Thursday, 25 July 2013

Creative genius probably requires lop-sided cogntive abilities (NOT all round high intelligence)


Given that the concept of 'g' or general intelligence breaks down at higher levels of cognitive ability - it is plausible that this may be a factor contributing to the highest levels of achievement which we call creative genius.

What this means is that it is not at all unusual to find that someone who is of exceptionally high intelligence in say mathematics is of only moderately (around average) intelligence in 'verbal IQ' - and vice versa - and it may be these specialists who are most likely to do the highest levels of creative work in their fields - rather than the all-rounders whose different subsets of cognitive ability are all approximately equally high.

Evidence for this comes from the many instances of measured or explicit dissociation between cognitive abilities among those of creative achievement - my favourite example is CS Lewis who was extremely creative, and apparently had an extremely high intelligence of the verbal IQ type -  yet who was only about average in ability in mathematics so that he could not pass the basis 16-plus school examination (O-level) despite several attempts and with private tutoring.

Also, Anne Roe's Making of a Scientist (which is still just about the only thorough intelligence testing of top-notch scientists) shows considerable differences in the average scores of intelligence sub-scales both within and between scientific specialities. These averaged dissociations will have been even more marked, no doubt, at the individual level.


But I am perhaps most impressed by my own experience!

I think it is pretty clear (from many experiences, but recently including the breakdown of my IQ test scores for Mensa) that my own intelligence is in the top one percent for verbal IQ but much lower for mathematical and spatial types of intelligence - probably only in the top fifteen percent or thereabouts.

I did get a (top) grade A in O-level mathematics - which would put me in the top few percent, but then O-level mathematics is not very mathematical!

I also got a grade A at A-level (18-plus) physics - which would probably be in the top one percent - but the physics curriculum I studied (The Oxford Examination Board) was designed so that it could be done without A-level maths (as an aspiring medical student I thought it more important to do biology than maths - and I was correct) - and my understanding was therefore achieved by 'translating' physics into a non-mathematical form - which I managed to do, but it was hard work!


Later on I developed an interest in Epidemiology - the statistics of medicine and health - and found myself teaching basic statistics and writing papers on epidemiology - and I think I was pretty good at this (although I didn't much enjoy it - It didn't come easily)

Indeed, the highest level of eminence I reached in academia was as an epidemiologist - for example I was twice asked to apply for a Professorship in the subject at University of East Anglia, published a lot including in the top journals in the field and was asked to speak at major conferences.

My point here is that my high and distinctive ability in epidemiology and statistics was not despite my mediocre mathematical skills,but because of them. People in the field who found the maths easy, did not pause to consider the context of that maths, and failed to notice the problems of the way in which mathematics was being applied.

I therefore perceived problems in the mainstream understanding which were real and important - but which were slid-across by the mathematically expert - they whizzed past them so swiftly that they failed to see them.


I think my own case is actually an example of the way in which creativity generally works - creativity is a product of friction, and of a distinctive point of view.

Someone who has to translate mathematics into verbal terms is more likely to notice problems and possibilities and to make a distinctive contribution to the subject than is someone for whom it all comes effortlessly.

Clearly high ability of some kind is necessary to this process - but this may be a specific ability with relative weaknesses elsewhere which force the use of that special ability, and problems may yield to one kind of ability but not another.


In sum, it is lop-sidedness, the distinctive individual profile of abilities and deficiencies, which may contribute essentially to creative achievement - including that at genius level.


Robert said...

I have always been fascinated by the conversion of word puzzles into mathematical form. Some are much more difficult than others. Linguisticians seem obsessed with finding mathematical expressions of grammatical relationships, but I could never shake the feeling that they were confusing two incompatible and irreconcilable ways of thinking.

wmjas said...

Tests I took in my teens put my IQ at 144 (something like the top 0.3%), but I've always been a not-quite-mediocre mathematician and a terrible chess player. That's despite coming from a highly mathematically gifted family. Oddly, though, in my study of linguistics, I excelled most in the most algebraized subfields of the discipline, and the first university-level class I ever taught was about basic set theory and symbolic logic.