Friday, 5 December 2014

The Genius's Journey - Destiny, Quest, Illumination

Think of this as analogous to 'The Hero's Journey' as described by Joseph Campbell ^


The Genius has a Journey to make, a Path to take - a Way to live.

This may be embarked upon, but there is no guarantee is will be completed. It may be tried but may fail. The genius may die, or get sick before it is finished - or in some way be thwarted.

The destiny may be accepted, but may be abandoned; because the commitment must be renewed many times. Illumination may actually be achieved but rejected by society - the genius unrecognised.

Or, illumination may be achieved but stolen and no credit given; or achieved and socially-accepted and acknowledgement given - but then the genius become corrupted into careerism, status seeking, pleasure seeking or whatever.


Destiny, Quest, Illumination

We are prone to think of only the last step in this journey: the Eureka moment' of inspiration when the Genius is flooded with Illumination and sees the answer to his problem, and what the answer means.

But there are at least three distinct phases of which this comes late.

1. Destiny

From childhood, youth or early adult life there is a sense of destiny, of having some special role to play. This destiny is accepted, not chosen; so that task is not to manufacture, invent or devise a destiny; but rather to discover, to find-out the nature of one's own personal and unique destiny.

Such a process of discovery is a matter of trial and error, following hunches, drifting; false leads, blind alleys and red herrings - there is no recipe to find one's destiny.


2. Quest

After seeking the genius recognises what it is that he is meant to do (or, meant to attempt): this is his Quest.

Now he has to choose - does he embrace his destiny and accept the Quest - or not. Only he can decide; and he will inevitably decide: the decision is unavoidable.

Life takes a fork.


3. After prolonged effort - months, years, a decade or more - Illumination is achieved: the thing is done! The experience accumulated, the skills gained, the understanding achieved during the Quest at last come together and the breakthrough is made.

Of course there are other phases - for instance the Illumination must be communicated  but beyond a certain minimal effort at recording, reproducing and revealing, this is often 'in the lap of the gods' - and beyond the scope of purposive activities of the genius.


^Here is a nicely animated video summary in What makes a Hero? by Matthew Winkler


Nicholas Fulford said...

Very interesting, and it should be approached through the realm of the Hero's Quest in primary school and secondary school literature - to till the ground. Concurrently, the mind should be opened to primarily languages, arts and mathematics. Yes some history is useful, but make it a history of the philosophical basis of the Good Man and the Good Society. It can be simplified to the age of the children in question, but not corrupted or diluted in its essential character.

Although you are probably not a fan of Karen Armstrong, her book, "The Twelve Steps of Compassion", makes a case for variations of the Golden Rule being ubiquitous across cultures, and points out the necessity of compassion as the necessary path to overcoming fear and hatred of "the other". We are after all not called upon to make peace with our friends but with our enemies, and in the age of nuclear and biological weapons we require an approach that de-escalates and ameliorates risks because we cannot afford to fall into a global war again.

So armed, a student, can then be provided with enough exposure to different disciplines to help reveal their essential strengths and weaknesses. (I rather think of it like body building, where all muscle groups have to be developed to create a form that is balanced, strong, subtle and eventually sculpted.) The mind grows best with a variety of stimuli, and so while a student should be allowed to accelerate in their strengths, they must spend as much time on their weaknesses. They will be drawn by competency to do well in their strengths, but will find the necessity of perseverance in working on their weaknesses. Reward should be as much and sometimes more for growing in their weaknesses, as it is psychologically much tougher.

We also cannot afford to leave out the necessity of working together to reach a goal, since even for the truly gifted there will be areas of weakness that require the assistance of others. (It is also socially useful to bring awareness of the fact that no matter how brilliant the wizard, a dwarf with a club can turn out his lights. There is a reason that it was a Fellowship of the Ring, and not just one hero's quest. Each contributed and each had to develop their own particular form of heroism - meeting the temptation that the one ring tailored to their particular weaknesses - to succeed in the quest.)

If we want to build good people who live in good societies and creative geniuses this is likely an approach with merit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - I don't think my posting really does imply your scheme of education - at any rate I disagree with it in several respects, and think it mostly unsuited to the education of genius!