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GRE Article of the Month – July 2014

Secrets of the Creative Brain
By Nancy C. Andreasen for The Atlantic

We’ve all known them: really smart people who seem a little…off. Sure, there are plenty of sane geniuses, but might the brilliant amongst us be more likely plagued with psychological issues? In this highly fascinating article, Secrets of the Creative Brain, which blends speculation with hard science, the cognitive scientist Nancy Andreasen provides an answer to this intriguing question. She has famous creative geniuses sit inside her “brain machine” and then compares their results to normal types—those who don’t have creative genius. The results are intriguing.


Photo by Roberto Taddeo

Interestingly, she doesn’t take facile route of correlating genius with IQ, but I’ll let the article do the explaining. It’s a great read with lots of great words.

Here are just a few:

  • Alleviate
  • Stricken
  • Lexicon
  • Semantic
  • Meandering
  • Proxy
  • Notwithstanding
  • Polymaths
  • Predisposition

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9 Responses to GRE Article of the Month – July 2014

  1. Mireille August 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    …more studies, more DNA, more genes:

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 6, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks so much for the article!

      As much as I’m a proponent of hard work and dedicated practice, the “you can do anything” movement has taken things too far. It’s nice to see studies swinging the pendulum back to the middle somewhat. Hopefully, the school of thought that believes genius is purely innate and only bestowed on a few won’t come into vogue again. To summit Olympus, a complex dance of environment and genes must play out.

  2. Mireille July 30, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    …While reading this article, I just couldn’t help making the correlation between its author’s work and Helen Fisher’s “brain in love” not that very old study. Pretty similar — the human brain put under MRI by two individuals (both women!) in an attempt to decipher some of its mysteries. However, remarkable work in both cases, beyond any doubt.

    To me, the most obvious thing is, a combination of the two must exist in order to “produce” a superior human being: the genetic (and not only) inheritance and the individual’s personal drive and amount of work put in towards reaching a goal, ultimately summed up as what it is being offered to one person and what the individual ultimately chooses to keep from everything being offered, when choice was an option, obviously.

    The article also made me think of the never-ending cause / effect debate in just about anything. Undoubtedly, outstanding results in a field come with tremendous work and equal amount of time invested into that specific field. Although unspeakable satisfaction is definitely part of the equation, it is not less true we’re also talking here about sacrifice at the same time. And perhaps at the same scale. There is that “psychic pain” there, without any doubt. One needs to isolate himself / herself quite a bit in order to achieve something; and that comes with the price. And why not be plainly honest and at least wonder how many of them did not maybe get isolated by the others, just because their views / interests / feeling were different?! Thank God, us “humans” are so very good at it! 😀 How many times in our history we first had to kill, then admit what we just killed was actually… the best of us? So there is that question never to be answered in my mind — was it them isolating themselves since they were so busy or was it us isolating them in the first place and giving them the time and chance to perfect their path of not being like the rest of us? 🙂

    No MRI will ever convince me otherwise — unfortunately, us humans are most “productive” as a consequence of encountering turmoil, aversion, suffering in our path. Although she does mention a few suicidal mothers of some of the subjects, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that one of the common traits between the *majority* (if not all!) of her subjects was a deeply hurtful event (or more) in their life, that they could never really overcome in their minds, which somehow in time shaped them a bit at a time into the humans they eventually became. That totally explains the tight correlation she (surprisingly!!) found between “creativity” and family / personal “mental illness”.

    Strangely how what hurts us can either turn some into monsters and pure evil and some others into exactly those who will push humanity’s boundaries out a bit larger and brighter. It is, again, all about what we are given, what is being taken away from us, the way we process it and what we ultimately choose to do with it all.

  3. Guri Kejriwal July 30, 2014 at 7:22 am #

    Hi Chris,
    The article is an interesting reading and definitely, a myth buster for many. One point worth mentioning is that novel ideas did not strike capriciously, but geniuses spend years toiling in their relevant field to come to a level where they could produce something . The article asserts that the a higher IQ is not tantamount to creativity and I second it. The author builds up her case by mentioning William Shockley, one of the greatest inventors in the field of electronics. Indeed, the current development in the field would had been a few years behind had it been not his work. Aside from the mental issues mentioned in the article, the bigger picture is that there is no substitute for hard work.
    Merci beaucoup

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 30, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Hi Guri,

      You’re right–hard work is necessary for creative works of lasting power. Yet, I wonder if we all have the capacity to become creative geniuses–or if the article is even implying so. I could never imagine myself being a visual artist of great renown. My drawing skills are so execrable–and always have been–that I imagine there must be some biological marker (or two) that prevents me, however hard I work, from being the next Picasso (or even that guy who those cool watercolor nature scenes).

      That said, it is nice to see the IQ link once again impugned. It IS interesting, though, that IQ has to be a certain level to enable creative genius–yet it will only flower in some. What I’m curious about is if there are certain elements in the environment that foster creative genius and to what extent they commingle with one’s inner drive–which I imagine has an appreciable role in whether some one goes on to be a creative genius.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Prerit Anwekar July 30, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    This was really a nice article. Author discreetly mentioned her findings and experiments on the genesis of creativity and its association with mental illness. And how polymath people are mostly the ones who turn out to be genius. The author also contented over the distinction of IQ and genius.

    A nice read. :))

    Thanks for sharing Chris. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 30, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      I, too, loved this article :). About 10 years back, the Atlantic released a piece–“Our Genius Problem”–which took the other side: genius is a fabrication, and the connection between insanity and genius even more suspect. That piece was inspired mostly by rhetoric, this one mostly by hard data. That said, “Our Genius Problem” has even more choice GRE words–if you’re looking for some vocab 🙂

      • Prerit Anwekar July 30, 2014 at 10:44 am #

        Ohh..i would love too. After completing the whole magoosh module, chris you are already responsible for my love towards verbal section. 🙂

        Thanks for the videos and these articles. 🙂

  5. Sriram July 29, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    This is unrelated to the passage but I do have a suggestion. How about introducing a critical reasoning challenge question as well on a weekly basis? I’m sure it will elicit varied responses – particularly the ‘assumption’ stuff – and needless to say, the discussions would be beneficial.

    – Sriram.

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