Genius

©
Paul
Cooijmans

Introduction

Below are some speculative remarks to illustrate the development of my thinking about genius in terms of personality; that is, in intrinsic, predictive terms. It is easy to define genius "after the fact", to say that one is a genius who has made a lasting contribution, has been of great and lasting influence. That is true but also gratis and free of obligations. The real work is to predict genius, to describe it in terms of observable personality features. That is where the risk is run, where one can go wrong or right, where insight is to be gained, and where practical applications lie in identifying genius before the fact.

Genius does not depend on intelligence alone and can therefore not be defined by an I.Q. number. In other words, it is not possible to name a single I.Q. beyond which one is a genius. Although this paragraph is superfluous, some require it.

Some remarks

Genius is the high end of the dimension of creativity.

Creativity in turn is the expression (effect, result, projection) of awareness. Awareness is what the individual experiences inside one's mind (the experience of experience itself; the being aware of the fact that one or anything exists), while creativity is what others perceive when observing that individual. Awareness and creativity are the inner and outer aspects of the same thing. One's creativity is a measure of one's awareness. A non-creative person is not aware; a genius is the most aware of all.

Awareness is related to creativity not just as in making a painting or writing a novel, but also as in my philosophical hypothesis "Only what can be verified by aware beings exists". Awareness thus creates existence itself. Without aware beings, nothing would exist.

The components of creativity (and therefore of awareness and of genius) are intelligence, conscientiousness and associative horizon.

Conscientiousness is the only aspect of creativity that can be improved significantly, permanently, safely and purposely in an adult. This is probably so because conscientiousness is not a unitary trait, but comprises various traits, some of which are independent, and not per se correlated with each of the other traits that make up conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is a kaleidoscope of good features, and it is possible to possess different combinations thereof, and to gain or lose some of them without affecting the rest.

Associative horizon can probably not be safely improved much; hallucinogenic drugs widen it, but at the great risk of psychosis, which causes permanent damage to the mind and brain. Perhaps studying the work of geniuses or doing exercises in "lateral thinking" may improve one's associative horizon a bit, but one must ask if the result is worth the effort, and realize that much more creativity can be gained by improving conscientiousness. Associative horizon is the "spark", it is Edison's "2% inspiration", as opposed to the "98% transpiration". There is a tendency among people fascinated by genius to focus on the 2% and neglect the 98%, the hard work that comes after the "spark". A tendency to confuse creativity with associative horizon. This is the phenomenon of "wanting a champagne taste on a beer budget"; the attraction of being creative in a flash of insight, without needing to do the hard work.

There is a critical tension between the three components of creativity; each, when exceeding a certain threshold, can bring down the whole, destroying creativity.

Associative horizon, when exceeding a threshold, leads to psychosis and thus destroys creativity. This has been pointed out by Hans Eysenck and others. For genius, one needs to be close to that threshold.

Conscientiousness, when exceeding a threshold, leads to obsessions and compulsions (which in turn cause anxiety and depression) and thus destroys creativity (through neurosis rather than psychosis), be it less drastically. This is part of regular psychiatric knowledge. For genius, one needs to be close to that threshold.

Intelligence, when reaching the very highest altitudes, somehow reduces the frequency of genius; it has been pointed out that geniuses tend to have high, but not the highest intelligence; that those with the very highest I.Q.s are typically not geniuses. I do not know the precise mechanism yet, but relevant is my own finding that, in the high range, there is a significant negative correlation between I.Q. and 1) psychiatric disorders in oneself; 2) psychiatric disorders in one's parents and siblings (which reflect genetic disposition); 3) disposition for psychiatric disorders as measured by personality tests.

Perhaps the very highest I.Q.s tend to go with just a bit less than the needed extreme conscientiousness and associative horizon (both of which are forms of disposition for psychiatric disorders)? Perhaps those with the very highest I.Q.s are too neurologically "normal"?

This possible limiting effect of the very highest I.Q. levels is something I am less certain of yet than of the other two thresholds.

My current view on creativity (and therefore genius) could be summarized as:

I have tried to express in a mathematical model how the three aspects work together to produce creativity, but to date have no satisfactory version of such. What I do suspect now is that the amounts of conscientiousness and associative horizon required vary with intelligence; that higher intelligence levels need, and can tolerate, higher amounts of the other two aspects to result in creativity.

I imagine that for each intelligence level there is a certain minimum and and a certain maximum amount of conscientiousness, and a certain minimum and and a certain maximum amount of associative horizon, above and below which there is no creativity. Both of the aspects have to be within these limits, and there may be a single optimum between those limits that is required for genius. The limits and optimum as it were shift upward with intelligence, are relative to intelligence. Mathematically it might best be something like:

G = g - √( (c - cg)2 + (ah - ahg)2 )

wherein G is creativity, g is intelligence (in the sense of the general factor in mental ability), and cg and ahg are the optimum levels of conscientiousness and associative horizon at the given g level (that is, the levels beyond which debilitating levels of neurosis and psychosis occur). G is thus expressed on the same scale as g, and c and ah use the units of that scale.

If c and ah could be expressed on the same scale too, such that their values always correspond to the optimum levels of those traits for a person of the same-numbered g level, cg and ahg could both be replaced by g, and the equation would be:

G = g - √( (c - g)2 + (ah - g)2 )

Recently I have become somewhat pessimistic about the possibility of expressing associative horizon and conscientiousness each on a scale similar to intelligence and combining them mathematically to obtain a measure of creativity. Instead I have been thinking of combining the three aspects at or under the level of test items, so that the test's raw score will directly reflect creativity. This was actually what I attempted with some of my very first tests, but I concluded later that those tests were measuring mainly intelligence and probably not to a great extent creativity. It may be a future challenge to design problems or tasks that truly require creativity as I define it.

Two out of three

Although all of the three aspects are needed for creativity, it is tempting to consider what results if one possesses only two of them to a high degree, and the third is depressed compared to those:

Conscientiousness and associative horizon

If intelligence is depressed, one might still be a reasonable artist in a field without high cognitive demands, provided one has the specific talent; for instance, a sculptor, dancer, painter, or musician. In cases like these, the specific talent takes the place of intelligence. However, many specific talents are correlated with intelligence, be it only lowly to moderately, so that it is more common for such artists to have relatively higher intelligence than to have low intelligence.

If intelligence is markedly depressed, one may appear as "stupid" to a casual observer. However, this is merely one out of three types of stupidity.

Intelligence and associative horizon

If conscientiousness is depressed, one might still be a short-lived erratic humorist, actor, or rock star, but one would on the whole be consumptive rather than creative.

If conscientiousness is markedly depressed, one may appear "stupid". For instance, missing important opportunities through laxity or lack of punctuality is considered "stupid", as is running into accidents as a result of carelessness. This is the second type of stupidity.

Intelligence and conscientiousness

If associative horizon is depressed, one might still be a good bookkeeper, clerk, banker, translator, corrector, editor, lawyer, diplomat, politician, public servant, or scholar in the "humanities". In fact one might be good at any one of a whole lot of things more, but show a lack of originality and humour, tend to conformism and socialization, and out of empathy and humaneness put people-pleasing before truth-seeking and truth-speaking. These people are dangerous in science for they will if needed corrupt their data to avoid any outcome that would either violate the ruling paradigm, or appear "inhumane". For instance, if a person like this studies handedness and finds that left-handers are ten times more violent than right-handers, the person will corrupt or discard those results to hide this fact, thinking "It would be inhumane to stigmatize the group of left-handers by making this known". These people are so afraid to be "against the grain" or to "hurt" others that they will rather lie. Typical pronouncements for them are "Some truths can better not be told", "The effect of what one says is more important than whether or not is it true", and "Truth does not exist". They feel less attracted to the natural sciences (although they may be intelligent enough for those) because of the strictly empirical nature of those disciplines, which requires one to change one's point of view or paradigm whenever the empirical data contradict one's expectation. And persons with narrow associative horizons are not able to change paradigm as they are rigid. They prefer the "alpha" sciences, which traditionally employ an a priori paradigm or model that is imposed upon reality and not adapted empirically. Their high intelligence enables them to argue or debate endlessly in apparently logical constructions of infinite complexity, while their narrow associative horizon keeps them from seeing the larger picture, the road ahead, and therefore keeps them from being goal-directed, so that their apparent logic does not bring them any closer to truth or righteousness in the end. This paragraph is so long because this group is important and tends to occupy high positions in society and be of influence; also, this group, contrary to the other two mentioned, is likely to read this article.

If associative horizon is depressed, this too may make a "stupid" impression. For example, not grasping subtle humour or irony, not recognizing brilliant new ideas, not getting "the bigger picture"; those are all behaviours that make someone appear "stupid" despite being of higher intelligence. This is the third type of stupidity.