- 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: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #445,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity 1st Edition
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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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Using Charles Darwin as an example of creativity and eminence throughout the book, Simonton looks at the cognitive processes that give rise to new ideas with a mixture of individual reports of eminent individuals, scientific studies and modern computer models of creativity, making sure to set a distinction between primary and secondary Darwinian models.
I found the section discussing the creative output of individuals of eminence and the section discussioning blind selection and selection retention in cognitive functioning the most interesting sections the book. The fact that total output and being cited are two of the best indicators of eminence sheds doubt on the common perception that quality is the most important aspect of creative works.
The discussion of the developmental change of creative products is also worth noting, especially the sections discussion Martindale’s empirical analysis of the development of artistic styles using primordial cognition and aesthetic selection to follow the course of the product until primordial cognition begins to disintegrate, creating a cyclical pattern of artistic production.
It’s hard to do justice to the amount of information touched upon in this book in a short review. It is a book ripe with ideas that will change the way the reader views the creative process and it will change the way the reader understands the eminent figures throughout world history.
If you’re interested in eminent individuals, the process of creativity, Darwinian models of cognition or just better wish to understand the workings of the human mind, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I will be reading it again.
Nevertheless, as I said, the subject matter is fascinating, and while the book is slightly difficult to read, it is not impossible. The author clearly differentiates between primary darwinism, which is natural selection on the organic level, and secondary darwinism, which is natural selection on the sociocultural level. The author argues that genius is uniquely equipped to increase its adaptive fitness in the sociocultural sphere (here, the author is drawing on Dawkins' notion of the meme), by being more ready than most to engage in a trial-and-error blind variation selection process. This is the crux of the text, as the author investigates various facets of genius that allow this unusually vigorous adaptive struggle in the sociocultural sphere, including with a discussion on the thinking processes that are unique to genius and which help them come up with fresh 'ideational variations', the role of culture and personality in either hindering or furthering genius. The author is a fairly strict determinist in this latter aspect, believing genius to be mostly genetic. One remaining minor quibble that I have is that the author isn't quite sure where he comes down on the genius issue. He seems initially to favor the view that genius is an adaptive phenomenon forced into existence by the selection pressures of the sociocultural milieu. Later, when discussing emergenesis (offspring inheriting genes that are not those of their parents, but rather, perhaps of their great-grandparents, i.e. of genes emerging suddenly after a period of 'hibernation'), he seems to lean towards an explanation of genius as that of a 'freak of nature'. This inability to come down strictly on one side is perhaps to be expected from a scientist, but it does mean that the book doesn't really read like a book, but more like a dissertation.
In conclusion, I would say that this is a worthwhile text for life sciences students, and those interested in evolutionary biology and who have read a few of the classic tomes of that genre and are thus well versed with slightly in depth evolutionary explanations
Simonton does a great job of linking old and new ideas into something meaningful. He references many known and reliable studies to prove out his points. He also assumes that the reader has a good background knowledge on related issues, so he doesn't belabor things that we already know.
Due to the complexity of the topic, it is very detailed. I wouldn't really describe it as a recreational read, but it is well work the effort. You'll be surprised and challenged by the things you'll learn.
I was particularly annoyed by his use of the word "creativity" to refer only to the production of ideas that are notable enough to become famous within the relevant domain. I am accustomed to the meaning used in Kounios and Beeman's book The Eureka Factor, where it is meaningful to measure the creativity of kindergartners (as opposed to reserving it for Einsteins).