Monday, April 23, 2007


"If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses." Goethe

I've been flipping through the Observer Book of Genius that came with the Sunday paper and, as some bits stood out, I thought I'd share them with you.

1 - Genius and Sleep
If you want to become a genius you're advised to get 8 hours sleep. That took me right back to schools days, when DJ was continuously sleep deprived. We are told that we solve problems in our sleep. For example, "Dmitri Mendeleev worked out the periodic table in a dream and Paul McCartney dreamt 'Yesterday'."

On the other hand, odd sleeping patterns also seem common. Brunel slept an average of four hours a day, and Marie Curie regularly skipped sleep.

2 - Genius and Activity

Whilst nowadays most parents encourage their children to busy themselves with a constant stream of activity, like sports, play, arts, music, and so on, the truth is that, like Leonardo da Vinci said, "Men of lofty genius when they are doing the least work are most active."

For example, "Charles Darwin failed his degree because he spent the vast majority of his time at Cambridge lying in a punt, observing flies." Was he doing nothing? Or was he the most active?

3 - School Failures and University Drop Outs
Truman Capote wrote: "When I was around twelve, the principal at the school I was attending paid a call on my family, and told them that in his opinion, and in the opinion of the faculty, I was 'subnormal'. He thought it would be sensible, the humane action, to send me off to some special school equipped to handle backward brats."

His formal education ended when he was 17. Years later, he wrote, "I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case."

Nikola Tesla was a university drop-out. He dropped out of the University of Graz and the University of Prague. Galileo Galilei attended university "but was forced to withdraw due to lack of funds."

4 - Autonomous, self-directed education
"Autodidacts are an intrinsic part of the genius myth, either prospering in a vacuum because their abilities are not inhibited, or acting alone because no-one else can keep up with them. Indeed many great minds claim to have acquired their ability despite their education. As George Bernard Shaw declared, 'the only time my education was interrupted was when I was at school.'

Others, like Beethoven and Ramanujan, "received barely any schooling."

5 - Loners
Isaac Newton "was lonely, unhappy and given to impotent rages in which he threatened to burn the house down." Truman Capote was a lonely child, who taught himself to read and write before starting school. Bobby Fischer taught himself chess at the age of six, paying alone for a year.

6 - Eccentricity
"Geniuses by their nature like to think of themselves as a bit above the common herd." Glenn Gould "was very attached to his routine. He would only play concerts when sitting on an old armchair his father had made." Hmm, was he an aspie too? Others are known for their lack of social skills. Einstein, for example, admitted that "I lack both a natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people."

7 - Prodigious Savants
"Many savants suffer from autism." Check out, for example, Stephen Wiltshire and Daniel Tammet, who said: "The genius I most admire is Albert Einstein. He too was a very visual thinker. In fact, some researchers speculate that Einstein may have had Asperger's syndrome, the same mild form of autism that I have."

8 - Thinking Outside the Box
This is something geniuses do, as they have the ability to see new pathways, the capacity to see things from highly unusual angles, the capacity to overlook what is not essential, to understand the true significance of the obvious, and so on. Some people think of geniuses as "people who continue to astound, surprise, delight, challenge, not conform and yet somehow manage to keep body and soul together."

9 - Curiosity
According to AS Byatt, genius "consists in extraordinary curiosity and extraordinary power of thought, together with the ability to combine known things into new ideas or art forms."

10 - Character Traits
Certain character traits seem common in geniuses. These include: persistence, obduracy, vision, capacity to stay true to that vision, infinite capacity for taking pains and indifference to ridicule. I take this means that a true genius' aim is not success, fame, good reputation, or profit, which in turn means they're somehow immune to these common worldly concerns.


Cynthia Samuels said...

Dear Friend,
Please forgive me for posting here but there is no email visible for you here (unless I missed it and then I’m even more sorry) and I want to be certain you are part of this conversation.

I’m writing to invite to you to join a small group of bloggers who will interview, in a telephone conference call, leading experts and advocates in the field of autism. Since the autism community is particularly active and established in ways that facilitate the sharing of information, it is our hope that access to these researchers and clinicians will be of particular value.

Our guest will be: Professor and clinician Dr. Michael Weiss Michael J. Weiss, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Giant Steps Connecticut, a private school for children diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities, and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Fairfield University, also in Connecticut. Dr. Weiss has served on the faculty of the medical schools at both McGill and Harvard universities.

Best known for his integrated approach to raising children diagnosed with autism, Dr. Weiss has written extensively on both typical and atypical development. His most recent book (with Sheldon Wagner, Ph.D., and Susan Goldberg) is Drawing the Line: Ten Steps to Constructive Discipline and Achieving a Great Relationship With Your Kids (Warner Books, 2006).

This news conference is sponsored by Revolution Health , the new health resource website founded by Steve Case, partly because of the difficulties he and his family faced during his brother’s battle with brain cancer. He wants to make it a bit easier for those who follow by providing tools to support both patient and family. I’m working with them to support the work of bloggers who follow health issues. One way we’re doing that is by conducting these topical briefings, just for the blogger universe. Revolution wants to highlight its ability to aggregate and share critical information on health issues by providing new information and contact with health leaders in relevant disease communities.

One great asset of the site is its population of experts, including those on autism, drawn from major academic institutions across the country, including Columbia, Harvard, Cleveland Clinic, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Southern California, Johns Hopkins, Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, and more. We invited one of those experts in autism, along with a leading advocate to participate in a conference call/news conference to answer blogger questions. We’d like you to join us. The call is informational; you are under no obligation to write about the conversation unless you find it useful.

Here are the details:
WHO: Six to ten Autism bloggers and a major medical figure in the field
WHAT: Conference call/news conference with Autism bloggers
WHEN Wednesday April 25th 7 PM EDT; 4 PM PDT
WHERE: Conference Call – number to be provided upon RSVP
WHY: To answer questions on the issue – clinical, research and other areas

We will provide audio after the conference if you would like to post a link to that as well.

Please RSVP by email or when you know if this is an opportunity that interests you.

With best wishes,

Cynthia Samuels for Revolution Health

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