Cultivating genius

Another perspective on where good ideas come from, this one courtesy of Jonah Lehrer, writing in March 2012 Wired.

he starts from David Bank’s paper on the problem of excess genius. Bank notices that genius comes in clumps. He postulates that this is due to a confluence of factors

My sense is that high points in cultural history require the confluence of many factors; some of these are more important than others. When all or most of the factors coincide, then one has a Periclean Athens, Laurencian Florence or Elizabethan London. When only several factors combine, the cultural eruption is more humble — one gets Goethe’s Weimar, or the Lake Poets. Things trail off gradually; if virtually none of the factors obtains, then we call it a Dark Age.

He tests many, and finds none.

Jonah Lehrer thinks the answer is in Paul Romer’s concept of meta ideas, from his essay on economic growth

meta-ideas are ideas about how to support the production and transmission of other ideas.

Romer gives the 17th century idea of patents and copyrights. Lehrer lets this slide. These meta-ideas at SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ideas, and NO LONGER SUPPORT THE PRODUCTION AND TRANSMISSION OF IDEAS, they block it.

Romer concludes

We do not know what the next major idea about how to support ideas will be. Nor do we know where it will emerge. There are, however, two safe predictions. First, the country that takes the lead in the twenty-first century will be the one that implements an innovation that supports the production of commercially relevant ideas in the private sector. Second, new meta-ideas of this kind will be found.

Only a failure of imagination, the same one that leads the man on the street to suppose that everything has already been invented, leads us to believe that all of the relevant institutions have been designed and that all of the policy levers have been found.

Oscar Omoro (a FX trader) has this to say about meta-ideas and currency values

Meta-ideas come from a previously unknown source, and possesses the power to propel a large and growing audience into thinking in some new way.

Meta-ideas contain a kind of formula to perpetuate themselves. This formula can include a degree of fear (or greed), such as the fear (or desire) that gold prices will rise and a nation’s currency will decline. The formula has power because it associates some well-recognized truth with the particular emotion it intends to sway.

Lehrer concludes that we shoud support genius in science/arts the same way it is supported in sports. The US has a tremendous system to cultivate athletic talent at every stage of its development.


Posted on March 28, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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