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Have you ever met someone and thought, "Wow. He/she is Human 2.0"? There are some individuals who aren't just a little smarter than other people, they are playing in a whole different arena. My first experience with a person like this was a class I took from professor Moshe Lazar at USC. He spoke a dozen languages and had incredible insight on topics ranging from comparative theology and linguistics to mathematics and physics. Moshe was also an inspirational educator, the kind of guy who made you want to rush to the library after class. I think he may be partly responsible for my Wikipedia addiction :-) A few years ago I ran into another educator, Meheroo Jussawalla, who reminded me a great deal of Dr. Lazar. When Meheroo, who is 85, first walked into my lecture on managing distributed software teams, I didn't expect her to start asking me about IPv6 adoption in Japan. I had the opportunity to chat with her briefly after my talk. She gave me what I can only describe as a brain buzz.

During my time at USC I had the pleasure of taking a master class from musical genius Branford Marsalis. It was a truly humbling and inspirational experience. My favorite part was his answer to the inquiry, "Where do you look for inspiration?" Answer: These days, mostly ancient Chinese music. He proceeded to show us how he was integrating riffs from ancient Chinese songs into his jazz work, and it sounded fantastic. Branford simply breaths music.

I often wonder what combination of genetics and environmental factors conflate to create such an individual. How much of it is random? How much of it is hard work? How much of it is good genes?

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Comment by Stuart Malin on March 19, 2009 at 2:43pm
"Go ahead an multiply the number 8,388,628 X 2 in your head. Can you do it in a few seconds? There is a young man who can double that number 24 times in the space of a few seconds. He gets it right every time. There is a boy who can tell you the precise time of day at any moment, even in his sleep. There is a girl who can correctly determine the exact dimensions of an object 20 feet away. There is a child who at age 6 drew such lifelike and powerful pictures, she got her own show at a gallery on Madison Avenue. Yet none of these children could be taught to tie their shoes. Indeed, none of them have an IQ greater than 50."
quote taken from "Brain Rules" by John Medina
Just what is "genius"? We tend to narrowly define it. And attempt to measure it.

btw: Konstantin's comment preceding mine correlates with (some of) the messages of Medina's book, particularly that the brain evolved to enable us to better survive by interacting with our environment.

also: the brain is comprised of significant quantities of long chain fatty acids (particularly DHA) which is why cold water fish oils and certain cold water algaes, and cold water krill, are so healthy for us.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 19, 2009 at 1:42pm
As a follow-up of this conversation, I came across an article about stimulating neuroplasticity. In short, a lot has to do with healthy eating and plenty of exercises.

From my personal experience, the following things have directly affected my ability for quick pattern recognition and improved elastic response to external stimuli
- direct interaction with environment. This includes hiking, surfing, biking, kiting, etc.. Basically a combination of ocean and mountain activities have been practiced by many societies, including ancient Hawaiians for a very good reason.. (hence there is Quiksilver :)
- consumption of selected foods. This includes varieties of green foods (like spirulina), fish and fish oils (salmon, mahi, rainbow trout, etc..), Flax oil, omega3
- meditation or basic practice of focused relaxation

Paying a tribute to our local economy, this particular product has surely been on my menu
Spirulina Pacifica

Another person I would highly recommend following is Dr. Joe Disperanza, and especially his excellent collection of video lectures.

Aloha and Happy coding!
Comment by Mika Leuck on March 19, 2009 at 1:11pm
Konstantin Lukin: "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
This is a great quote!

I like Kevin's post about immutable truths.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 19, 2009 at 12:47pm
There is this new brand of paper towels, called 'The Seventh Generation', that attributes its 'nature-friendly' approach to the following quote: (taken from back side of their product)

"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."

- From The Great Law Of The Iroquois Confederacy

Digging even further, here is an interesting comparison of The Iroquois Confederacy to the US Constitution.

I think this is very relevant to Kevin's comment about 'immutable truths'. It is interesting that other societies also had to face similar problems, and I would be curious to find out in particular what they thought, how they dealt with them, and what we can do now to apply some of that wisdom into our every day lives..

Personally I always believed that genius goes hand in hand with simplicity..
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 19, 2009 at 10:32am
I am glad you mention this book, Dan. A dear friend and former co-worker of mine, who also happens to be a PhD in Physics, highly recommended it some time ago. It was a fascinating read, even though remembering there were subjects that surpassed my level of attention at the time..
Comment by Kevin Vaccarello on March 18, 2009 at 5:52pm
Yeah, I definitely agree that intelligence is both genetic/physiological and environmental - nature and nurture. I'm going to veer down a related path since the practical implications would be fun to chat about.

Where the rubber hits the road: APPLIED KNOWLEDGE

I believe the latter part of the sentence Dan pulled out from my comment above is significant in valuing the application of our knowledge:

"..., deduce what is optimal for the whole and act accordingly."

It seems that we all strive to identify the most efficacious strategies to help us increase or maintain our satisfaction of physical, emotional and mental needs. In order for the strategies to be most successful, we'd need to understand the underlying patterns, truths or rules of nature and whatever socio-economic systems and sub-systems we are in.

To begin, a few immutable truths include:
1) Everything in nature is interdependent.
1.1) We are a part of nature.
2) Natural resources are finite.
2.1) The laws of thermodynamics define the limits of nature (i.e. thermodynamic equilibrium).
2.2) Population growth is finite.
3) We strive to improve &/or maintain security in our lives.

With these Immutables, we should already have an improved framework to "deduce what is optimal for the whole and act accordingly". It seems that, by and large, Truth #3 is only partially acknowledged, and the rest are mostly ignored or overlooked.

So to me, the ultimate "genius" is the collective integration of all the past, present and future individuals who play a part in figuring out how to enable anyone and everyone to efficiently and effectively satisfy their own physical, emotional and mental needs within our global system's constraints so that future generations can do the same for long as thermodynamics allows. ;-)
Comment by Scott Murphy on March 18, 2009 at 9:05am
Although I'm not saying IQ is the sole measure of what defines a genius, I came across this article about a 6 year old boy with an IQ of 176. I wonder what this boy will become in the future. He might become overly confident/cocky of his intelligence and never make any significant efforts in his field or he might be the next Einstein.
Comment by alf maglalang on March 18, 2009 at 3:04am
I have met many inordinately intelligent entities. but I cannot say that I have met a genuine genius. I do however continuously encounter manifestations of genius in music, fashion, mathematics, urban planning, art, social activism, dance, literature etc. wherefore I'm only humbled every second of my existence.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on March 18, 2009 at 12:07am
Kevin Vaccarello: The most intelligent (the "genius") will be able to respond to any situation in any context.
If we define a genius as someone able to make quantum leaps in their field, I think its fair to say many are specialized to the extent of being deficient in other areas. The ability to hyper-focus, blocking out all superfluous information and irrelevant stimuli, seems to be a reoccurring theme with the greatest mathematicians and physicists. I think many of the giants of math and physics would do poorly in a writing contest, in a singles bar, or on a desert island. Of course, there are exceptions.

The discussion of the psychophysiology and neuroscience behind intelligence is certainly worthy of a more qualified moderator than myself :-) My knowledge is limited to what I read in Scientific American and similar rags. I know there is debate on what causes some individuals to have greater neuroplasticity (i.e. readiness to form cell assemblies - to learn.) One theory is that some people simply have more myelin producing glial cells. Myelin is the fatty insulating material that covers the axon of a neuron, much like the rubber coating on a copper wire. To a point, more myelin means faster impulse propagation, which leads to faster formation of neural connections, leading to faster forming of cell assemblies. Put simply, a well insulated brain is more efficient. Study of Einstein's brain indicated that he had an unusually high ratio of glial cells to neurons. Another theory contends that any mind exposed to constantly changing problem sets, ideally problem sets outside of the the person's comfort zone, will cause the brain to gear up in areas such as myelin production and eventually lead to high intelligence. It further contends that as long as the barrage of constantly changing problem sets continues, brain plasticity is maintained, even late into life. My guess, for what its worth, is that its probably a bit of both.
Comment by Stuart Malin on March 17, 2009 at 9:20pm
"Neuroplasticity suggests that the brain is constantly remapping itself... to attempt to simulate external reality internally." Yes, exactly! So very well put Kevin. Our brains are incredible simulation engines, and as a consequence we can simulate realities that don't exist, and we can inhabit those simulations and evaluate outcomes, then make decisions about how to act in the real world given those simulations. The downside is: quite often we can't discern a simulation for reality. Our simulation engine feeds on input; this is one reason we love stories. We are all immensely capable story tellers, endlessly talking story, both as internal monologue and external... well, often that is monologue also :-) In dreamtime our meaning-making apparatus is let loose, and it composes astoundingly rich and complex stories that are every bit as detailed as external reality. For each of us, just where is reality? Is it out there? Or in here? This is an age old philosophical question.

In this regard, as storytellers, as external reality interpreters and internal reality synthesists, as simulators of diverse mental eco systems, we are all, in a very special way, spectacular. When a human being dies, a universe perishes. But as Kurt Vonnegut (a great storyteller) told us: So it goes...


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