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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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8 Case Studies of Genius Ordinary Thinking, Extraordinary Outcomes

Robert W. Weisberg

This chapter examines the thought processes underlying genius, the kind of thinking that produces seminal advances in the arts, sciences, and technology. The concept of genius brings with it residue of the Romantics (Abrams, 1953; Murray, 1989), as seen in the emphasis placed by many on the inexplicable aspects of genius, that is, on our inability to understand what it is that they do. Simonton (2011) presents the following descriptions of genius, culled from the Internet, that make clear the belief that there is something otherworldly about such individuals.

Genius does what it must, and Talent does what it can. (Owen Meredith)

Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

The impact of the genius is by definition profound: A revolutionary scientific theory changes the way we understand the world; a radically innovative invention changes the way we live; and an artistic masterwork changes the way we perceive the world and arouses a strong emotional response in us.

However, the cognitive mechanisms through which those profound creative advances are brought about can be very ordinary. The premise underlying the present chapter is that “ordinary” thought processes – those that we all use all the time in our mundane dealings ...

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