius as identified by Bruce Charlton:

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.

This would be the upper echelon of genius: the artists, philosophers, writers, composers and rare public figures like Arminius and Charlemagne.

On top of that, it must be said that lack of verbal ability excludes people from some fields. The greatest intelligences of my acquaintance, in the course of venturing through the top echelon of our educational and social layers, have been of the verbal variety as paired with a high ability to organize thoughts in a non-linear fashion, which seems to equate to the spatial or something like it.

STEM people, while intelligent, came nowhere close. This has been consistent for many years. STEM requires linear analysis of finite tasks; this is a bit easier than non-linear analysis of multiple factors, any of which may be weak or fallacious. That kind of balancing — a sort of architectonic thinking — belongs to the artists, writers and philosophers, and those are the upper crust of intelligence.

It is worth noting two points from Schopenhauer; first, the rest of us are Dunning-Krugered when it comes to genius, because we will not recognize it and it will sound like raving drivel to us:

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

If we use the merely-talented/talented-plus-genius dichotomy, the merely-talented are generally confined to STEM fields, where the talented-by-genius can venture toward less concrete forms of thinking.

These modes of thought in the humanities are maligned by the Leftist takeover of these departments which occurred because most conservatives focus on the practical, allowing the Leftists to occupy this “lesser” territory. This parallels the difference between mainstream conservatism and actual conservatism: humanities as taught in US/EU 2016 are far different from humanities as they are understood on their own terms.

Schopenhauer also suggests that genius is not of practical value, but is useful in understanding the true nature of things and the transcendentals:

Although the intellect exists only to serve the will, in certain humans the intellect accorded by nature is so disproportionately large, it far exceeds the amount needed to serve the will. In such individuals, the intellect can break free of the will and act independently. A person with such an intellect is a genius (only men can have such a capability according to Schopenhauer), and this will-free activity is aesthetic contemplation or creation. The genius is thus distinguished by his ability to engage in will-less contemplation of the Ideas for a sustained period of time, which allows him to repeat what he has apprehended by creating a work of art. In producing a work of art, the genius makes the beautiful accessible for the non-genius as well. Whereas non-geniuses cannot intuit the Ideas in nature, they can intuit them in a work of art, for the artist replicates nature in the artwork in such a manner that the viewer is capable of viewing it disinterestedly, that is, freed from her own willing, as an Idea.

A genius can dig more deeply into structure — the patterns of existent, not their material substrates — and in so doing undertake the mentally-demanding task of ascertaining their true nature. Here Schopenhauer agrees with Charlton on the dream-like state of genius; the person bearing genius has transcended his human state, and as a result his thinking is not constrained by self-interest.

If anything has promoted the West, it has been its abundance of genius — especially in leadership. Most of the geniuses of the West are unknown to us because their work formed the groundwork for popularizers to express to the world, and history remembers those instead. But for every great discovery, the path ahead was found by lone geniuses working independently toward understanding the root of the problem.

Currently, our society is opposed to genius, because nothing makes a crowd feel less equal than the presence of genius. In fact, that it exists seems to refute our idea of equality entirely. At the far-right of the IQ curve, people are targets for the herd, which in its loss of confidence seeks to eliminate the symbols of its inequality.

The Slow Death Of The Blank Slate Continues

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Some years ago, a popular science writer named Malcolm Gladwell penned a book in which he insinuated — short of outright claiming — that what made epic talent was practicing a certain number of hours. In his view, because the greats did this, it meant that it was what made them great.

We call that “blank slate” reasoning because it assumes that people are identical in ability. Our society must assume that, because it is based on the assumption of human equality, and ability serves as a proxy for wealth and power. Therefore, we must pretend that everyone is the same, even though when it is time to choose a doctor we want a smart and naturally talented one.

Gladwell has one massive talent, and that is recognizing the crest of a wave created by a notion that will flatter people that is about to float into public consciousness. What the top ten percent knew twenty years ago will become available to the lower ninety percent today, and the writer who scripts it in an engaging text will get quite rich.

Against the blank slate assumption however have emerged a number of challengers, especially The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. In this view, people are not equal; genes determine abilities, and some people get more of this or more of that than others, in a matter of degree. This explains how some people have genius or talent that can be shaped by those hours of practice.

On the topic of genius studies, a recent article on the innate nature of genius hammers a further nail into the coffin of the blank slate:

“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies2, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

Such results contradict long-established ideas suggesting that expert performance is built mainly through practice — that anyone can get to the top with enough focused effort of the right kind. SMPY, by contrast, suggests that early cognitive ability has more effect on achievement than either deliberate practice or environmental factors such as socio-economic status.

Since democracy inevitably mutates from the idea of “political equality,” or treating everyone the same by making them go through a bureaucratic process, to the notion of “actual equality,” or the mistaken thought that people are identical in ability, the notion of democracy — and related notions of class warfare, diversity, sexual equality and pluralism — will die with the blank slate.

For that reason, the Left and the everyday useful idiots who fear change are hanging on with their fingernails to the idea that Gladwell advanced, which is that you can take any human and run him through the right education, instill in him the right opinions, and make him undertake 10,000 hours of practice and he will be a genius. The reality is the opposite: a genius, if not deprived of the ability to practice extensively, will gift us with acts of genius, where the average person will merely occupy space that displaces geniuses in a society based on equality.

Reflections on The Genius Famine by Edward Dutton and Bruce G. Charlton

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

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If Plato is the origin of conservative thinking, then we might construe conservatism as the discipline of failure studies: looking at how human groups and ventures fail in order to avoid that path and in fact go the other direction toward not just avoiding failure, but achieving excellence.

To some of us, this study takes precedence over all else because of the historical fact that civilization has a zero percent survival rate over time. Societies fail by succeeding, and this means that we are looking at a counter-intuitive problem, or one for which conventional methods will fail.

Bruce Charlton has been for many years a theorist of this and other issues, and a hidden hero of the post-1990s (“boomerpocalypse”) conservative revolution. When the Left assumed total control after the fall of the Soviet Union, those who were not Leftist found themselves struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

Charlton’s most recent book, written with Adjunct Professor of the Anthropology of Religion and Finnish Culture at Oulu University Edward Dutton, tackles this ancient problem with an entirely new view: that whether as cause or effect of our decline, our civilization is hurtling toward disaster through the elimination of genius.

En route to that explanation, The Genius Famine also convincingly looks into the psychology of genius and corrects several pop culture misconceptions through careful deconstruction and re-assembly of key terms used to describe those of high intelligence, genius and creativity. This part alone makes the book worth reading, since other than Maurice Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness, there are few insightful analyses of the mental state and activity of genius.

Most importantly, the book states the seemingly obvious — geniuses are biologically altruistic, meaning that they help their tribe stay motivated to work together, and their innovations provide a means by which a society (especially Western Civilization) can overcome the challenges thrust at it. Charlton and Dutton establish a unique role for genius.

The benefits yielded by genius are not obtainable in any other way. (229)

This book has been previously reviewed on this site by a highly competent writer who did an excellent job. What follows after the brief introduction above is an exploration of some of the many insightful moments in the book, which is available online as an etext.

Perhaps a favorite moment for readers of this blog can be found in the following savagely accurate analysis of exactly why modernity is so miserable and unbearable for anyone remotely intellectually awake:

In a society of declining intelligence, we would expect: rising crime and corruption; decreasing civic participation and lower voter turn-out; higher rates of illegitimacy; poorer health and greater obesity, an increased interest in the instinctive, especially sex; greater political instability and decline in democracy; higher levels of social conflict; higher levels of selfishness and so a decline in any welfare state; a growing unemployable underclass; falling educational standards; and a lack of intellectualism and thus decreasing interest in education as a good in itself. We would also expect more and more little things to go wrong that we didn’t used to notice: buses running out of petrol, trains delayed, aeroplanes landing badly, roads not being repaired, people arriving late and thinking it’s perfectly okay; several large and lots of little lies . . . (185)

This passage explains the “death by a thousand cuts” of modernity: every day, things get a little worse and less competent. We start seeing the intricate web of inter-reliance by institutions falling apart. And then, we reach third world conditions, where everyone is selfish and foolish and society as a whole falls apart.

Charlton has described “the now,” or at least the time since about 1990, perfectly. We are in a declining society which will end up a third-world state, in which people are selfish and few are competent. The voices we relied on to give us direction and reveal the meaning in life — the geniuses — are gone.

How we got here, in his view, was through a process of dysgenics:

In other words, until about 1800 only the minority of people with (on average) the ‘best genes’ (i.e. the lowest mutation load) would be able to survive and reproduce; and among the great majority of the population only a very small proportion of their offspring (averaging much less than two, probably less than one, per woman) would survive to a healthy adulthood, reproduce and raise children of their own. In this context, which was for almost all of human history until about two hundred years ago; both new and inherited deleterious mutations were filtered-out, or purged, from the population every generation by this very harsh form of natural selection. (39)

He covers both sides of the equation: first, deleterious mutations accumulated through a lack of natural selection process based on competence and second, owing to the misery and bureaucratic nature of modernity, the intelligent ceased to reproduce at high numbers. This reversed the gains of previous centuries in which the lower intelligence portions of the population had few children survive to breeding age.

This view presents a new spin on ancient wisdom. As societies grow more powerful, they save everyone from natural selection, and in doing so impose their own form of unnatural selection, which rewards those who breed recklessly. This leads to a population in which intelligence declines, and soon, the intelligent become marginalized.

Even more importantly, and more relevant to the “It’s a trap!” perspective on civilization and progress, Charlton and Dutton identify the bureaucratic nature of an advanced society as responsible for elimination of genius. It replaces those with Head Girls, who are sort of like British honor students and over-achievers, who are good at everything on the surface back lack depth in their approach.

According to these authors, what distinguishes genius is its Endogenous approach, or a self-starting mentality that finds fulfillment in beating difficult tasks and by doing so, increasing the health and prospects of the civilization around them. Head Girls do not do this; they act in self-interest alone, and conform to what others expect of them, which is exactly what bureaucracies and commerce desire:

Indeed modern institutions are not even trying to select primarily by intelligence – the reality of which they often deny; but instead are implicitly – by the nature of their evaluations – and also by explicitly-stated policies – selecting on other grounds, especially for the ‘Head Girl’ personality – the conscientious, empathic, socially integrated all-rounders. Modern society is, of course, run by Head Girls, of both sexes (plus a smattering of charming or charismatic psychopaths), hence there is no assigned place for the creative genius. Modern colleges aim at recruiting Head Girls, so do universities, so does science, so do the arts, so does the mass media, so does the legal profession, so does medicine, so does the military. And in doing so, except insofar as they make errors; they filter-out and exclude even the possibility of creative genius. (189)

The civilization that has succeeded moves from being a cooperative venture to an inclusive one. At that point, it begins to focus on control, or making people follow a centralized agenda rather than interpreting general principles in specific ways. With this, society finds it more useful to have obedient people than genius ones.

This not only deprives society of an essential function, that of genius, but also puts it into a tailspin as intelligence declines and consequently, it begins to approximate a third-world state:

Working with Charlton, Michael Woodley discovered an already-published survey of historical reaction time data that demonstrated a striking slowing of sRTs from the time of Francis Galton in the late nineteenth century until the late 20th century.

This data carried the strong implication that there had been a rapid and substantial decline in intelligence over the past hundred-plus years – and opened-up a new field of research which Woodley has been actively pursuing ever since. (167)

These researchers have used reaction time as a proxy for intelligence, since faster nerve response correlates with higher intelligence. Through that lens, they can see what IQ tests — which are normalized to a control group — cannot, namely that over time, Europeans have been declining in ability exactly as the eugenicists predicted.

Charlton and Dutton take a nuanced view of IQ testing and other intelligence proxies. They explain the utility of these assessments, but also, how genius is measured differently: a collection of traits, explained in greater specificity than the usual modern methods, that make a self-directed, highly creative individual who is focused on abstract thinking in lieu of the social thinking with which most of us burn our time and energy.

These unconventional creative geniuses offer more to society than mere innovation. The Genius Famine theorizes that artistical/cultural geniuses serve to unify the tribe, giving society a leg up in endurance and depth, while technical geniuses are responsible for the big breakthroughs that later are explored through “micro-innovations” by those who expand upon the original notion.

Without these contributions, society self-destructs:

But as intelligence continues to decline, then growth in productivity will reverse into decline and inefficiency, as the ability of people to sustain, repair, even to maintain, the highly technical, specialized and coordinated world civilization will be lost, just as occurred with the fall of Western Roman civilization; when agricultural and industrial production and trade all collapsed, the standard of living and population plummeted, and general technical and organizational levels took more than a millennium to recover. (181-182)

The Genius Famine ranks as essential reading for anyone concerned with the fall of civilization and how to resurrect it. Expertly written, in a seemingly offhand but intensely analytical style, it does not grow old or slow as a reading experience but instead offers new revelations on nearly every page. This makes it an exhausting read, best sampled in small doses, but a highly rewarding one.

As Western civilization awakens from its slumber, the postmortem on its failure will be vast. The Genius Famine offers an important part of the picture, although as others have written, there are non-biological causes as well. In any case, it shows us how progress leads us away from the organic power of intelligence and in that choice, to our doom.

What Is Intelligence?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

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The Harvard-trained theorist who can write a dissertation but not boil an egg, we are told, is “intelligent”; similarly, we are told, a mass of people acting in self-interest to buy products or cast votes will achieve a type of “intelligence.”

I offer an alternate theory: intelligence occurs in degrees, and is as logical as a computer, which means that “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (GIGO) applies. If you feed a computer paradox and nonsense, you will get more of the same. If you feed it sensible principles, you get logical results. This is a parallel to Plato’s “good to the good, and bad to the bad.”

But what is intelligence, this gradient which cannot be seen but whose effects (or lack thereof) can be painfully felt? It seems to be both brain activity, and an ability to correlate that to activity in the real world. We call that “creativity” in some areas because actual creativity requires not making up fantastical stuff, but making up fantastical stuff that is plausible enough as a type of reality, or addresses real-world issues enough to be appealing. Creativity is not arbitrary; it is as logical as science, but uses another approach.

Thus intelligence has two aspects: thinking power, and application power.

Bruce Charlton writes about “creative genius” as the synthesis of the balance of creativity and genius through a personality type (also relevant):

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 leads us closer to the idea of a genius: someone possessed by genius is literally possessed, in that this power directs the person toward an entirely different view of life which re-organizes it to be far from the normal. In particular, the creative genius resembles the apex predator: lazy, erratic at times, resistant to discipline and aloof.

Scott Adams calls these people “wizards,” and reveals a list of traits they seem to share:

Look for these clues:

1. The wizard succeeds in a high-profile field without the benefit of as much talent as you would expect should be necessary. (This is the biggest tell.)

2. People seem to have an irrational hate for the wizard that is not entirely explained by the wizard’s actions. Regular readers already know these unusual reactions are signs of cognitive dissonance. Wizards induce cognitive dissonance often, without trying.

3. Look for an inflated ego combined with an unusually strong ability to withstand withering criticism. (Wizards get a lot of criticism.) The common view is that wizards are egomaniacs. In reality, the wizard works hard to remain ego-free, and hence can handle criticism well.

4. Wizards are often more ambitious, and often more aggressive, than you think is normal.

5. One or more major PR disasters define the wizard’s history.

6. The wizard has a gift for simplification.

7. Observers detect a reality distortion field.

8. Wizards have an ability to succeed where other fail by changing the entire game as opposed to winning at the existing one.

9. Wizards use words to create images and emotions in people’s minds.

10. Wizards seek public attention.

The wizard filter on the world isn’t necessarily true in some objective sense. The fun is seeing if the data and predictions fit the filter.

I submit that much as Adams writes, creative genius cannot be tested for; it appears and can be identified later because it fit the filter, but beyond that, it is something that emerges in the real world through results and not through human selection.

That shows us the basis of the aristocratic system: find those who have done great things, breed them with the noblest and smartest women, and create a permanent group of high-intelligence and high-creativity people. This was the reason for Europe’s success and is the method by which it can be restored.

Today, on April 20th, I think often of Hitler: a man who knew so much, yet did so much wrong. Perhaps the division between Hitler and what we need as a civilization is this aristocratic division. We do not need a better modern, or “predictive” system, but an absence of systems entirely and a reliance instead on proven wizardry/creative genius.

That alone demonstrates a working model of intelligence. You can separate the men from the boys with SATs and IQ tests, but to find the gold among the silver and copper, we must rely on nature and instead of trying to control her, channel her natural bounty of genius and creativity into a new elite.

The Genius Famine by Edward Dutton and Bruce G. Charlton

Saturday, March 19th, 2016


The Genius Famine: Why We Need Geniuses, Why They’re Dying Out, Why We Must Rescue Them
by Edward Dutton and Bruce G. Charlton
232 pages

The Genius Famine focuses on a topic that remains obscured behind our modern view of a term that once had meaning. Genius refers to both a type of ability, and a person who possesses it. This book redirects our focus toward genius in three steps: it provides a definition for genius, an explanation for why it arose and faded out, and a plan for how geniuses might return.

Its writers have explored this territory before but never in such a directed topic. The content of this book will be familiar to readers of Bruce Charlton’s Intelligence, Personality, and Genius blog. Readers of this blog are sure to recognize his name. Edward Dutton is a writer and religious scholar who writes articles and books on a variety of topics.

The central insight of the book is its description and definition of genius. A genius is someone who makes an insight or discovery that has a significant effect on his group’s fortune and evolutionary success. This kind of insight could not be made by regular people thinking in a regular way, because it requires seeing patterns or connections that are not obvious and not straightforward.

The authors argue that this creative thinking is not simply a product of high intelligence, which though necessary for solving problems of a known type, is not enough to be able to solve new problems of which there is no memory. High intelligence excels at applying known solutions and techniques, but a genius can step beyond the known. A genius is able to think this way because he (or, rarely, she) has the type of personality that Charlton has coined as Endogenous.

An Endogenous personality is directed inwards, and works intuitively. Whereas regular people are motivated by external concerns, such as social standing or sexual pursuits, an Endogenous personality is inward focused. He dwells within his mind, and that is from where he motivations originate. He works on his task and makes his discoveries not as a means to gaining wealth or status, but as an end in itself. Man is a social animal, but geniuses are an exception to this. The authors suggest that perhaps the parts of the mind that normally handle social thinking is in these people repurposed in a way that would explain both their reduced interest in social concerns and their higher intelligence and creativity.

Having described the Endogenous personality, the book progresses through chapters overviewing intelligence, which is mental ability, and personality, which is character. Intelligence is shown to be real and meaningful, and capable of being accurately — though not perfectly or uniformly — measured using IQ tests. Personality is commonly measured using the “Big 5” traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and extraversion. Similar to how various measures of intelligence correlate and have an underlying factor called g, J. Philippe Rushton found that these five can be reduced to a single dimensional measure, which he calls General Factor Personality (GFP). A high GFP is eusocial, and is typical of those who are good citizens, who generally get along well with others and don’t cause problems. Because of this, genius is associated with lower GFP; with lower conscientiousness and agreeableness.

On the difference between these two mental aspects, the authors write,

In terms of computers — intelligence is something like the processing speed, while personality is about the types of software installed. Or, intelligence is about the efficiency of the brain, while personality is about what that brain is designed to do. Or intelligence is about how well the brain works; while personality describes the circuitry, the hard-wiring — what kind of brain it is.

This is a fine example of Charlton’s style of writing, with its serial repetition of the same concept in different words as if to display it in different lighting and from different angles. Rather than compress the text to a minimally reduced expression of the intended meaning, and without the unnecessary verbiage and jargon typical of modern academic writing, explanations are straightforward and allowed room to breathe. The result is simplicity that strengthens clarity without compromising substance. This style seems fitting of a competent lecturer, and makes reading a pleasant ease.

Genius is colloquially used to describe everyday cleverness, but the meaning the authors have in mind is narrower. A sociological perspective would identify genius by their large impact on the course of history. A biological perspective would notice how he contributes to a the reproductive success of his group, becoming more numerous than others, or how how his contributions result in an increase in his group’s genetic quality. Or he may direct his group to be more fit to some higher purpose, in a philosophical or theological sense. In any case, a genius is capable of producing a large positive effect on his group due to his special ability. Some with this ability may not make use of it, making them potential geniuses.

The nature of this special ability is the Creative Triad: high intelligence, combined with an inner motivation, combined with intuitive thinking. Intuition is a third mode of thinking that makes use of the first two, which are rational thinking and emotional thinking. It is a holistic mode of thought most fundamental to the real self or inner consciousness. It is a sum greater than its parts that is necessary for the highest levels of creativity:

The result of intuition is therefore an evaluation which is uniquely convincing because it is validated by the full range of positive responses. It is an insight that satisfies both logic and reason, and also ‘feels’ right.

Inner motivation is what drives creativity. Creativity isn’t something that can be managed or externally controlled and directed the way that physical or technical labor can, it arises from within. The authors describe the way this inner motivation leads to genius discoveries through a process they call the Genius Quest, which involves recognizing a problem and the sense of purpose that arises from becoming dedicated to finding a solution.

Because genius is “having an enormous impact in some field through highly original activity,” it is a subspecies of creativity. The authors describe what creativity is, and how it has been confused with mere novelty or shocking offensiveness. An obvious example of this is modern art, where provoking outrage is seen as proof of originality and creativity.

Considering that geniuses benefit a group by being able to solve novel problems, identifying potential geniuses is important to the fortunes of a group. But genius is not readily apparent (e.g. Albert Einstein performed poorly in school, Francis Crick’s academic career was unremarkable until his mid-30s, William Faulkner failed out of college), and identifying potential geniuses is not as straightforward as selecting the top academic performing children. That group of people may include potential geniuses, but it would also mostly consist of those who are simply highly intelligent and high in the conscientious and agreeable personality traits, who follow the rules and respond to social cues directing them to perform well. As noted earlier, geniuses, who have an Endogenous personality, are not conscientious, and are not motivated by social pressures. This necessitates different selection criteria and the authors describe the traits to look for.

Given what has been described so far — that geniuses improve their group’s situation, and that the traits that contribute to genius are heritable — one might expect genius to be evolutionarily selected for, and thus the incidence of genius to be on the rise. However, it is shown that the opposite is true, and several causes are offered to explain this effect which gives the book its name.

One cause is a decline in intelligence. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries and the medical advances in their wake reduced child mortality to such a degree that it switched from being so commonplace that members of the lower class had an effective rate of reproduction near zero to being a rarity.

This switch had two consequences. First, instead of a downward class mobility that replaced less intelligent lower classes from above, lower classes began to outbreed the higher. Second, it removed the screen on deleterious genetic mutations, which normally would be removed from the population when their presence in infancy prevented survival. Instead, medical technology allowed these slight defects to remain and become more numerous in each generation, to the point where this load of defective genes now depresses intelligence and retards mental function.

Another cause is the increasing bureaucratization and modernization of academia, which creates an environment that is unappealing, and often outright hostile, to genius. The traits that identify genius are more likely to be noticed by individuals who themselves have the Endogenous personality type, and so when applications and appointments are overseen by committees, a compounding effect of reduced ability to identify, promote, and even simply tolerate genius occurs. Some policies directly reduce the proportion of Endogenous personalities in academia, such as those that select against males and Europeans, amongst whom the incidence of genius is by far the highest.

More generally, the increasing rarity of genius is a result of civilization no longer being serious. Success has created such wealth and power that a large buffer exists between individuals in modern society and bare nature. No longer is there felt an immediacy of danger and an urgency of survival; with only extreme exceptions, no matter what one does, no matter the choices they make, they are assured a pleasant, safe, long life, and so taking reality and nature seriously only happens after conscious effort. This means that it becomes difficult to recognize tough problems that would require genius solutions. When there is no obvious crisis, genius is ignored in a sea of false ideas and false solutions for which it would require getting serious to reject. This itself is a looming crisis that desperately calls for a genius solution.

For this reason, Genius Famine may be useful not only to those who wish to understand genius itself, but also to those searching for the best ways to fight against and reverse the decline of our civilization.

How leftists take over: ignore excellence, reward obedience

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

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The formidably insightful Bruce Charlton asks How could English genius apparently disappear between the 1960s and 1990? Answer: it was the ability to recognize the products of genius which disappeared at that time:

Even despite all this; the abruptness of the collapse of genius was still too rapid to have a biological basis in terms of the actual production of potential geniuses.

So I assume that the problem was not actually in the production of genius people but in a collapse in the ability to recognize the products of genius – the failure to perceive and to use genuine breakthrough ideas and products – and that this was substantially due to very rapid social changes happening in England through the 1960s through 1980s.

What happened, I think, was that the production of geniuses declined rather gracefully, gradually, incrementally – but that it was that the ability to evaluate and recognize major work of genius that collapsed abruptly.

What he’s noticing is one prong of the leftist strategy of thought control in public media.

The first prong is to define acceptable beliefs, and to ignore anything outside of those beliefs.

The second is to praise any plausible candidate with those beliefs, claiming it is “genius.”

We can see the clearest example of this in literature. In the 1990s, the MFA-to-novel pipeline stopped accepting stories that did not have a politically correct (PC) premise.

Thus if a genius were to write a novel, and it did not have a PC premise, the novel would never be published. The genius would never be recognized.

This leaves an ugly choice: either twist the story to include a PC premise, or don’t publish.

Music also reveals the same pattern. Tell them what they want to hear, or all the intermediate A&R and promotions people will simply ignore you.

Journalism also provides an example. Stories that do not conform to the narrative get marginalized, leaving only the conservative news outlets to cover them.

In all of these cases, an underpaid and under-experienced staff makes initial decisions and thus acts as a filter implementing the desires of higher-ups. There is plausible deniability. Best of all, the staff might simply be considered incompetent, having gone from college to these cushy but non-lucrative jobs without having experienced much of life outside the Ivory Tower.

The flip side of this is that obedience gets rewards. If you are preaching the right doctrine, doors open. People will arrive to help shape your film, music, novel, essay or news story into something that is technically well-executed.

However, technical execution is a surface trait as punk music taught us 30 years ago. A truthful, insightful and relevant piece of art will strike a chord even if it is technically less than ideal; however, technical sophistication without underlying content is empty like other products of an industrial society.

Technical sophistication without some underlying purpose or insight is purely functional, more like decoration than art or informative experience. To the leftist, this isn’t a problem, because the underlying purpose is always the same: demonstrate unity with the hive-mind and its leftist beliefs.

The result of all of this is that we have as a society systematically excluded genius and even insight from culture and media, and replaced it with propaganda.

Not surprisingly, this has turned people off of culture and media, which has allowed more leftists to surge into the gap and create an echo-chamber in the void left by absence of good people.

Our renewal begins when we reclaim these institutions and restore them from within by crowding out the insane leftists and resuming the practice of recognizing profundity and value, not obedience.

Linear thinking makes you a blockhead

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I enjoy about half of what David Brooks writes. But sometimes, he just gets it wrong.

Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

NYT

Everyone loves democratic views of the world. “I could be anything, so society must treat me as if I am special,” they drone, forgetting that around them are infinite others thinking the same thing, and that a society of selfish people makes for disorder, disorder makes for corruption, and at that point you’re well on your way to third-world levels of disorganization.

Brooks is playing to the crowd with this popular notion that he carefully avoids saying is scientifically verified. He says we are scientific and enlightened, and that we have a new notion of how things work; he leaves it to you to assume that means science “says” things are this way.

In fact, the actual data points in the opposite direction: high intelligence is genetically determined, and as measured by IQ, determines success in life.

But that’s not popular. “What, some are born to sweet delight, and others just born to the endless night? Well, I’m so much more afraid of the endless night that in my confusion and depression I think I’m prone to, I’m going to go find some of those sweet delight people and kick their asses.” That’s about the mentality we’re looking at here, translated through Brooks’ intelligent ability to market his writings.

And then there was the option I suggested, that people found inconvenient to mention:

Or, there’s the third option:

Divine spark of intelligence (high g) + hard work = “a genius”

Here, I’m thinking of your Schopenhauer, your Beethoven, your Planck, your Faulkner, and so on. These guys may appear lazy at a first glance, but the fact of the matter is that they spent endless hours in focused thought on what they were doing — and also, had the raw ability to process this thought.

There are also some like Franz Schubert who seemed destined for quick rise and fall. I don’t think Brooks’ formula explains that, so he’d have to invent something about fortunate circumstances, wealthy families, oppression of average-IQ “geniuses,” and so on — backward logic.

I might ask Brooks: so how many geniuses were born with average IQs? And how many people with average or above average worked really hard but didn’t end up geniuses?

However, backward logic is still there. He might simply opt to re-define genius, and insist we call some mediocrity a genius because they made pots of money or came up with an idea that pleases lots of people because it justifies their selfishness, inaction or failure.

The basic problem here is that people demand a simple explanation for the crowd, and then confuse the means used to achieve that demonstration with how reality works. That is: they say “show me the evidence” so the presenter constructs a model that shows BEFORE and AFTER states, compares one factor (“how hard they worked”), and then concludes that, for the instances studied, this is the Truth and the Word.

So the crowd surges forth from the auditorium, assumes that they can look at single factors and draw broad conclusions, and then they start practicing. Truth is eroded. By the time David Brooks gets to the scene, there’s no point even trying for truth; just try for a pseudo-truth that someone will buy. Geniuses work hard; therefore, hard work makes you a genius. It’s a simple cause/effect confusion that pleases a crowd and makes them easy to control.

It’s always interesting to see how people alter their reality with memes. They use them to control each other, but then, because they’re now a token of social discourse, find themselves controlled by them. I guess they never anticipated that effect and consequent disaster, but it seems obvious to me.

We are our abilities

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Author Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, suggested Thursday that we kill geniuses by demanding super-human powers from them.

The problem, she says, lies in how we attribute the qualities of geniusness.

Instead of seeing the individual as a genius, we should view the brilliance as a gift from an unknowable outside source — some might call it a muse, others a fairy or god force — that visits us on occasion to participate in an act of creation, and then leaves to help someone else. Gilbert was referring primarily to those in the arts, but her talk applied to anyone who creates something sublime, whether it’s a painting in the Sistine Chapel or a quantum equation.

Wired

We are our abilities. However, when we try to claim those abilities arise from us, we get neurotic. Better to see them as just abilities.

For this incognito performance, Bell had only one condition for participating. The event had been described to him as a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius. His condition: “I’m not comfortable if you call this genius.” “Genius” is an overused word, he said: It can be applied to some of the composers whose work he plays, but not to him. His skills are largely interpretive, he said, and to imply otherwise would be unseemly and inaccurate.

WAPO

People throw the g-word around too much, but what they don’t want to face is that very few are geniuses, while most of us are just highly trained monkeys working in the steps of masters. But that doesn’t promote equality, justice, tolerance and the notion that we can be whatever we wish or describe ourselves to be.

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