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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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18 Diversifying Experiences in the Development of Genius and their Impact on Creative Cognition

Rodica Ioana Damian and Dean Keith Simonton

In quiet, uneventful lives the changes internal and external are so small that there is little or no strain in the process of fusion and accommodation; in other lives there is a great strain, but there is also great fusing and accommodating power; in others great strain with little accommodating power. A life will be successful or not accordingly as the power of accommodation is equal to or unequal to the strain of the fusing and adjusting internal and external changes.

(Butler, 1903, p. 288)

In the debate over whether genius is born or made, one question has long been in the spotlight: Did geniuses experience more environmental “strain” in their childhoods compared with the rest of us, and is that part of the developmental factors that might have pushed them towards greatness?

Anecdotal evidence is plenty among the lives of the great, and it suggests that childhood “strain” is the common denominator of many geniuses, regardless of their domain of achievement. A few examples illustrating this point are Ray Charles, Maya Angelou, and Marie Curie. Ray Charles witnessed his brother's drowning at age 4, was blinded at age 7, and was orphaned at age 15; he was also the genius creator of soul music and among the first African-Americans to be granted full creative control by a recording house. Maya Angelou experienced her parents' divorce at ...

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