- Jan 2023
Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lie in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”
Gian-Carlo Rota (1997): Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught, Notices of the American Mathematical Society 1, 1997, Vol. 44, pp. 22-25.
- Dec 2022
It's not stated in the piece, but there's a hint of Brian Eno as a lone genius within music, but the piece explicitly explores his own creative practices and collaborations which go toward creating his creativity and genius by way of his path through music.
“I have a trick that I used in my studio, because I have these twenty-eight-hundred-odd pieces of unreleased music, and I have them all stored in iTunes,” Eno said during his talk at Red Bull. “When I’m cleaning up the studio, which I do quite often—and it’s quite a big studio—I just have it playing on random shuffle. And so, suddenly, I hear something and often I can’t even remember doing it. Or I have a very vague memory of it, because a lot of these pieces, they’re just something I started at half past eight one evening and then finished at quarter past ten, gave some kind of funny name to that doesn’t describe anything, and then completely forgot about, and then, years later, on the random shuffle, this thing comes up, and I think, Wow, I didn’t hear it when I was doing it. And I think that often happens—we don’t actually hear what we’re doing. . . . I often find pieces and I think, This is genius. Which me did that? Who was the me that did that?”
Example of Brian Eno using ITunes as a digital music zettelkasten. He's got 2,800 pieces of unreleased music which he plays on random shuffle for serendipity, memory, and potential creativity. The experience seems to be a musical one which parallels Luhmann's ideas of serendipity and discovery with the ghost in the machine or the conversation partner he describes in his zettelkasten practice.
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- random card generator
- random walks
- ghost in the machine
- conversation partners
- combinatorial creativity
- Brian Eno
- zettelkasten for art
- zettelkasten for music
- lone genius myth
- Nov 2022
A few years ago I came up with a new word. I was fed up with the oldart-history idea of genius - the notion that gifted individuals turn up out ofnowhere and light the way for all the rest of us dummies to follow. Ibecame (and still am) more and more convinced that the importantchanges in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. Icall this ‘scenius’ - it means ‘the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene’. It is the communal form of the concept of genius. This word isnow starting to gain some currency - the philosopher James Ogilvy uses itin his most recent book.
Book Source: Eno, Brian. A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno’s Diary. 1st edition. London: Faber & Faber, 1996. Section: A Letter to Dave Stewart, p 354
Cross reference quote and further usage/refinement of the word from popular blog post by Kevin Kelly Scenius, or Communal Genius: https://hypothes.is/a/SgYqomnBEe2_Yaf4i1JnCg
I think that there’s also the kind of what Brian Eno called scenius, that there are times like Xerox PARC in the 1970s or Florence during the Renaissance when there are just a number of people in contact with each other, and their ideas spark each other. And again, it’s a matter of building on what has been done before.
Definition of scenius, a portmanteau of scene and genius, meaning roughly the output of combining the ideas of zeitgeist with combinatorial creativity to create sustained output which might be considered genius level work.
Generally it gives more credit to the people and time than is generally seen in other instances which are often frame as lone genius.
My definition may be more complex and nuanced than that of the version coined (?) by Brian Eno.
- Jul 2022
Harold Jarche looked at his most visited blog postings over the years, and concludes his blog conforms to Sturgeon’s Revelation that 90% of everything is crap. I recognise much of what Harold writes. I suspect this is also what feeds impostor syndrome. You see the very mixed bag of results from your own efforts, and how most of it is ‘crap’. The few ‘hits’ for which you get positive feedback are then either ‘luck’ or should be normal, not sparse. Others of course forget most if not all of your less stellar products and remember mostly the ones that stood out. Only you are in a position to compare what others respond to with your internal perspective.
The cumulative effect of one's perception of Sturgeon's law may be a driving force underlying imposter syndrome.
While one see's the entirety of their own creation process and realizes that only a small fraction of it is truly useful, it's much harder seeing only the finished product of others. The impression one is left with by availability heuristic is that there are thousands of geniuses in the world with excellent, refined products or ideas while one's own contribution is miniscule in comparison.
Contrast this with Matt Ridley's broad perspective in The Rational Optimist which shows the power of cumulative breeding and evolution of ideas. One person can make their own stone hand axe, but no one person can make their own toaster oven or computer mouse alone.
Link to: - lone genius myth (eg. Einstein's special relativity did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus, there was a long train of work and thought which we don't see the context of)
- Jun 2022
Ernest Hemingway was one of the most recognized and influentialnovelists of the twentieth century. He wrote in an economical,understated style that profoundly influenced a generation of writersand led to his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Forte is fairly good at contextualizing people and proving ethos for what he's about to present. Essentially saying, "these people are the smart, well-known geniuses, so let's imitate them".
Humans are already good at imitating. Are they even better at it or more motivated if the subject of imitation is famous?
See also his sections on Twyla Tharp and Taylor Swift...
link to : - lone genius myth: how can there be a lone genius when the majority of human history is littered with imitation?
- May 2022
scanned for solutions to long-standing problems in his reading,conversations, and everyday life. When he found one, he couldmake a connection that looked to others like a flash of unparalleledbrilliance
Feynman’s approach encouraged him to follow his interests wherever they might lead. He posed questions and constantly
Creating strong and clever connections between disparate areas of knowledge can appear to others to be a flash of genius, in part because they didn't have the prior knowledges nor did they put in the work of collecting, remembering, or juxtaposition.
This method may be one of the primary (only) underpinnings supporting the lone genius myth. This is particularly the case when the underlying ideas were not ones fully developed by the originator. As an example if Einstein had fully developed the ideas of space and time by himself and then put the two together as spacetime, then he's independently built two separate layers, but in reality, he's cleverly juxtaposed two broadly pre-existing ideas and combined them in an intriguing new framing to come up with something new. Because he did this a few times over his life, he's viewed as an even bigger genius, but when we think about what he's done and how, is it really genius or simply an underlying method that may have shaken out anyway by means of statistical thermodynamics of people thinking, reading, communicating, and writing?
Are there other techniques that also masquerade as genius like this, or is this one of the few/only?
Link this to Feynman's mention that his writing is the actual thinking that appears on the pages of his notes. "It's the actual thinking."
- Apr 2022
the brain stores social information differently thanit stores information that is non-social. Social memories are encoded in a distinctregion of the brain. What’s more, we remember social information moreaccurately, a phenomenon that psychologists call the “social encodingadvantage.” If findings like this feel unexpected, that’s because our culturelargely excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect. Socialexchanges with others might be enjoyable or entertaining, this attitude holds, butthey’re no more than a diversion, what we do around the edges of school orwork. Serious thinking, real thinking, is done on one’s own, sequestered fromothers.
"Social encoding advantage" is what psychologists refer to as the phenomenon of people remembering social information more accurately than other types.
Reference to read: “social encoding advantage”: Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (New York: Crown, 2013), 284.
It's likely that the social acts of learning and information exchange in oral societies had an additional stickiness over and beyond the additional mnemonic methods they would have used as a base.
The Western cultural tradition doesn't value the social coding advantage because it "excludes social interaction from the realm of the intellect" (Paul, 2021). Instead it provides advantage and status to the individual thinking on their own. We greatly prefer the idea of the "lone genius" toiling on their own, when this is hardly ever the case. Our availability bias often leads us to believe it is the case because we can pull out so many famous examples, though in almost all cases these geniuses were riding on the shoulders of giants.
Reference to read: remember social information more accurately: Jason P. Mitchell, C. Neil Macrae, and Mahzarin R. Banaji, “Encoding-Specific Effects of Social Cognition on the Neural Correlates of Subsequent Memory,” Journal of Neuroscience 24 (May 2004): 4912–17
Reference to read: the brain stores social information: Jason P. Mitchell et al., “Thinking About Others: The Neural Substrates of Social Cognition,” in Social Neuroscience: People Thinking About Thinking People, ed. Karen T. Litfin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 63–82.
- Jul 2021
I like the idea of some of the research into education, pedagogy, and technology challenges here.
Given the incredibly common and oft-repeated misconception which is included in the article ("But Zettelkasten was a very personal practice of Nicholas Luhmann, its inventor."), can we please correct the record?
Niklas Luhmann positively DID NOT invent the concept of the Zettelkasten. It grew out of the commonplace book tradition in Western culture going back to Aristotle---if not earlier. In Germany it was practiced and morphed with the idea of the waste book or sudelbücher, which was popularized by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg or even re-arrangeable slips of paper used by countless others. From there it morphed again when index cards (whose invention has been attributed to Carl Linnaeus) were able to be mass manufactured in the early 1900s. A number of well-known users who predate Luhmann along with some general history and references can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten.
I suspect that most of the fallacy of Luhmann as the inventor stems from the majority of the early writing about Zettelkasten as a subject appears in German and hasn't been generally translated into English. What little is written about them in English has primarily focused on Luhmann and his output, so the presumption is made that he was the originator of the idea---a falsehood that has been repeated far and wide. This falsehood is also easier to believe because our culture is generally enamored with the mythology of the "lone genius" that managed Herculean feats of output. (We are also historically heavily prone to erase the work and efforts of research assistants, laboratory members, students, amanuenses, secretaries, friends, family, etc. which have traditionally helped writers and researchers in their output.)
Anyone glancing at the commonplace tradition will realize that similar voluminous outputs were to be easily found among their practitioners as well, especially after their re-popularization by Desiderius Erasmus, Rodolphus Agricola, and Philip Melanchthon in the emergence of humanism in the 1500s. The benefit of this is that there is now a much richer area of research to be done with respect to these tools and the educational enterprise. One need not search very far to discover that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau's output could potentially be attributed to their commonplace books, which were subsequently published. It was a widely accepted enough technique that it was taught to them at Harvard University when they attended. Apparently we're now all attempting to reinvent the wheel because there's a German buzzword that is somehow linguistically hiding our collective intellectual heritage. Maybe we should put these notes into our digital Zettelkasten (née commonplace books) and let them distill a bit?
syndication link: https://browninterviews.org/suddenly-you-realize-that-your-house-is-not-equipped-with-a-water-hose-or-even-emergency-exit-we-are-not-prepared-for-e-learning-at-such-a-large-scale-brown-interviews-dr-jingjing-lin/#comment-637
Now that they are part of comedy history, it can be hard to imagine George Carlin’s most famous routines as anything but finished products. Whether the infamous “Seven Words” from his album Class Clown (released exactly 45 years ago Friday) or the monologues from his hosting of the first-ever episode of Saturday Night Live (which returns for its 43rd season this Saturday), these routines can seem to have sprung fully formed from his mind. But there’s plenty of physical evidence to the contrary.
It's rarely ever the case (my cognitive bias statement), that anything springs fully formed from the mind.
Generally there's an infrastructure, a system, a method by which ideas or physical things are aggregated, accumulated, and edited into existence.
When seeing them well done, they appear magical because we don't see the work or the process. We will often call them genius, when in reality, they're the result of long hard work.
Take the Pyramids of Giza. They look large and magesterial---and likely moreso in their non-degraded form. But is it so mystical how they may have been built if we were to see the structure and scaffolding that likely went into constructing them?
- Apr 2020
Johnson’s book (lively and well sourced – highly recommended) transcends the cliche of the individual innovator and shows the ways in which innovation depends on a form of social capital — the networks of people and ideas that innovators learn from and build upon.
It's rarely ever about the "lone genius".