Genius and the Mind: Studies of Creativity and Temperament

Genius and the Mind: Studies of Creativity and Temperament

Genius and the Mind: Studies of Creativity and Temperament

Genius and the Mind: Studies of Creativity and Temperament


Taking as examples the lives of creative individuals through history, Genius and the Mind considers the nature of creativity and genius from a psychological standpoint. Eleven chapters, contributed by leading researchers, span the range of approaches used to understand the subject. A discussion of heredity considers the extent to which genes play a part in giftedness. The importance of social context in defining and acknowledging creativity is explored. Several chapters look at training and skill development in exceptional individuals, and a number of contributions scrutinize the links between creativity, temperament, and mental health. Mozart's precocity, Byron's mania, the personalities of the Italian Renaissance painters, and the psychoses of many celebrated writers are all discussed, making this a fascinating text for anyone with an interest in the psychology of genius and geniuses, as well as for students and researchers in the field.


Roy Porter, Professor of the Social History of Medicine, Wellcome Institute, London

I have always been wary of attempts to generalize about genius. That comes in large measure from being a historian. For one thing, study of the past shows that geniuses have appeared in all shapes and sizes, at all times and places; no patterns stand up and hit you in the face, There have been child prodigies, like Mozart, whereas other creative people, like Charles Darwin, were thought pretty stupid when they were young. Some have burnt themselves out fast; others, like Picasso, were to sustain their originality over immensely long careers, Some have excelled in mathematics, others in music, in playing cricket, or conducting orchestras or diplomacy There seems to be no common denominator except uncommonness. We all know giftedness when we see it, but (the historical sceptic in me queries), is there much more that can be said than that?

History also indicates how many different explanations have been offered over the centuries to account for the phenomenon. Even Graeco-Roman antiquity had at least three major doctrines competing for attention, the 'divine fire' or 'God's touch 'idea, the notion that creativity was the product of the melancholy humour, and of course the Muses. At other times, hereditarian theories have had their day, forerunners to the contemporary genetic outlooks which are discussed in this book. In context of the old conundrum--are geniuses born or made, is it nature or nurture? -- the importance of early training, environment and conditioning has often been stressed. Others still see geniuses as quintessential outsiders, original perhaps through sheer incapacity to be, behave, or think normally Birth-order theorists have sought to bring outsiderhood within an environmental model.

Eighteenth-century theorists, for their part, returning to the etymological roots of genius (gigno: I bring forth), often posited that geniuses had 'organic' minds rather than the 'mechanical' understandings ordinary people possessed. Romanticism then looked to some plastic power of imagination; a century later, IQ studies would be introduced; and throughout this century, as this book amply shows, psychologists have remained preoccupied by the daunting explanatory problems posed by exceptional talent. Doubtless, in the coming century, neurological theories will become more prominent once brain-scanning techniques are perfected; and genetic engineering and the cloning of geniuses will point to possible solutions -- and certainly new problems. When theories proliferate, I was taught, suspicions ought to be raised.

As a historian, I'm also uncomfortably aware of the dangers involved in trying to diagnose genius, and the abuses which have followed from such practices. For one thing, as Andrew Steptoe remarks in his 'Introduction', a lot of third-rate history has been done in the name of the wilder sorts of quasi-Freudian psychohistory, All too often . . .

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