“Imagine a world in which every work of genius was stripped away, a world without great literature, art, philosophy, science or even technology. We would be living in a very barren world, huddling in some cave, shivering in the cold.”
So began a recent exchange with psychologist Dean Keith Simonton on the merits of studying genius. Few of us can be the best, I argued, playing devil's advocate, so why bother with the topic? Simonton countered that we can be proactive about encouraging genius, so that someday our present lives will look just as barren. In this special issue devoted to the topic of genius, we explore the cognitive components that make great works possible and ways to help brilliance bloom.
The first question most people ask about genius is how to define it. Singer-songwriter Beck offered this explanation: “Must have hair going everywhere.” The iconic Albert Einstein hair, captured on our cover, implies irreverence and a touch of eccentricity. As Simonton writes in “The Science of Genius,” starting on page 34, openness to peripheral ideas is common among highly innovative people. Their hobbies end up enriching their thought processes. Although it may sound like science fiction, in “Switching on Creativity,” neuroscientist Allan W. Snyder and his colleagues describe an experimental brain stimulation technique they are developing for inducing such openness and creative insight. Turn to page 58.
Families can foster creativity, too, once they see its early signs. Artistic sensibilities and even passion can emerge as early as age two. See page 42 for more on how talent unfolds in “Predicting Artistic Brilliance,” by psychologists Jennifer E. Drake and Ellen Winner. Exposing youngsters to a wide range of experiences increases the chances that a child will get inspired and start developing a new skill, as psychologist Rena F. Subotnik et al. write in “Nurturing the Young Genius,” on page 50.
No crazy hair? No problem. Let our experts help you tap into your inner Einstein. Great minds really do think alike—and that is excellent news for the rest of us.