This episode features Professor Dean Simonton, who has spent his life quantitatively studying geniuses, from Einstein to Mozart.
United States


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00:00:29dot org welcome to rationally speaking the podcast where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense I'm your host Julie Gallup and I'm here with today's guests professor dean Simonton dean is retired now but until recently was a distinguished professor of psychology at the university of California Davis
00:01:00where his work focused on studying the determinants of scientific and creative genius he has over five hundred publications including fourteen books such as origins of genius Darwinian perspective on creativity and most recently just coming up this year the genius checklist published by MIT press dean welcome to rationally
00:01:19speaking credit either I'm so for starters I'm curious how your work on genius fits into the the literature more broadly %HESITATION are there other people studying the determinants of genius is it a sort of a well defined field or is that the kind of research that spread out
00:01:37between lots of different disciplines are it starts something as it is as focused as like research on creativity or giftedness or intelligence and areas that are much more you know it's much more focused research on that are kind of kindred to say he's a genius but harm had
00:01:55to switch it much more attention it's kind of interesting that for the first time there was a journal of genius that just came out in two thousand sixteen and I mean that's very very recently now people can talk about genius for ages but usually with a focus on
00:02:13like I to our focus and I think about college he our focus on you know giftedness some other thing that's related to genius but not quite targeting genius directly %HESITATION and how would you say that your take on the question of what causes genius compares to your your
00:02:35peers %HESITATION for example just I mean to give you a sense of what I'm asking like if we were talking about the study of human rationality which is a field that you know I'm not a researcher myself but I've rattled and written a lot about it I'm I
00:02:47might say something like well compared to other people who've studied rationality I would be you know more optimistic that we can improve on our evolutionary defaults %HESITATION judgment processes but maybe I'm also more pessimistic than average about whether short term interventions would improve rationality that kind of thing
00:03:03is there a kind of an analogous statement that you can make about your take on genius relative to other people who have who have studied the question well I think the main thing is that in my research I study actual geniuses that are universally recognized as such most
00:03:21of whom are are completely dead and had been dead for hundreds of years but I do so using a quantitative objectives masses and that's and that's very unique ideas a lot of for example case studies of famous geniuses that is there a time about some psycho biographies by
00:03:39cycle analysts of geniuses and stuff but I actually collect massive amounts of data set up huge databases and then to %HESITATION your details to school now sees or fit mathematical models has so that's at the park and it's it's large and it's quantitative and its objective and I'm
00:03:59saying actual geniuses I'm saying genes as a people have actually heard of you know like Michelangelo or Beethoven and our our Newton Einstein and and to clarify your defining genius in terms of recognized achievements not in terms of se raw potential like intelligence right right exactly and that's
00:04:19that's a very important distinction because even though I'll call study of the influence of intelligence or IQ on genius I don't define genius that way because one of the fundamental issues is how much is it a factor how much you have to have a high IQ or any
00:04:39persons having other things going for you know like motivation and and other kinds of in fact as well then would it be fair to characterize your research as the determinants of scientific discovery or the determinants of innovation how is it different from that sorry actor if someone is
00:05:00doing something quantitative %HESITATION an objective using historical or biographical data dinner basically doing what I'm doing unfortunately just very few people who do that yeah and I think one of the reasons why is that the research requires a kind of an interesting combination two diametrically opposed dispositions on
00:05:22the one hand you have to be really fascinated with science you have to love math you have to love I mean you had a background in statistics you have to love to fix right at the school now houses %HESITATION athletes and show you have to love numbers at
00:05:37the same time you have to be interested in the arts and humanities you have to be willing to read histories and biographies and and figure out ways to content analyze %HESITATION lighting for example I do not consider content analysis of the palms and sonnets of %HESITATION %HESITATION I'm
00:05:57sorry that the plays and sinuses William Shakespeare and so there's a humanistic side to it self in a way to turn to choose a terrible term that's used for what I do is call histrionic tree history metrics and that ten points that the the contrast the metrics part
00:06:15is measurement as such as going out for this but the history of part has to do with the humanities having into with biography histories of work are universally recognized geniuses and given that the the geniuses are studying lives decades or centuries ago what kind of objective metrics can
00:06:37lead to even have access to %HESITATION innocence we can't like test people we can give historical figures IQ tests for example we can't give them my kickass but we can give them proxy versions of those IQ tests and it's very interesting that the person who actually created the
00:06:56first commonly use IQ tests %HESITATION the Stanford Binet %HESITATION which is created by a professor at Stanford army came loose and term and he also showed how it was possible to use the same definition that was favored at that time of IQ to measure IQ and historical figures
00:07:18because at that time his change now now to look at that now they look at the distribution of a normal distribution the bell curve but back then I actually was defined has an IQ its intelligence quotient is the ratio of your mental age divided by your chronological age
00:07:36and then multiply by a hundred so if your average then your IQ will get one hundred K. and what he did at his he looked it up on your CD %HESITATION Francis Galton who are mention later fifty to Mister potter free and look at women Galton would start
00:07:55doing certain things when you start writing we need to know how to do research check when you learn a second language just one thing after another and then what was the typical age that you expect a child to do that to that kind of thing and it turned
00:08:11out that Dalton was doing things at an age that normally don't see kids twice as old so I thought he was doing what ten years old and it was like she was a mind turns of metal is divided by chronological age some of the very very direct application
00:08:29and so there's a lot to some very interesting studies done by myself and others were you apply this technique by making detailed chronology is drawn by the drawn from the biographies use multiple raiders in order to avoid any kind of subjective bias and then you end up and
00:08:46and also that we try to make them ignorant of the hypotheses being tested is all sorts of different things you have to do and then %HESITATION you can get these IQS immense has gotten quite a lot of tension because I typed on this for a presence United States
00:09:02and if you go online and group all presidents of the United States IQ you'll get my research on that okay so it's it's a %HESITATION obviously to attach to your keys or abstinence they're not exact numbers %HESITATION that you have to do for its kinds of reliability checks
00:09:24invalidity checks but the point is that can be done interesting has has anyone ever validated this method by for example %HESITATION having readers go through the lives of of currently living people %HESITATION and cutting them similar ways and then comparing the estimated I. Q. to the actual like
00:09:42you of the person that would be very interesting to say that there I don't know anything quite like that but I do know %HESITATION research including my own where you find alternative ways of estimating %HESITATION the I. cues and %HESITATION and sat others to alternative ways in years
00:10:01wine is actually interview %HESITATION experts who have written biographies of famous people and the other is to use %HESITATION biographies and extract not early development but rather extract %HESITATION personality scriptures descriptions descriptions of the person found a biography like this guy was technically brilliant of this person had
00:10:25broad interests %HESITATION this person on a major contributions to multiple fields %HESITATION he was very influential action or what right now I have to admit in coming up with these words and thinking about the typical profile of Thomas Jefferson Mars presently ever had an office as if you
00:10:46look at these descriptions that contemporaries set of objectives and and compare with its early development to correlate very highly my point seven now so she has been validated %HESITATION here there are some issues involved and I did and I trust that some of these issues one is there
00:11:10is a tendency for there be for there to be a certain bias on because a lot of this early development shop early cognitive element hands on %HESITATION it's realizing that they have a really bright child me and about wealthy parents are more likely to realize that yeah wealthy
00:11:30parents and %HESITATION you know there's a whole bunch of factors you have to control for but the point is is that if if you have %HESITATION a kid is really brilliant you start saving what they do you know just needed stopped all put on that on that refrigerator
00:11:46with a magnet ineffectually recycled paper %HESITATION you actually have a box you're saying and all that stuff so that for example for Francis Galton we actually have a letter that he wrote when he was four years old to a sister that just shows you how precocious you are
00:12:01and and moves are we have the record of his earliest compositions when he was six years old so %HESITATION you know it's fact motos interesting example because not only do we have an early record I understand that your earlier question not only do we have early record of
00:12:18this campus incredible musical precocity %HESITATION that we even have a contemporary assessment of him on there was out he was actually given a tax we as a little kid I think America is eight years old at the time %HESITATION he did a concert tour in London and %HESITATION
00:12:38scientists decide to see if he was asked if this was a real guy energy and %HESITATION and gave a series of musical tasks and a lot of times Mozart get better than his own father did on all traffic was actually astonishing and this was published in the transactions
00:12:58of the Royal Society of London which is the first major scientific journal in the world so if this is not you know personal stuff this is happening to direct scientific study of Mozart was okay at and about all the other documentation that he probably had an I. Q.
00:13:16roughly around a hundred and forty around there something that just occurred to me on if our if our proxy for I. Q. for historical figures is you know evidence from stuff that that his or her parents saved and and contemporary reports of that person's brilliance at a young
00:13:38age is it possible to disentangle the person's actual view on the importance of the person's ability out on their ultimate achievement from the encouragement and adulation that they got as a young person like like if we're trying to protect like what is the ultimate cause of someone achieving
00:13:57something great %HESITATION it seems like their innate ability is sort of intertwined with the the like praise and support that they got for that for showing that early ability at this is an issue that really cannot be resolved I mean this is a major scientific question now and
00:14:13even has to devise the message and not just for certain historical geniuses even for studying %HESITATION contemporary talent or gift and yeah because there's a there's a feedback loop okay yeah so that for example how one thinks they discover we look at scientific development is great scientists at
00:14:34ten the end up at major universities are working under distinguished mentors and in fact when the best to stick best predictors of when I do get a Nobel Prize in some scientific field is what the work under a previous novel Laura what the motion is what's causing what
00:14:53yeah because highly talented kids will identify how to distinguish mentors for harassing which measures will identify highly talented kids and so it is a feedback process and if it works right of course is a positive feedback loop that builds upon itself until finally you have someone who is
00:15:14you know not chip off the old block but someone who %HESITATION here had a very distinguished manager found out who got a noble prize and then they go on to get to a Nobel Prize he was very interesting a convergence a concrete example that is %HESITATION James Watson
00:15:31you know who have gone on history as one of the co founders of the structure of DNA and %HESITATION he was looking for grad school and %HESITATION he thought that he perhaps that one time here what kind or somebody who was working with a fact of life you
00:15:49know because that was a major major %HESITATION advance in the study of genetics decision that that's not where the action is anymore that %HESITATION we've learned pretty much all the breakthrough stuff we can about genetics using fruit flies and so we started moving more into the you know
00:16:10the kind of molecular biology of genetics and of course held up discerning the structure of the DNA so he was making a choice of mentors you according to whether he thought the future action is where the future breakthrough which we're going to be that's cool yeah it's cool
00:16:33point is is that it's it's hard to discern the causal arrows because it is a dynamic feedback process and often starts you know very very young where you know I challenge the genocide and ends up being channeled into good schools and having great mentors but used to show
00:16:54it doesn't have to be that way he have someone like Albert Einstein who %HESITATION basically was on its own right from the very beginning you know he didn't have any distinguishing enter now the the people who are honest and I talked to this occasion committee are not notable
00:17:13scientists %HESITATION the %HESITATION actually had a relatively low respect for Albert Einstein and he had a little respect for them since and %HESITATION he's like getting a PhD was a farce all you want to do is to finance it and see what I had to get a PhD
00:17:32I think it's interesting to show you how to respect the hat in one year of college and it's marvelous you know he's a miracle here he came up with four papers %HESITATION wireless on select the fact of the other one was on Brownian motion the third one was
00:17:53on %HESITATION the knowledge of the special theory of relativity %HESITATION all of which are considered at the major breakthrough up %HESITATION papers interact with physics and the fourth one was how how to estimate the size of an atom if you're a ticket taker at I think America is
00:18:13only two dozen pages long fat so when he chose to sin at first doctor dissertation why did he think it was the best or what as you were growing up that they probably would sign off on it and what he thought that they were more likely to sign
00:18:31off on a trivial paper or just they probably wouldn't even grasp what the what I see all men that are really funny think about we publish these papers in nineteen oh six but I feel like I'm certified and it wasn't until nineteen twenty one sixteen years later that
00:18:54%HESITATION he finally got the Nobel Prize for that and even then the the prize citation only mentioned the %HESITATION the photoelectric paid up the perfect paper because people still weren't sure about whether relativity was true even even that many years later out for him to try to get
00:19:17a dissertation signed often dealt with special relativity and forget it that could happen well since we're speaking of of Einstein I have to ask %HESITATION the unusually high rate of Jewish people and people of Jewish cultural descent in in the ranks of high achievers like in a Jewish
00:19:39people are vastly over over represented among Nobel laureates for example what's your explanation for that there's actually a lot of different things going on there %HESITATION first of all %HESITATION if if you look at Europe Jews are are hired more highly represented upper capita basis only in those
00:20:01countries where Jews were on I wanna see emancipated but had relatively more freedoms than in those countries where they were pressed so hard that you see a lot on a per capita basis in Switzerland which you've had much more freedom than in Russia make a comparison so part
00:20:24of it as she could to sing I mean for this you know probably the most famous Jew in the history of psychology %HESITATION and he was born shortly after the emancipation of Jews in the Austro Hungarian empire but I mean presumably the non Jewish members of those countries
00:20:40were similarly emancipated and they were less represented than the Jews and I I said there's a whole bunch of factors going yeah okay another factor is multi culturalism that there's a strong tendency in general for people who grew up in two or more cultures and particularly the ones
00:21:01that require them to learn two or more languages going to Hebrew school for example and that also increases creativity our project for example first second generation immigrants have a higher probability of creative cheating and then there are the problem to swipe really kind of ironic on it into
00:21:21politics right now that one thing that made America great was that we had kind of an open door policy if the track at all sorts of very very talented creative people from all sorts of different nationalities as you guys to hang out at %HESITATION so that's another factor
00:21:39%HESITATION another issue is %HESITATION what trying other the values of particular sub culture club places I'm learning and a Jewish culture there was a tremendous emphasis watch centered Hebrew school no and you study the book the word is extremely important being able to interpret the word is extremely
00:21:59important to have that kind of cultural emphasis that makes it so being a rabbi you know being a teacher is highly yeah which culture and and that means you have to be a learned person so I think it's a lot in operating and the case of our European
00:22:18Jews they all kind of converged near purchase up to Capitol basis hang on a trip well into the **** ship that very impressive output one last question on the on the Jewish issue if I'm not mistaken I think European Jews have a higher average IQ of than other
00:22:40groups it we could not alone be enough to explain the bard because we don't know why and this is the interesting thing is %HESITATION in Israel a lot of bandages that suppose we choose half disappear when you have a whole nation that rather than having a minority groups
00:23:04and %HESITATION something changes about it you know the %HESITATION the contextual factors in producing achievement and %HESITATION so it's it's really hard to know whether or not I mean this is always a dangerous thing %HESITATION soon Harkin about some people think there are any racial differences %HESITATION from
00:23:24fire some lower and other people say there's so many other factors involved in Chile can guarantee that there is a you know an even playing field and everybody is you know going up in the section circumstance gets really really dangerous to start making inferences about any any differences
00:23:46between people so I was just referring to the observed difference in scores without necessarily attributing that to you know innate verses education verses whatever actor has interesting thing about this get back to the Jews %HESITATION they're frugal I choose tend to be much higher than average but there
00:24:07are special visual cues are not necessarily hire and felt the Japanese tend to have very high on a visual spatial accuse so you often have and if you look at the cultures it's very I don I talked about %HESITATION in Jewish culture a big emphasis on learning and
00:24:23studying on interpretation of verbal intelligence is extremely important and that particular culture in Japan on this much more emphasis on visual had also holistic rather than analytical Martian physical and looking at **** hate actually done experiments for the show that that Japanese %HESITATION see the world differently when
00:24:48you give them a picture for example they now we notice the foreground todos were not likely to notice the background to be able to tell you for example that the color of the mother of the background when someone's in western culture will notice that because I just background
00:25:04information so you can ignore it so cultural differences do determine what's what kind of intelligence that we have because what is the value to the culture tends to develop in that culture its approval culture than verbal intelligence will be in for five okay interesting let let me zoom
00:25:25out a little bit more because we have been going deep on the on the sort of I. Q. or at or our culture factor %HESITATION would it be fair to say that you think genius breaks down into part innate skill part of hard work or like smart choices
00:25:43and parts lock and and would anyone disagree with that break down %HESITATION %HESITATION I don't think so I mean it seems you don't think so I ask you two questions at once and you do you disagree with my characterization of the break down or you don't think anyone
00:25:59would disagree with that break down I think it's a reasonable break down I mean it's kind of you know simplistic but I mean it's first of all %HESITATION intelligence is just definitely a factor ingenious and geniuses are smart people part of the reason why they're smart people is
00:26:17that %HESITATION they have to master to Maine to require her intelligence particularly that's obviously true you know and instant physics and mathematics and chemistry and things like that it's you can't master those fields without having as a certain minimal IQ %HESITATION plan and it should say mathematical probable
00:26:38acute because if you're talking about an architect or an architect then they have to have a certain visual IQ spatial like here %HESITATION with the proponents of the of the ten thousand hours equals mastery theory disagree without to or does that when I got married and then you
00:26:59know it what %HESITATION now I can get is the he took the original rule which was the ten year rule and I'm converted into ours it's just it was a real it's a ten year rule that is usually takes about ten years of %HESITATION intensive study what's stopping
00:27:21cold weather practice for you can attain %HESITATION world class performance levels of a lot of that research was done in areas like %HESITATION sports and music performance it's more complicated when you start looking at creative genius act host such in my forthcoming book about this is that the
00:27:45problem with creative genius is that they also have to have they have to be very open to experience is a personality mention called they open a stricter intervention yet that Marty insurance they have with them Rajshree our city you have to be willing to pursue things off the
00:28:03beaten track of a lot of times on things that seem to be or your relevant I'd turn out to be relevant and the only reason why they find that out is because they're just have white interests and and black jury our city I mean the media's apple from
00:28:20Charles Darwin Charles Darwin was trying to figure out how the source of all these different species on the planet you know if you saw all tremendous diversity on the cost of highlands and I realize that times are very young all that had happened relatively quickly so how could
00:28:40you have all these different finches of stuff there and %HESITATION he found the solution by reading a book on political economics a part which is has no business reading up on political economics it was Mathis's essay on population in which my office argued that the population grows geometrically
00:29:04where's the food supply it that's gross charismatically and so you're going to end up with competition you're gonna end up in all of us let diamond's word was struggle for existence that book he realized that was the key that species produce more offspring that can possibly survive so
00:29:25that provides the engine for selection only those that are that are adaptive cruise going to survive to produce their own offspring so the point here is that he was reading something that hadn't normal sense whatsoever to when I was recreational reading but it provides a keen eye and
00:29:44are so many examples of that in the history of science which is reading something are encountering something that is totally irrelevant to what it means you have to have justice blood curiosity this openness and act is kind of in a cynical to view others ten thousand hours thing
00:30:04we are you know that sort of the treasury to study and study and study and study and focusing focus focus and %HESITATION and get get rid of any superfluous hobbies you know don't don't play the violin orders fell on a boat like Einstein used to do %HESITATION you
00:30:21know he's to play the violin he's played Mozart violin sonatas you know because that's gonna be destruction well guess what it's not it turns out to be an essential part of being a creative genius is having that kind of blessed and each of us could take you away
00:30:40from that meticulous methodical study study study maybe you need both the diligence repeated practice and to the you know interest and random other things and to get both those things you just need a ton of energy energy that's when my anecdotal you know perception of the people who
00:31:03achieve great things just wow you have so much energy when you think about it on these are people who might spend a lot of time you know %HESITATION doing mathematical equations you know working out there Asian I start has been turned this amount of time working out the
00:31:20mathematical education service there is you know it's going to come after relativity is a heck I look at the us you know you really have to work out the implications %HESITATION but at the same time he's telling intellectual energy left for other things thirty one yeah you know
00:31:37and so I think that general kind of %HESITATION tremendous tries and energy and curiosity so even when you're taking a break you're you're not sitting in front of the TV set drinking a beer and watch an old movie unless you're interested in you know in cinema or beer
00:31:56or beer %HESITATION so desperate or important that kind of energy level hands on you know as a people have you cannot simply can't drink here for people of tremendous amount of energy and the channel and a lot of different directions and %HESITATION and sometimes it almost overwhelms you
00:32:16know they can be sometimes it's not very good to be married to some of these people are always doing something that always after us and you know that's yeah this is torture for slow down don't you ever all the roads that will slow the roses if the parking
00:32:31issue now lock lucky yeah right I mean what is obviously important okay at a very fundamental level and you know I mean it starts at the very beginning to luck of being born at the right place at the right time yeah I was born fifty years earlier there
00:32:55would be no %HESITATION contracts for his contributions to it there was no need for relatively rigidity theory there was no need for a for the lecture contract you know he was born just at the right time it is born later earlier we wouldn't it would depend someone else
00:33:18would probably name who would be talking about right now what do you think about the idea that some innovations are just in the air at a given point in time and they were going to be discovered by someone soon because all the pieces are already in place and
00:33:31so the quote unquote genius was just the person who happened to get to it first on does that undermine a deterministic theory of genius are there some truth to that but it's it's all about it's often overly emphasized because it's a common %HESITATION argument on the next %HESITATION
00:33:51people alike in sociology and social anthropology %HESITATION or they'll tell people that time creativity and secure scientific creativity is not really individual phenomenon because you're something called optical to multiple phenomenon pop or independent discovery we have two more people come up with the same idea at the same
00:34:12time object there's some some problems that first of all ponders are a lot of times these ideas that different people come up with they're not actually the same idea at a superficial level they look like the same idea but they're not apple great came up with the telephone
00:34:30and they all came up with the telephone but the telephone himself were not the same kind of telephone chat on there was actually another person who came up with relativity passages in half an oral %HESITATION who died in World War one %HESITATION who came up with a theory
00:34:50and he was promoted by the **** has %HESITATION %HESITATION has been a true Serena relativity but it wasn't a century now as Einstein's Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was not equivalent to Wallace's evolution of their selection the problems which is sort of generalized the other thing
00:35:11is that a lot of times you can show that when discovery is made the ideas were actually around for a long long time and the question is why did it take so long for this to be discovered I had a good example that is Mendel discovered the laws
00:35:29of genetics and were called you know the mentality and lost now after him %HESITATION and nothing happened and then thirty five years later three people working in three different countries three different nationalities rediscovered and mental floss okay why don't have to be rediscovered when all the pieces were
00:35:53in place for to be discovered thirty five years earlier it just doesn't make any sense there's so much it doesn't become inevitable a particular point in time rather the pieces are there and someone to put together sometimes and not sometimes it it takes a long time the people
00:36:10who came up with %HESITATION how to hunt for bargains now that's correct come out come out to talk to feel whatever I don't know if I got that sounds right to me forcing three did you put chemicals are a little strips and you've got a wider angle to
00:36:27strip and then things will go up at different rates and looking at the colors of that you can sort of two of the very nifty a chemical analysis and %HESITATION when the people got the Nobel Prize for that I can return and they said and we really did
00:36:44deserve a Nobel Prize because the idea is that we put together has been around for about fifty years and we just happen to be the people who put it together how cats about what it takes years yeah it's funny as I just just recently released an episode with
00:37:01ed Borden of the the neuroscientist who invented or who helped invent up to genetics and expansion across could be both of which is only in I guess since late thirties that those are both inventions that are like evolution Ising the waiters scientists study the brain on and I
00:37:18was asking him about his process of of thinking and discovery and one thing he said was very similar to what you're saying that like a lot of the pieces are in place for these discoveries are these innovations for decades and just you know or not are you going
00:37:30going on tapped on and he talked a lot about the importance of %HESITATION public choosing the right questions to work on as opposed to just you know working on a thing that you know like happens to be within reach you know that there's like someone in your lab
00:37:45is working on a similar thing or you know there's something that's kind of hot and trendy in so you work on that he emphasized the importance of like zooming out asking like what are the most if I feel gonna really advance what are the most important things we
00:37:58need to solve kind of similar to what Richard Hammond used to say when he would walk around del labs and ask researchers you know what are you working on err on what do you think are the most important problems in your field and then like why are you
00:38:09working on them right yeah I have one %HESITATION observation about this idea choosing the right questions because %HESITATION to me it's a hindsight problem okay interesting you often don't know whether or not you've chosen the right question until you it after the fact if you turn out not
00:38:34to be able to solve the problem you chose the wrong problem okay since his father did you find out the answer is trivial you chose the wrong problem %HESITATION it's only when you choose a problem and it turns out that the answer is profound that you chose problem
00:38:56but I would argue that most the time in advance before you actually start working on the problem you don't know which outcome is going to be go back to Albert Einstein again is always a fair example for illustrating a creative genius there's no doubt that he often you
00:39:17choose the right problems %HESITATION relativity paper attacked a really diligent in the problem as so that the four alleged affect paper agile has extensive so that the Brownian motion paper the paper on the side estimate the size of the atom that turned out to be original problem any
00:39:38more she got the wrong answer %HESITATION later on he tackled %HESITATION telling Chris later on he went from special chose a charity to general agility at that point he would tackle the problem that he may have gotten over his hat %HESITATION he could not do the mathematics on
00:40:01a on a problem and he had a helluva time working through any and actually in competition for awhile with a mathematician Henri Paul carpet and %HESITATION and barely won the race but when you try to tackle the the general theory he he was at sort of the limit
00:40:21of what he could to be locked out and that was actually a letter a paper that gave the final push for the Nobel Prize just a few years later and then you try to tackle %HESITATION a unified field theory that would unify all the forces of nature into
00:40:39whining grants there thirty years on that it totally failed the board's life he was still working on some kind of solution and when I say fail I mean sometimes catastrophic failures he would come up with a version of the unified field theory and people would say %HESITATION that's
00:41:01very fine or inside the car in that series the universe doesn't exist you know it was a total failure now why why did he pick a problem that he couldn't stop people say in retrospect I sang the problem was is that you didn't believe in quantum theory is
00:41:19that it is your theory doesn't have call on a modern composer and I think in the course of their product area because he thought he had defeated quantum theory it showed it was implied but the point is he only now in retrospect I think that that idea is
00:41:35kind of fun unless you can say %HESITATION fish are the properties of a good problem %HESITATION and that those are reliable predictors of what's good problematic mostly hides behind side by it still feels to me like like we can we can gas with better than random think fast
00:41:57at which which problems will turn out to be like if we could stop them which problems would be you know revolutionary break their problems and which wouldn't like that I mean just intuitively like if you look at this around to find us one of whom is trying to
00:42:14you're aging and one of whom is you know studying like the wing span of different beetles lake certainly don't know for sure like maybe the the wingspan question will turn out to unlock some big secret but like if you had to bet on one of the scientists making
00:42:31like assuming they're like equal intelligence equal funding whatever if you'd better one of them like making a breakthrough discovery wouldn't you bet on the former I would I would might be on the former but I wouldn't be surprised if my a lot of stuff that I'm gay yeah
00:42:47well it's there's a ton of noise is not so far from deterministic but for example one of the major breakthroughs in our understanding of %HESITATION molecular biology while the study of viruses that attack back I mean it's like to be analogous to your a wing example I mean
00:43:10whatever chairs about %HESITATION the cold set back from that these viruses and you know into fishes there that it is just that there was no reason to think that studying bacterial viruses %HESITATION would give us major insight into genetic vastly rebel shuttle safely going earlier studying the genetics
00:43:34of fruit flies we give us nature and so I'll ask you know you can tell what when I started to read demonizing of a deep blue or whatever %HESITATION just doesn't sound very interesting that turned out to people so I I don't know if you know in advance
00:43:53the big problems that looks like obviously they're important one for you why I'm looking a perpetual motion machine as if I could solve that problem I suppose that would be a very good thing I've got all sorts of Nobel prizes I mean you also have to have some
00:44:12basic understanding of what's possible not just you know would be cool if possible although I'm not a great person to make that claim because I spent like a year when I was a kid trying to invent a perpetual motion machine despite impossible I I don't have the moral
00:44:28high ground here but some I better if you're not a parent patent office wanted except %HESITATION inventions of the pendulum motion should probably smart I mean we a lot of of %HESITATION %HESITATION quixotic I it would be inventors out there hoping that they'll be the one I'm okay
00:44:48I I I want to shift gears a little bit and ask you about %HESITATION you've tried to describe not just the predictors of who's going to be you know make a genius achievement but also the process that they go through %HESITATION that that produces innovation and you've described
00:45:03it as a kind of Darwinian winnowing down of lots of ideas into the best %HESITATION and and sort of iteratively like improving the ideas over time do you want to just like give a better explanation of the theory and I scored about that he said and stood up
00:45:20his **** are how you come up all these great ideas I mean you know that would choose to novels are probably at one was for peace but anyway %HESITATION and he said it's simple helpful lots a lots of ideas and throw out the bad ones yeah and %HESITATION
00:45:39so it is basically %HESITATION analogous to %HESITATION %HESITATION that Darwinian theory in our Darwin says that we are ever given generation produces %HESITATION you know lots of offspring %HESITATION there is tremendous variation in their fitness and so are only a small percentage are going to survive and reproduce
00:46:01any other ones are gonna be weeded out the point about that that's very very important is that the mechanism for generating these ideas of these variations arm has to be to a certain extent that have to be a hundred percent but it has to be to a certain
00:46:20extent unable to anticipate %HESITATION the the future fitness for the future truth but a feature beauty or whatever it is of the idea there has to be a willingness to just throw out some possibilities and then select through on and see which ones work and which ones don't
00:46:42and it's it's a tremendous tremendously inefficient process but evolution biological evolution has very very inefficient I think it is an example and I think this will out of science and going to the arts %HESITATION probably our most people think that %HESITATION took the greatest single works Pablo Picasso
00:47:06is his character in error he detected the horrors of war because the thing about the bombing of Guernica %HESITATION during the Spanish Civil War and %HESITATION you know it's it's it's so well known it's like archetypal you know if it's like the Sistine Chapel between century %HESITATION fortunately
00:47:30for us he actually saved the sketches that he did art as well as he took photographs parodic leave the campus after she took six separate photographs in various conditions and what's astonishing about those sketches and notes and about to be published a a study on this right content
00:47:52analyze the the %HESITATION the sketches are the making thing is that it doesn't look like he knows what he's doing it produces ideas and they end up falling by the wayside what for example we had enough and national Kansas he has a right in the center of it
00:48:14there's a dying warrior and acquiring lawyers stays in campus in various ways but what the most dramatic thing about the dying lawyer is that for us up a fist arms straight Ripley up and fists clenched and basically divides the picture into two as very very dramatic and it
00:48:34you know and it's like the you know the international saludable it's called and %HESITATION did say it was an idea he realized that we had to pull painting would have to rotate around that arm all that remains of that harm is to hand at the top he turned
00:48:52into a lamp yeah over overlooks everything he did this series of sketches just one woman who's carrying a dead baby and he gestures of sketches of Chester face and he added more more anguish and more more teachers and more more you know wrinkles and more more colors and
00:49:12more more everything and if I decide if it's not gonna work goes back to when the early sketches and what's interesting is that for a lot of the %HESITATION images in Canada the image she had %HESITATION finally using was actually produce relatively early but he didn't realize at
00:49:32the time that that's the best he could do end up wasting time producing other variations he had he had a horse on wheels %HESITATION he had a %HESITATION eight at all boulder was actually monitor had a human head with horns I'm here all sorts of crazy ideas in
00:49:51there any digital copy his already fifty six at the time the pain that he knew a lot about why his pain what what what he probably could just painted it but it wouldn't be a masterpiece they go through trial and error regeneration tested a lot of awards for
00:50:07this but the main point is you got to produce lots of ideas and throughout the bad ones just like minutes calling for so that them that's very intuitive or that feel very very intuitively plausible to me but it also seems like there are there are multiple mechanisms by
00:50:25which that could could be the the driver of genius %HESITATION like it so if we think that people who geniuses are better at this process of winnowing there's at least three ways in which they could be better %HESITATION number one they could just be better at generating more
00:50:41ideas than other people do call that quantity number two they their ideas that they generate could be higher average quality on than other people call that quality and then number three they could just be better it when when down the I. two to like select the good ideas
00:50:56from the bad ones after they generate them you could call that a surprise so do you have you studied and or do you just have any intuitions about whether the quantity quality or discernment about major areas of interest is is the relationship between quantity and quality okay and
00:51:14what I think you're flying is on average on average quality is correlated with quantity the more ideas you produce the higher the probability that you're going to produce a really good I thought the Max and not not the average quality of the idea but the eventual quality of
00:51:33the yeah stiction okay if not the average quality it's the maximum quality in a mass that makes sense to me breakthrough work yeah attack but that's only average and as you know you studied statistics to secure something called scattered around right and it's got a gram and it's
00:51:53going to it's going to be a distribution around that okay so there's some people who have hit rates that are higher than the regression line you know you should the regression line connecting quantity and quality %HESITATION system have hit rates higher has some have hit rates for the
00:52:12ones who ever hit rates higher are perfectionists and recall and then the ones who have hit rates lower on the mass produced and was actually some mass producers that even though they mass produce they don't have a single yeah yeah %HESITATION though not to go down in history
00:52:34%HESITATION but of the people talking about how short and Jane arts work in a lab on another study does not contain a get out of the now because the distribution because it is generally a apostle in a relationship chain quantity quality %HESITATION most of the points are gonna
00:52:54fall close to the line okay but you're still going to be this this scatter okay and every once would have someone like Mozart is one of the more perfection as you know is very prolific I got all over %HESITATION six hundred I works and thirty five year lifespan
00:53:15%HESITATION his rates were actually deliver high %HESITATION one researcher estimated that when he reaches maturity seventy percent other works Mozart produced the repertoire eternally repertoire like you know place today is as court cats as piano concertos but are there are there like discarded drafts dislike their discarded draft
00:53:42of the cost is going to go or or was he just like heading out of the park you know all the time yeah we are because we don't have very many %HESITATION %HESITATION laughs or anything together said this is really great scene and Amadeus you know the play
00:53:58and the and the movie I don't know if you're in the movie yeah yeah Hey that's great %HESITATION scene in there were a salutary supposedly his his enemy %HESITATION contract he plays in which are gonna snatcher %HESITATION looks over the manuscripts and he's just blown away sat what's
00:54:21in there is basically finished %HESITATION you know this for a few changes and for a few revisions %HESITATION worship like Beethoven for example his his his his command structure to a disaster and sometimes it takes him a long long time just to get the melody right now it's
00:54:40more like a college this way of thinking on the other hand there is a letter %HESITATION some people say it's apocryphal we don't know that there is a letter of that motion about China I can't remember he was a member of the family were described as creative process
00:54:58and what he says this fact kill phenomenal actually phenomenal break and so he could you know it's like huge working memory so he can do everything in his head so he talked about going to church contributions has had actually got it right okay so in a way he's
00:55:20still doing that trial and error but it doesn't bother writing attached to show you what a great memory this guy had %HESITATION there's a famous episode in years fourteen years old where where he meant to be %HESITATION Sistine Chapel to listen to a piece of music that was
00:55:39a state secret for the Vatican it could only be used in the pope's private chapel is his from the misery by lately and it's extremely complicated a call peace with %HESITATION forget how many parts eight nine parts by Cognos and %HESITATION most certain listen to it and left
00:56:02the chapel figures into it twice and wrote it down without a single error okay when you have that kind of working member you could do it on your head and so we finally sit down to write it out you have to make any changes not everybody has that
00:56:21ability and most of us have enough to do sketches and revisions and and things like that but for some people it can pull that off so the point is it's it's the process really hasn't changed dishes that are you know its internal rather than external but you're still
00:56:39doing trial and error it also shows that women are more judges to sit and fairness Mozart I'm like Beethoven state more within the bounds of the music tradition and heritage so it's much easier %HESITATION and not have to to engage in trial and error way and you're still
00:57:00using the same forms that on your handle Houston and other of your predecessors he he might change it later on but after trying he passed away he was still pretty constrained by the classical musical tradition and so that need a little bit easier for him interesting I'm I
00:57:23have so many more questions on ask you but were already going over maybe I'll just pick one more on your description of how Mozart was able to replicate this entire piece of music from memory it it made me wonder if there's a correlation between genius and being on
00:57:44the autism spectrum I'm or you know having Asperger's syndrome or or being on the sections that are right and %HESITATION there is in fact evidence for that it's kind of complicated because we didn't really talk about %HESITATION is it is a very important %HESITATION contrast to be made
00:58:02between like artistic genius and scientific runner up questions about the good yes yeah and %HESITATION scientific genius chance three more towards the you know the the arches and other suspects and so you see lots of evidence of high functioning autism which is no longer part of the diagnostic
00:58:27manual but you know it's very popular culture public culture high functioning autism you see what evidence and the and the it people icon Einstein and Newton so it has to be this tremendous ability to focus on and on working out the implications of the Croatian double checking your
00:58:50math you know I mean it's really really compulsive works %HESITATION or even more complexity you think about it %HESITATION when Newton this classic fish story Manson optics I hit the ground is older Comcast is very arduous tedious thing to do and so you have to be pretty on
00:59:13that you know that spectrum engage in repetitive behaviors over and over and over again okay he finally get that present exactly right %HESITATION on the other hand tend to be on the other extreme and %HESITATION you know there are a much more emotional much more expressive %HESITATION the
00:59:36path followed she says that the exhibit are much more likely to be things associated with %HESITATION bipolar for example some so we're really talking about two people to different kinds of people although I have to say dissertation within within each so %HESITATION within the arts for example there
00:59:59are highly expressive arts and then there are more formal art there are more constrained so you look at like a Jackson Pollock he's doing how expressive of work of someone like %HESITATION Piet Mondrian his doing highly formal work Escher and so you see the same kind of thing
01:00:21a lot longer discussing kind of spectrum the more expressive more rational former creativity is the higher the chance it is to have sort of psychopathology unlike the bipolar nature but the moral rational coherent logical the more you have to see it more towards the options and interest okay
01:00:46of all I'm gonna finally wrap up this episode even though I'm sure I could ask you a dozen more questions easily %HESITATION but before I let you go dean I wanted to ask if you could name a work of a book or article or add even you know
01:01:04play that influenced your thinking at some points during during your career does anything like that come to mind yes %HESITATION the book that most strongly influenced me was the first book that was devoted to decide if you're a psychic study looking at and that was a book called
01:01:26hereditary genius by Francis Galton %HESITATION as the title suggests it %HESITATION had the hypothesis that genius was born not made and you try to demonstrate that by looking at family pedigrees and showing that %HESITATION geniuses in a wide range of fields are more likely to be in families
01:01:52where there other geniuses in the same field how were the best examples again as as the %HESITATION Bach family where the number of the box %HESITATION in the part of Germany where the box family was active who were musicians which was so big that %HESITATION sometimes when needed
01:02:15and like some special event made like a wedding or whatever they will take over the position is single it's great your house about she bought himself had four sons thirty five seconds but it for the chicks who became extremely famous in their own right and in fact in
01:02:33Mozart's day and how you stay when they talked about block that you were talking about one of box so that's exactly example of a genius being born I would not recommend anyone read this book at all %HESITATION football history was %HESITATION can tremendously overstated %HESITATION family pedigree at
01:02:57that has a lot of problems with that yeah I feel like you couldn't really distinguish between between genetics verse as you know the the influence of like early childhood education %HESITATION or you know like if your if your parents are around you like maybe that's gonna make you
01:03:12create a passion for music or something like that actually I am a black family all the kids want to reach a certain age respected played an instrument in family law not to do something anyway sorry so a problem with this book is because it was written in eighteen
01:03:29sixty nine and in curls of British Empire it's it's full of racism and sexism answer stream lady in Paris so is it really not worth anything at all even it is it would you say don't read it at all or would you say like read it but just
01:03:46keep in mind that the I think there's some sort of interim report for example he was the first person to suggest that intelligence was normally distributed and actually provide some evidence for the normal distribution he argued that genius which is the upper end of that that distribution yeah
01:04:07that right arm but he also even though the family pedigree NASA has problems it was the first attempt to try to study genetics here because of the techniques later not not book but later publications for example he was the first person interviews the %HESITATION twin that's it as
01:04:24a way nature and nurture facility term nature nurture issue comes from the second book that he published in eighteen seventy four on but there's certain chapters that I stay away from here the chapter twenty and uncalled for comparative %HESITATION difficulty of nations and that's where he ranks ranks
01:04:48right yeah now in all fairness to someone objective because he doesn't rank the British as sick the great race he he puts the Greeks and your grace about the press but he puts the box above everybody else okay well I mean it sounds you know interesting and and
01:05:10not worth looking into despite being in perfect ten of its time alright well what will out willing to that %HESITATION if anyone readers want to want to check it out with your you know qualified reserve recommendation and I'm also link to %HESITATION to some of your work including
01:05:28your most recent book the genius checklist which touches on some of the ideas that we've been discussing in today's episode %HESITATION dean thank you so much for joining us is such a pleasure attending a it was great fix all the question I think it's really important and this
01:05:45concludes another episode of rationally speaking join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense

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