Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Nature of Creative Genius

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The genius mentality sees analogies where ordinary minds see only isolated instances. Einstein, for example, made a cosmic leap from a tram departing the clock tower in Bern to a faster than light space craft. Looking backward the tram passenger sees the hands on the clock tower moving forward. Einstein was inspired to conduct one of his famous "thought experiments"; he imagined the same tram exceeding light speed at which time the hands on the Bern clock tower would run backward as his tram overtook light waves that had recently departed the clock tower.

From that moment, Einstein understood that to overtake light is to travel backward in time. Every day we travel at speeds less than that of light. The hands on the clock go forward; therefore, we go forward in time –not backward. To go backward in time requires that we "overtake" the speed of light, that we overtake those beams of light that had already left us behind! This insight has profound implications should we decide, one day, to “go where no man has gone before”.

Many other examples of genius may be found to include Newton's insights inspired by the simple fall of an apple from a tree. In all cases, however, the genius mentality finds pattern where others see only chaos, analogies where many may see only isolated phoenomena, things-in-common as opposed to mere but obvious differences. Genius sees the bigger picture, finds order in chaos but often, and as well, we see frightening faces in a stained wall. We see the "boogie man" -not in daylight --but at night! Nevertheless, those "frightening images" are, as well, the products of the creative faculty, the creative genius.

The subtitle of a timeless anthology by Brewster Ghiselin is "Reflections on Invention in the Arts and Sciences". In almost every case, it is the artist, the writer, the scientist him/herself who "reflects". We are privileged to share those very thoughts as they are put down in diaries, letters, memos to one's self. In this volume may be found near ramblings by Thomas Wolfe, the lucid mind of Einstein, the toubled mind of van Gogh and, as well, the meditative thoughts of William Wordsworth on Westminster Bridge.
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
--William Wordswroth, Composed upon Westminster Bridge
I am inclined to conclude that only the creative "genius" could a write a single sentence so rich in imagery and mood, so evocative of time and place.
I cannot imagine a "writer" failing to get something out of this book. Not all of the essays in this anthology are about writing. Some are about the visual arts! One is a letter by Albert Einstein. Another, by Roger Sessions, is about musical composition. The art of sculpture is not forgotten. Nor collage.

Nor science. Kekule is "covered" for having dreamed of a snake eating itself by its tail. Awake, Kekule made the quantum leap: this was no mere snake; this was, rather, the molecular structure of the Benzine molecule.

Most "essays", however, are about writing especially as writing is believed to be and ought to be a creative enterprise. In a single volume, you will find many writers/authors and all of them, it seems, are "speaking" directly to you. That is especially the case with Thomas Wolfe's "The Story of a Novel".

Think of it as a Monet but with words. There are dabs and strokes both here and there and up close they mean very little, but from a respectable distance, the whole will coalesce. So it is with "the creative process". In a single setting, Wolfe gives you "his" Paris.

The only other "work" which does the same and as well is Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". Or, of course, Monet's series of paintings of the cathedral at Rouen, a cathedral which seems, as if in a movie, to dissolve before our eyes.

Wolfe writes: "During that summer in Paris, I think I felt this homesickness more than ever before, and I really believe that from this emotion, this constant and almost intolerable effort of memory and desire, the material and the structure of the books I now began to write were derived."

Now --the obligatory "recommendation": get this book! You won't regret it.


Anonymous said...

"the paradox concerning the nature of objective validity is by design and degree instinctual" -

Mark Lucas wrote that...1992.

Omnium rerum quarum usus est, potest esse abusus, virtute solo excepta. There may be an abuse of everything of which there is a use, virtue only excepted.

Law Dictionary:

29 standing the crack house...called Congress.

David B. Dancy said...

I am lucky to be aware enough. To pay attention...sometimes freeze time to understand what I am programmed to do.

Len Hart said...

Thanks for commenting David. You describe the creative process perfectly.

LanceThruster said...

Today is the 150th Anniversary --

The Gettysburg Address (19 November 1863),

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength our gallant and disciplined army? These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of those may be turned against our liberties, without making us weaker or stronger for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.

Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois (September 11, 1858)