16 Comments
Oct 22, 2023Liked by Michael Woudenberg

I really loved "How We Got to Now", also by Johnson. Have you checked out that one? It's certainly thematically similar.

I might check this one out soon.

Also, luckily for us: we have a lot of folks in our network who use divergent thinking! Substack is great for that.

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Nov 20, 2023Liked by Michael Woudenberg

Fair enough. I will read the books brought up by you in the first place. If they change my mind, I will be honest and let you know. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Nov 20, 2023Liked by Michael Woudenberg

Also, thank you for engaging in personal discussion. I appreciate the feedback loop. It is refreshing to speak to someone who asks questions about challenges, rather than automatically attacking.

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Great book recommendations. I think you might like "How Innovation Works" by Matt Ridley if you haven't already read it. Thanks for writing!

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I certainly wasn't disparaging your opinion on any level. I would make the argument that up until the modern world (post enlightenment), better than 99% of all human progress came as a direct result of individual genius. Now, how you would define the word genius definitely has some flexibility in this context. Let us take, for example the fictional character moonwalker from 2001 by Arthur c Clarke. This man ape was selected in ruthless fashion by artifacts of alien intellect to be the technological forerunner that led directly to human development out of the animal state. Arthur Clarke was utilizing this particular storyline as a form of metaphor for genius. I don't mean to be long-winded. Individual accomplishment of a status changing level is rare enough to be called genius for the purpose of this discussion. That's my point. The fact that geniuses are granted a degree of grace by acknowledging the infrastructure they were in when they had their inspirations does not detract from the truth. Namely, that greatness in the form of a single idea or a series of them usually comes from superior intelligence. Whether this intelligence is cumulative, as in the form of group work (Manhattan project) or inspiration by a specific individual is not the point. Ironically, the word polymath is indicative of what I'm trying to prove. An ordinary intelligence is incapable of polymathism. It requires too much in the way of data storage and retrieval and the ability to correctly sort and collate information in such a way as to be a master of many trades. Those people are very rare. I believe that your intent is to encourage people to work as a group for greater goals. Correct me if I'm wrong. This is good advice, but not sufficient in motive to dismiss genius out of hand. Let's take an individual in the physics and mathematical world that we can both agree on. How about Stephen Hawking? I don't care how much credit he gives to those who not only helped him but kept him alive all those years. There is a mind that the ordinary physics PhD could barely understand. His mind was not a myth. The great geniuses throughout the ages (The real ones, not the figureheads who were propped up because of skill or infrastructure in social control) stand above the rest of humanity in that one sense of capacity of intellect. They are real. They were real. They will continue to be real.

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The argument posited is of a binary nature. I could synopsize it as follows "groups are better at thinking then individuals, therefore individual genius doesn't exist." Pardon this slight hyperbole, but I'm trying to make a point in limited space. Utilizing Edison and Mozart as examples of why genius does not exist fairly invalidates your point. But a simpler and irrefutable example exists: multivariable intelligence tests. The simple fact is that some people are smarter than others. This is inarguable. I have met genius in my life and cannot do what it does. I suspect that you have as well, but the world view evidenced in the essay would indicate otherwise. The fact that some individuals can do things that others cannot disproves your core point. I do not discount the value of groups working together. In fact, such cooperation is essential for projects too large for any one individual to cope with. However, to dismiss or minimize the effects on even such large group projects of individual genius level inspiration is wrong-headed. As a singular example, in order to prove my point, read about the extraordinary inventiveness of Edison as he was growing up. That is not a typical person by any stretch of the imagination. You could train a thousand people from birth to attempt to duplicate his inventiveness and still fail. Mozart is an even easier example. I'm not going to bother to enumerate his accomplishments before the age of 10, as they are well known and documented quite thoroughly. I stress that there is utility in cooperative thinking. That is inarguable. But individual greatness does indeed exist.

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'Simply put, good ideas do not come from the individual. " Full stop. ridiculous.

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Good article except for the spelling of Mozart. In the quote, his name is spelled correctly but in the main text it is not. Yikes.

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