Monday 12 August 2013

Ordinary genius? Is it real genius? No - only the 'magicians' are real geniuses


No ordinary genius is the title of a photographic biography of Richard Feynman.

The term comes from a quotation from Mark Kac which states:

In science, as well as in other fields of human endeavor, there are two kinds of geniuses: the “ordinary” and the “magicians.”

An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what he has done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it.

It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark.

They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber. Hans Bethe, whom [Freeman] Dyson considers to be his teacher, is an “ordinary genius,”


So, Kac says there are ordinary geniuses and magicians; which would respond to high psychoticism, high creativity geniuses - and those who are highly intelligent but conscientious in personality and who are not primarily creative - but who instead extrapolate from previous work.

(Magicians correspond to high Psychoticism creatives - who deploy primary process thinking, which cannot be captured by logic.)  


I would say that only magicians are true creative geniuses, and Kac's 'ordinary geniuses' are not actually geniuses, but are in a sense parasitic upon true geniuses.

(At best OGs are symbiotic with magicians, in practice they are often exploitative.)

In other words, I suggest that the primary innovations 'always' come from the 'magicians' - but in a domain where there are magicians at work, then un-creative and highly able people are able to make major contributions by taking the results of the magicians, and taking them further.

BUT - in a world where there are only 'ordinary geniuses' (that is, only intelligent and conscientious people who lack creativity) - innovations soon dry-up.


So 'ordinary' or un-creative geniuses are extremely useful in amplifying the productions of wizards/ creative geniuses; and may indeed be difficult to differentiate from the true geniuses (since the creative source of the original ideas may not be apparent, and the creative underpinning may be unappreciated, unacknowledged or appropriated).

But 'ordinary genius' is deceptive. Institutions love 'ordinary geniuses' because they have much easier, friendlier, more sociable and obedient personalities - and 'ordinary geniuses' therefore tend, over time, to dominate career structures and gather power to themselves and bureaucratize the domain - and thereby to exclude the difficult misfit high psychoticism magicians - and indirectly kill-off major innovation in that field.