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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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12 Openness to Experience

Robert R. McCrae and David M. Greenberg

Some fisherman whose line jerks with his catch,

some idle shepherd leaning on his crook,

some plowman at his plow, looks up and sees

something astonishing …

(“Daedalus and Icarus,” Ovid, Metamorphoses, C. Martin, Trans.)

After a single hearing, the 14-year-old Mozart transcribed Allegri's Miserere – 12 minutes of music for nine voices – from memory. In his seventies, and totally blind, Euler composed and dictated dozens of major works of mathematics. Mozart and Euler are indisputably geniuses of the first magnitude, but not simply because they possessed seemingly magical mental abilities. After all, Luria (1968) documented the case of a Russian journalist who could remember virtually everything (including tables of random numbers seen decades ago) but who never produced work of any consequence. A number of autistic individuals – so-called savants – can perform prodigious feats of calculation, although they never advance mathematics. Geniuses usually have exceptional gifts, but their defining characteristic is that they use these gifts to solve artistic, intellectual, or practical problems in original ways. What is it beyond mere mental ability that leads these individuals to see the world with a fresh perspective? In this chapter, we consider the hypothesis that genius is due in some measure to personality traits, and in particular to a group of traits that define Openness to Experience.

The idea that genius ...

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