British code-breaker Alan Turing was the father of computer science. It is difficult to imagine what life would be like in 2017 if Turing hadn’t lived and hadn’t been employed by a university to research. But, as the movie The Imitation Game poignantly showed, Turing had few friends, was chronically shy, lacked social skills and was often shunned by his colleagues. Turing was a genius. But there’d be very few people like him working at universities today. This is a serious problem and, according to a new academic book recently published in the UK, the decline of religion is part of the reason for it.
So argue anthropologist Edward Dutton (Oulu University, Finland) and psychiatrist Bruce Charlton (Newcastle University, UK) in their fascinating 2016 tome, The Genius Famine. According to the two British academics, geniuses are a distinct psychological type.
They have extremely high intelligence, meaning they excel at quickly solving cognitive problems. This strongly predicts socioeconomic, educational and even social success. But geniuses combine this with relatively low conscientiousness and low empathy. They also tend to be uninterested in worldly things–money, sex, power–focused intensely on the intellectual pursuit of solving whatever seemingly unsolvable problem has come to obsess them. New ideas always break established rules and offend vested interests, but the genius couldn’t care less, claim Dutton and Charlton. This is why it is the genius who is able to make original, fantastic breakthroughs.
These kinds of people are fundamental to the growth and survival of civilization, the authors maintain. They are behind all major innovations. But, frighteningly, levels of genius have been in decline during the twentieth century. Measured from 1455 to 2004, macro-inventions–those that really changed the course of history–peaked in the nineteenth century and are now in on the slide. So, what has happened? Why is genius dying-out?
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