Thursday, May 14, 2020

“genius” on the street

Quote marks: so-called.

It’s certainly so-called in journalism. David Brooks did a column 11 years ago (I’m an obsessive archivist) that’s typical, titled “Genius: The Modern View.” He riffs off a couple of books about building expertise through practice and persistence, focusing especially on child development. Alas, you too can someday be called a “genius.”

Let us “picture how a typical genius might develop.” Thank the gods for science that can smooth out individuality in the name of clarifying the typical.

The aim is less about lasting achievement than gaining “some sense of distinction” (which celebrities enjoy, typically).

Oh, to have “a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join”—to belong among the elite!

Last year, the NYTimes did a series called “Visionaries,” which was actually about entrepreneurs and innovation within standard careers.

Everything is relative: If you’re old enough to know how boring pop music was in the early ‘60s, you’d agree that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was a genius. (If you haven’t seen “Love & Mercy,” do).

The MacArthur Foundation avoids the journalist’s labeling of its Fellowships as “genius grants” because “it connotes a singular characteristic of intellectual prowess.”

That certainly pertains to literary critic Harold Bloom, who received a MacArthur grant.

Bloom takes to heart that there is literary genius and definitely goes for hallmarking canonical prowess (his favored notion is “capaciousness”).
He notes, near the beginning of his 800+ page Genius, 2001: “Genius is no longer a term much favored by scholars, so many of whom have become cultural levelers quite immune from awe” (p. 7).

What the MacArthur Foundation awards is what’s likely to be found: high creativity:
“The people we seek to support,” the Foundation notes, “express many other important qualities: ability to transcend traditional boundaries, willingness to take risks, persistence in the face of personal and conceptual obstacles, capacity to synthesize disparate ideas and approaches.”
That’s what creativity researchers in psychology now call “big-C creativity” (ch. 7). That’s what Robert and Michelle Root-Berstein were identifying 20 years ago in their popular Sparks of Genius: the thirteen thinking tools: observing, imaging, abstracting, recognizing patterns, forming patterns, analogizing, body thinking, empathizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, playing, transforming, and synthesizing.

Yet, there is a history of searching for awesome singularity and showing it: In classical intimations of so-called “divinity” in poetic possession; in challenging leading paradigms in science to an unprecedented degree; in divining original conceptuality that hallmarks the history of philosophy (where one’s proper name names an historically singular creativity—a genus of thinking).

Though “our confusions about canonical standards for genius are now institutionalized confusions…,” notes Bloom (Genius: 2), there are Extraordinary Minds (Howard Gardner), born from the classical aspiration for perfectibility—to near the gods—which was generative for cultural advancement (by chasing an ever-receding horizon). Now, overtly futurist thinking in conceptual inquiry can advance evolutionary theory
(I would prospect).

Fantastical desires for perfection mirror engagement with advancing fundamentals of one’s domain of work. Odysseys into the highest aspirations exemplify human nature advancing itself by conceiving how we can be—someday—and thereby [re]conceiving Our “nature” relative to primordial ventures.