Posts Tagged ‘Genius’

Ramanujan and the nature of genius

June 25, 2016

Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar was a poor Hindu with only a basic mathematical education who, as a young man, made important mathematical discoveries.  He impressed the great British mathematicial, G.H. Hardy, who invited him to join him at Cambridge University in England, where the two had a brilliant and fruitful collaboration, cut short when Ramanujan died young.

ramanujan9781476763491_mti_cover-210I read Robert Kanigel’s The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan after seeing the movie based on the book.  The movie does justice to the spirit of the book and mostly conforms to fact, but cannot duplicate Kanigel’s richness of detail.

Both the movie and the book gave me food for thought on the nature and sources of genius.  I once thought of mathematical discovery as a logical, step-by-step process, but I now realize it depends as much on inspiration as anything else.

Some of Ramanujan’s theorems came to him in dreams, sometimes on scrolls held by Hindu gods.

Since I do not believe in the Hindu gods myself, how do I explain the fact that Ramanujan’s visions of the gods have him true mathematical theorems and also good advice on major life decisions.

I have to believe that his visions were manifestations of his subconscious mind.  Brain scientists tell us that most cognitive activity takes place below the level of consciousness.  I believe that most inspiration and creative thought arises from subconscious  sources, and that the conscious mind performs an executive function—deciding which intuitions have a basis in reality.

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Are great geniuses above morality?

January 26, 2014

I recently posted a review of a biography of Steve Jobs, the founder Apple Computer, who was a brilliant entrepreneur and industrial designer, but who was a self-centered person who showed no consideration for anyone else, including his closest family, except to the degree that they helped him achieve his purposes.

Recently I finished reading a historical novel about the great German writer and thinker, Wolfgang von Goethe, another selfish genius who achieved great things, but treated other people only as means to his fulfillment as a creator of great works of literature.

Jobs and Goethe, through the force of their intellects and personalities, were able to create a circle of admirers to accepted that they were above the rules that bind ordinary people.

Is this true?  Do great genius or great achievement justify wrongdoing?  Many philosophers have thought so.  The great German philosopher Hegel, for example, thought that “world-historical” figures such as Napoleon set their own rules.

I don’t agree.  I don’t think that being born with great talents creates an entitlement to break laws and treat people badly, any more than does being born to great wealth.

I think great achievers deserve to be honored for their achievements, even though their personal behavior is reprehensible, but that does not excuse bad personal behavior.  I think, for example, that the filmmaker Roman Polanski deserves to be honored for making great movies such as “The Pianist,” but I don’t think his achievements as a filmmaker give him immunity for having committed rape. [1]

I don’t think there is any contradiction between being a genius and being a good person.  But very few people are geniuses, and genuinely good human beings (as opposed to “nice people) are not all that common, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there aren’t many who have both qualities.

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Top 5 wishes that won’t make you happy

November 7, 2010

What follows are excerpts from longer pieces on the Cracked,com web site.

5.  FAME.

Studies show nothing is more stressful for a human than when their goals are tied to the approval of others. Particularly when those “others” are an enormous crowd of fickle strangers holding you up to a laughably unrealistic ideal built by publicists, thick makeup and heavily Photoshopped magazine covers.

You could seek comfort from your circle of friends, only now your friends have been replaced Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s-style with hangers-on, vultures, unscrupulous characters and plain dumbasses who only want a piece of the spotlight. . . even if it means selling you out later.

Click on Fame, Wealth and Beauty for more.

4.  WEALTH,

… As social creatures, we compare ourselves to our neighbors. This is why executives can cry about the $500,000 salary cap that comes with taking government bailout money. Their friends are making $3 million a year and live in igloo made out of cocaine. We can laugh at their complaints, but of course then you’re giving the Nigerian permission to laugh at yours. That guy made 100 times more than you, you make 100 times more than the Nigerian.

Once you start hanging around the other high earners, you’ll want all the stuff they have.  No, that’s not right–you’ll want the stuff that’s so much better than their stuff that they’ll vomit with envy. As one magazine for Wall Street bigshots put it, you want the stuff that will be “a huge middle finger to everyone who enters your home.”

Click on Fame, Wealth and Beauty for more.

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