Summary

Can the Right Geographic Conditions Help Create Geniuses?

Jan 26, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership AI

Why did the Renaissance happen in Florence? Why did the small Scottish city of Edinburgh produce so many world-transforming inventions in the 19th century? What caused Calcutta, in India, to produce a cluster of geniuses then slide into poverty and dereliction? (How a hot-tempered goldsmith created Florence’s iconic Duomo.)

In The Geography Of Genius, best-selling author Eric Weiner sets off on a journey around the world to answer those questions. He examines seven places where a golden age occurred—including Hangzhou, China; Vienna, Austria; and Athens, Greece—and discovers that genius thrives in chaos. (Read about restoring the Caryatids statues on the Acropolis in Athens.)

Talking from his home in Washington, D.C, Weiner explains why cities make geniuses; how Silicon Valley shares a talent with ancient Athens for appropriating other people’s ideas; and why the best thing parents can do to foster a genius is to drop dead.

Does geography really produce genius? If so, how?

Does it produce genius? Does the soil produce a tomato plant? There’s a seed, water, and sunlight involved in the process but without the soil there wouldn’t be a tomato. Likewise, without the soil there wouldn’t be a genius. Look at ancient Athens. Why is it that you had this incredible “genius cluster,” as it is called, which included Sophocles, Plato and Socrates? If you were a gambling man back in 500 or 600 B.C., you would not have put your money on Athens. There were hundreds of Greek city-states, many wealthier or stronger militarily, like Sparta. The land around Athens was not particularly fertile. But they had a special way of looking at the world that come from the fact that they were seafarers. They also stole a lot. [Laughs] We think of the ancient Athenians as inventing democracy, art, and philosophy. But they actually borrowed or “stole” from other places. Plato famously said, “What the Athenians borrow from others they perfect.”

I also write about lesser-known genius clusters, like Hangzhou, in China, in the 12th and 13th centuries: a golden age that produced great scientific discoveries, like the principle behind the compass. So, when I say geography I mean place with a capital “P”: cultural geography.

Today, you say, “We suffer from a serious case of genius inflation.” Explain.

We bandy the word about promiscuously. We have “football geniuses,” “marketing geniuses,” and all kinds of other geniuses. The word has gone through several morphings through the ages, but it’s supposed to be about someone who transcends their field. “Genius” should never require a modifier in front of it. If you have to describe someone as “that marketing genius,” then they’re not a genius. We don’t describe Mozart as a musical genius or Einstein as a scientific genius; we just say they’re a genius. They’ve transcended their particular field. Now, we’re raising thousands of little Mozarts and Einsteins. We’re told that everyone has a genius inside of them, though for some people, it’s deeper inside than others. [Laughs] I think we diminish true genius by using it to describe football players and marketing executives. Not to take anything away from football players and marketing executives! [Laughs]

You write, “Certain places, at certain times, produce a bumper crop of brilliant minds.” Talk about “genius clusters.”

I could have written about 20 places in my book. I could have included Elizabethan London and 1920s Paris but I focused on seven. Almost all of them were cities. To adapt that old African proverb—“it takes a village to raise a child”—it seems to take a city to raise a genius. They are also places in time. Both come together to produce a bumper crop of brilliant minds. It almost always happens after some major cataclysm or disruption or cultural earthquake, whether it’s the plague, like in Renaissance Florence, or losing your political independence, like Scotland before the Enlightenment. They also don’t last long: a couple decades, maybe a century. Then they are extinguished, like a candle blown out.

What does the latest scientific research tell us about genius?

A lot of it shows that place does matter and that genetics matters less than we think, somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent, depending on which studies you look at. It also shows that hard work matters. Have you heard of the 10,000 hours rule? The idea is that you have to practice something for 10,000 hours over 10 years in order to achieve mastery. Circumstances also matter a lot. The psychologist Dean Simonton, at the University of California, Davis, has looked at Japan between 500-1900 A.D and compared the amount of what he calls “extra-cultural influx,” like travel abroad and immigration. Japan is traditionally a very closed country to outsiders, but it’s occasionally opened up. The more it did so, the more it achieved creative eminence in fields like art and science.

You write “all genius makes the world a bit simpler.” How did 19th-century Edinburgh prove that idea?

The Scots were and are very practical people, who also have a theoretical bent. Adam Smith did the research for his famous book, The Wealth of Nations, in the port in Glasgow, talking to longshoremen and merchants. You had this mixing of different strata of society rather than the kind of socioeconomic segregation we often have today.

Their practical genius came to a head with medicine. It was the perfect field for the Scots because there’s a theoretical side to medicine. You need to know the theory behind how the body works, fluid dynamics and chemistry. But it’s very practical, too. For a while, the medical school at the University of Edinburgh was the best in the world. Many Americans studied there, as well as people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Not a single place that you describe is in the Southern Hemisphere. Is tropical weather inimical to genius?

A philosopher, I can’t recall which, had a theory that humidity dulls the mind. If you’ve ever been in New York in August, people’s brains slow down! But you’re right. I don’t describe any places in the Southern Hemisphere and there are very few women featured in my book. That has to do with where creative energy has been focused. I don’t think there’s anything about the trade winds or magnetic poles of the Southern Hemisphere that prevents it from producing genius. That is why I made a concerted effort to go to places like China and India, to show that this is not just a western or northern hemisphere phenomenon.

Many people will be surprised, as I was, by your inclusion of Calcutta, today one of India’s most benighted cities, on your list of genius hot spots. Tell us about the Bengal Renaissance.

This was during the late 19th- to early 20th-century, when you had a collision of British and Bengali culture. The Renaissance man was Rabindranath Tagore, an essayist, dramatist and activist, but best known as a poet and the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel Prize for literature. You also had scientists like the physiologist and physicist Chandra Bose. More books were published in Calcutta at that time than any city in the world, except London. It is surprising because today we think of Calcutta, now called Kolkata, as the epitome of Third World deprivation and poverty. But for a while it was a place of genius. The lesson of Calcutta is the importance of chaos and the collision of cultures. Chaos can spark your imagination; get you thinking in new directions.

Most of us have a picture of geniuses toiling away in isolation. But we are wrong, aren’t we? Tell us about the coffee houses in Vienna and how they encouraged genius.

All the characters in my book were social, some more than others, but there were no true loners among them. The coffee houses of Vienna is the prime example of what’s known as a “third place,” home being the first place and work being the second place. The third is a place where you feel comfortable. People from all different walks of life go there and conversation is unstructured and flowing. You saw this in the Vienna of 1900. The coffee houses were like idea factories. Freud had his favorite coffee house; Gustav Klimt, the painter, had his. Entire movements were launched from the coffeehouse. In Scotland, they had all these clubs where they did an awful lot of drinking. Some people joke that the Scottish Enlightenment should really be called the “Scotch Enlightenment.” [Laughs]

You call Silicon Valley “the ultimate manifestation of the American flavor of genius.” How so?

Everybody wants to get rich but they want to get rich saving the world. [Laughs] That’s part of it. It also involved a lot of tinkering. I trace the beginnings of Silicon Valley back to the radio industry of 1912-1913. One of the most delicious accidents of history was that the sinking of the Titanic helped spark Silicon Valley. Congress passed the law saying all ships must have ship-to-shore radios. There was already a fledgling radio business in what became Silicon Valley and things started to boom.

It was also American in that it was amateur. You had a lot of amateur tinkerers right up to the era of the PC and the homebrew computer scene. There was a rags-to-riches and anti-establishment element to it. People went out there—and still do to some extent—to escape something and start over. Yet they were not so far outside the mainstream that they couldn’t affect the mainstream. This is a common theme about genius. Geniuses are “insider outsiders.” They have an outsider’s perspective, maybe they’re an immigrant or a refugee, or they’re living in California. [Laughs] But they’re far enough inside that they can affect the mainstream.

In Silicon Valley I see echoes of the Scottish Enlightenment because the geniuses of Silicon Valley were and are tinkerers. They have a practical bent. Like Florence, there is also a system of patronage, but instead of the Medicis you have venture capitalists and investors who are picking through all these ideas and deciding which ones to back. As in ancient Athens, they don’t invent much there. [Laughs] The MP-3 player, the cell phone, and venture capital were all invented outside Silicon Valley. What Silicon Valley actually does has very little to do with technology. It’s a system for processing ideas: recognizing good ones, discarding bad ones, and sending the good ones into a system that eventually reaches your back pocket.

Are parents important to the creation of geniuses?

They are important, in that the best thing they can do is to die at a young age. [Laughs] And I’m not kidding about that. A disproportionate number of geniuses lost a parent, usually a father, when they were quite young. There are many theories about this. Some people will fold because of hardship; others will thrive because they’re expected to grow up faster. Only children are more likely to grow up geniuses, too, because they also have to enter the world of adulthood sooner. More is expected of you if you are an only child or lost a parent. The French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, once said half-jokingly that the best thing a father can do for his child is to die young. Gore Vidal believed the worst thing a household can have, if you want to produce a genius, is two doting parents. [Laughs]

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or at simonworrallauthor.com.


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新加坡7人“换妻”迷奸案细节公布!妻子被下药,全程录像直播...

Nov 03, 2022 | 🚀 Fathership AI

几名新加坡男子,在网上论坛认识后,沉浸在性幻想中无法自拔。

为了满足他们心中变态的好奇心,他们开始筹划换妻,并下药迷倒自己的妻子,让其他男子强奸自己的妻子!

昨天(10月31日),这起轰动新加坡一时的罪案在新加坡法庭进行了审理,涉案的七人中,有四人认罪,其中一人当场被判刑。

因为情况太过恶劣,为了保护受害人法院并未透漏她们的任何资料。被告人的名字也全部用字母代替。

回顾这起案件,这些男子的行径着实震碎了正常人的三观……

新加坡这名男子迷倒妻子 邀请其他人强奸并直播录像!

新加坡本体媒体《8视界新闻网》报道,法庭文件透露这起案件的主犯,是一名化名为J的新加坡男子。

J今年52岁,有着一份正当的工作,犯案时是一名业务拓展经理。这些年他和妻子一共生下了三个孩子,一家人原本很和谐地生活在一起。

不过在平静的生活下,J内心里涌动着一些邪恶的想法。

终于,在2010年,他在一个网络论坛上遇到了很多和自己臭味相投的人。在这个虚拟的平台,J肆无忌惮表露出自己的变态性癖,并发表了想玩换妻游戏的言论。

在这里,他们一起分享了很多有关“换妻”的想法。

聊着聊着,有一天他再也忍不住自己内心的想法,问自己妻子是否愿意接受3p。不出所料的,J的妻子拒绝了这个“提议”。

不过,这并没有阻止J付诸行动。

在一开始,包括J在内的一些人纷纷在家中安装网络摄像头。之后,他们会挑选时间告知网友相关的账号和密码,让他们自行观看自己和妻子的性爱视频。

经过一段时间后,J还是不满足。

于是,在某一天他下药迷晕了自己的妻子,然后邀请其他网友来家中与其发生关系!

随着事态的发展,J越来越沉迷其中……2013年,趁着妻子身体不适的时候,J还偷偷换了药物,再次邀请朋友来家中迷奸妻子。

这次,J竟然还打开了网络直播!

沉迷于“换妻游戏”,J不仅仅是让别人和自己妻子发生关系,同时他也跟其中一名网友K“商量好了”,趁着K迷晕自己妻子的工夫和她发生了性关系。

在某种程度上,K的行为更加恶劣,他甚至自己充当了摄像师的角色,拍下了J和自己妻子发生关系时的整段性爱视频……

渐渐的,J的妻子在不知情的情况下跟多人发生了性行为,相关视频还被上传到网络。

在当时,引起了相当多人的关注。

换妻行为曝光报警 更多人牵涉其中受重罚

J本以为这件事可以一直继续下去,不料在今年,他的妻子无意中看见丈夫手机在播放视频。

在好奇心的驱使下,她看到视频内容,这才恍然发现:

在过去的几年里,丈夫在暗地里进行了多次换妻活动,而自己在不知情的状态下被多次迷晕,在和他人强行强行发生关系后还被拍照记录……

拿着证据,J的妻子当面质问K,而K也承认自己曾经和昏迷的她有过性行为,并将自己妻子迷晕交给J的事实。

在得知真相后,J的妻子立即选择报警。随着案件的调查,调查人员惊讶地发现,还有更多人参与其中。

其中,有一名参加了J“举办的”换妻活动的L,也对自己的妻子如法炮制。

在一次在作案时,L的妻子尽管被下药后蒙住眼睛,在中途清醒了过来。

但L居然并未因此感到害怕而终止犯罪活动,而是要求自己一名同事P直接强行跟自己妻子发生关系,幸而L的妻子及时挣脱逃离,才免遭摧残。

之后,P在一封信中交代了全部经过,并表示自己不知道受害人并不知情才犯下罪案。

但法律并不会因为他的解释而对他开恩,最总P被判处三年监禁。他是涉案七名男子中,第一个被判刑的男子。

还有四人也已认罪,等待下一轮审讯。相信在严明的法律下,他们肯定无法逃脱坐牢。

不过,涉案情节严重的K在落网后,一再向警方和法官说自己有心理疾病,并要求医生为其检测,意图逃脱刑罚。

新加坡心理卫生院诊断后,确认了K患有偷窥症。但在审理中法官认为K对自己的非法行为是知情的,依旧是犯罪行为。

K对法院的说法表示不服,并要求开庭申辩。

但K的犯罪事实已被揭露,并且为自己的行为供认不讳,加上此案件牵连甚广,性质过于恶劣,估计也是难逃法律制裁。


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