I follow Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany. This link might not open his recent post. So I will share it as there is no other way I can get it into WordPress. He was commenting on THIS article. And I thought it was all fascinating.
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 fulfill 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.