Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Some thoughts on genius

I've always mistrusted complexity as being unfinished work. Academics seem unable not be labyrinthine, and they often seem to miss the kind of human empathy required to communicate clearly. But mostly they miss the almost blind courage of real genius.

Raymond Cattell spent a career developing and affirming psychometrics as the way, for example, to find good research talent, which took a lot of courage in a world where equality is God. But real genius often falls through the cracks.

Nietzsche was originally an academic golden boy, and that should have kept him solidly in the academic world, but he fell through the cracks due to the odd quirks and personal idiosyncrasies which are so hard to predict in a genius. Overcompensation, a big chip on his shoulder, a fierce will to power (a simple idea enlarged in his philosophy), and high intelligence, probably made Nietzsche one of the most intellectually courageous humans who ever lived, even if he became too radical.

In writing about music, James Tate said that the usual sign that something is dead is when it becomes academic. The best academics, like, say, Edward O. Wilson, have rare courage. For example, he eventually changed his mind about the dominance of individualism and kin-selection over group-selection, knowing he would be called a racist for saying it, which remains the kiss of death.

I really would tell Martin Heidegger to courageously put his philosophy on one index card. That is a reductive risk to the truth, but complexity, or over-complexity, is more of a risk to the truth than reduction.

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