Saturday, September 20, 2014

from:Dean Keith Simonton's Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity

(1) Creative geniuses “harbor an impressive array of intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic interests.” This breadth and variety of interests gives them the content on which to draw analogies, make comparisons. It is their material. (I’d suppose that access to this material would be a differentially significant condition for outstanding creative work in different fields: teenage geniuses would be more likely to occur in music or mathematics than in philosophy or fiction.)
(2) Such individuals are “open to novel, complex, and ambiguous stimuli in their surroundings.” Openness takes their trains of thought to unexpected corners of experience.
(3) Creative geniuses are “capable of defocused attention.” I think of stories about Glenn Gould studying a score, carrying on a phone conversation, and listening to the news all at once — sounds implausible till you think back to how amazingly he could distinguish voices in a fugue. Typically, while creators are working on one problem, or are engaged in an apparently irrelevant activity, they will be carrying around with them another problem in need of a solution. Defocused attention makes creative connections more likely.
(4) Consistent with the above is a flexibility in work habits. It’s characteristic of the highly creative person to have a range of projects going simultaneously, a “network of enterprises.” Darwin was always working on several subjects simultaneously, dipping into “thirty or forty large portfolios” which he kept on labeled shelves, adding memoranda or reviewing them. This flexibility makes it possible to change course quickly and take advantage of lucky breaks and new ideas as they serendipitously present themselves.
(5) “Highly creative people are introverted.” Simonton means by this that, however affable they may be in social settings, they are given to “long hours of solitary contemplation . . . smoking a pipe in an armchair, taking a walk in the woods, engaging absentmindedly in some routine activity.” Social contact, for creative geniuses, is “subordinate to the internal ruminations of their eternally preoccupied minds.” This for Simonton explains why group problem-solving, so-called brainstorming, usually yields such dismal results compared to individual creative work.
(6) Finally, such individuals are usually “independent, autonomous, unconventional, and perhaps even iconoclastic.” They are willing to give unusual, or even preposterous, ideas a fair hearing.

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