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Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0195128796
ISBN-10: 0195128796
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Editorial Reviews Review

What makes an Einstein happen? How is it that some kids grow up to be Nobel laureates while others, seemingly their equals, go on to undistinguished careers? Dean Simonton, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, has striven to understand this phenomenon for years and has compiled his insights and research in Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity. His evolutionary perspective sheds new light on an old topic, suggesting that the genius is able to generate a diverse range of ideas, recombine them, and choose the "fittest" with which to proceed. These faculties might have a wide range of origins, including both genetic and environmental, and Simonton tries to pinpoint them and their similarities with the etiology of mental illness. His writing style is humble and personable, yet as penetrating when discussing experimental results as it is humane when presenting examples of genius and madness at work. While defining such terms as intelligence and creativity are (and should be) daunting even to a thoughtful psychologist like Simonton, his use of the terms is precise enough to avoid mushy thinking yet wiggly enough to satisfy most critics. His deeply engaging writing coupled with the undeniable, almost urgent fascination that his subject holds makes Origins of Genius a rousing success by any standard. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

In Simonton's bold formulation, creative geniusAthe ability to produce highly original ideas with staying powerAis based on a fundamentally Darwinian process that enhances the adaptive fitness of the individual and the human species. In a fascinating treatise leavened with candid descriptions by Einstein, Nietzsche, Mozart, Darwin, Poe, Linus Pauling and many others of their own creative processes, Simonton, a professor of psychology at UC-Davis, argues that creativity can be understood as a process akin to natural selection that leads to the survival of those ideas that prove their hardiness. If that sounds more like a quaint analogy than a real scientific theory, consider that, as Simonton explains, computer programs called "genetic algorithms" that are modeled on Darwinian principles and feature randomly generated strings of ones and zeroes that reproduce "sexually" (that is, each string exchanges a portion of its strand with a mate) are already solving real-world problems such as how to plan fiberoptic telecommunications networks, make forecasts in currency trading and improve oil exploration operations. Similar "variation-selection" programs have generated original art, solved equations and composed jazz melodies. Besides providing his own mathematical model of creative productivity, which will interest specialists, Simonton explores how cultural evolution and environmental influences stimulate the emergence of genius, as well as the links between mental illness and creativity. His dense and at times astonishing analysis of the creative process is likely to generate controversy but also has the potential to influence how we think about the human mind. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195128796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195128796
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,298,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Richard Greene on November 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book presents one theory on creativity, but that misleads. It covers another 30 theories along the way, using its one favored theory to knit and mesh, distinguish and fit all the others. Each page contains the same contents as entire other books on the subject (fortunately for this book; unfortunately for the others). I try my best to find faults with the books that I buy but I would be hard pressed to find a single fault with this book. You will learn more about creativity from this book, even if the theory it presents turns out to be wrong, than you will from any other book, I believe, though Sternberg, Amabile, Runco, Martindale, Gruber and a few few others have near competitors so excellent that you would be foolish not to buy their books as well. This book teaches you 30 theories of creativity while presenting its favored one. It is wonderful. Finite limited human beings can do no better.
Some readers might think that this book is too researchy, especially readers looking for how to books on quick and easy creativity methods. Strangely, this book while maintaining all the professional balance and careful definition of any academic work, makes it much clearer what you have to do to become creative than the top 50 how to books combined. I counted an amazing 1100 particular suggestions in this book for how to make someone more creative--that is about 1000 more than any other published how to book and this book avoids the exaggerations, the sales language, and the imbalanced treatment of pros and cons of such lesser books.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John C. Dunbar on August 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I don't know how the author did it, but he produced a great book that was both ponderous and a real page-turner.
I found this book to be extremely interesting and well-written in detail. But the author could be ponderous in repeating some sub-themes and points.
You will learn a lot about the causes of genius and creativity but you won't walk away with a quick set of techniques to help you on your immediate problem. You will learn an overall approach of what has worked in the past.
His references and analogies to Darwin make the book even better. His references of other readings are also excellent and very detailed.
I really liked his comparison of artistic vs. scientific creativity or genius. One selection from the book that I found very interesting was this one on what makes for greatness in a genius:
"... individual differences in total lifetime output are indeed associated with the degree of eminence achieved. In fact, research has consistently shown that the most powerful single predictor of reputation among both contemporaries and future generations is the person's sum total of contributions. Furthermore, almost all other variables that may correlate with the differnce in fame between individuals do so only because they affect the output of creative products."
The point made in this sub-theme by Simonton was that it was the QUANTITY rather than the just the QUALITY that often was the leading indicator of peer acceptance of genius. If the genius is not stepping up to the plate and taking a lot of swings, he won't go down as a "Babe Ruth." Most of the geniuses studied were single home-runners.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have read several of Simonton's books and dozens of his scientific articles. This book is without any question his very best. It is absolutely superb! Simonton is always extremely intelligent and awesomely creative. But in his previous works, I sometimes got the feeling that he was racing so fast to be productive that something important was being passed by. But in this extraordinary volume, he seems to have slowed down enough to smell the roses that he himself (as well as other creativity researchers) have flowered, and his careful reflection and superb writing shines in what ranks as possibly the best book yet written on the topic. It is bracingly, jarringly creative, beautifully crafted, highly counter-intuitive, sufficiently well-explained that even a statistical dufus like me can understand, and awesome in its expanse. Anyone who wishes to understand creativity must read this great book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on September 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Studies abound on the causes of outstanding human accomplishment. A glance at Simonton's bibliography will confirm that observation. His own efforts to define the roots of creativity are of long standing. This work artfully assembles this wealth of information, placing it squarely within a "Darwinian perspective". With a modest disclaimer, Simonton sees this book as "one long argument", the phrase Darwin applied to Origin. He's correct to do so. This book exemplifies how far Darwin's ingenious idea of natural selection can reach. Simonton's well organised and clearly presented survey of the roots of creativity is an noteworthy effort.
Darwin himself provides the pivotal focus in Simonton's study. He explains how Darwin's work is symbolised by a combination of genius, creativity and the capacity for hard work to bring ideas to fruition. He postulates two forms of "Darwinism" - primary, the purely biological and the secondary which he describes as "adaptive with environmental interaction". He strives to relate how primary Darwinism underlies the secondary form where genius can emerge. It's clear from his analysis that genius doesn't "just happen". Many elements are involved, and most or all must be brought into play to express creativity and have ideas disseminated to the wider world.
Simonton places heavy reliance on the model proposed by Donald Campbell. Campbell proposed an "ideational" concept with the creative mind coping with rich variations of concepts and ways of expressing them. From this foundation Simonton goes on to discuss individual differences and how these fit within a Darwinian framework. From the individual, he analyses the "product" of the creative mind.
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