The Art of Genius

Genius is nothing more than the carrying of idle thoughts to their farthest conclusion. How many people, before Darwin, had pondered the origin of species?

Only one person dared to see the inquiry to its absolute end.

How many wondered about the relationship between time, space, and energy?

Only Einstein spent his life running after peculiar notions and questions no one seemed to answer.

Emerson once said,

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Every human, being a possessor and product of the most complex object in the Universe, the brain, is capable of ingenuity and innovation. What is rarer than curiosity and invention is the force of will and passionate nonconformity that allows the seeds of genius to be grown into great works and discoveries.

How many ideas have passed through your mind, been left unnurtured, only to be presented later on as the product of someone else’s mind, perhaps to great public esteem and profit?

I hesitate to call the required impetus to action confidence because I doubt confidence in his own genius was Einstein’s or anyone else’s primary motivator. I think rather than being full of aggressive gusto or rebellion, most great thinkers simply ignore the doubting voices that might put halt to their explorations.

Leonardo Da Vinci did not resent his detractors or plot their downfall. More likely he was so busy with his own interests and endeavors that few of the doubters even appeared on his periphery.

To be a genius is to pursue with great energy that which interests you most, and arouses in you an industriousness and competency beyond that of your average capability.

It is not a magical voice in the head or the soul, guiding the hand of a select group and leading them constantly to truth and beauty.

Accepting Chaos

I have an important question to ask you.

How many actions do you witness on a daily basis that are in anyway motivated by concerted efforts towards virtue or rationality? Include your own actions in that census of course, and be honest with yourself.

For myself, the number of such actions is so small as to be negligible, to the degree that such striving towards virtuous action usually sticks in my minds for months. I pat myself on the back for good deeds and am flabbergasted when someone interrupts their normal programming to reach out a hand to help another or refrain from a reflexive and toxic behavior.

Most of what we do is done without conscious care or consideration. The philosophical principles we study and logically understand only come into play if we make a massive moment-to-moment effort. Of course, in our pre-agricultural society, this made perfect sense. Actions needed to be quick and instinctive.

But modern life has granted us copious leisure time with which we can design our own standards of conduct. Few use their free hours in such a way. Even fewer actually apply the lessons they glean from centuries of the written word.

Therefore, in dealing with ourselves and other people, it is important to understand we are not dealing with consistent belief systems housed in logical minds. Each and every one of us is a web of conflicting drives and subpersonalities that all vie for manifestation in action.

Rationality, logic, and morality are not the default ideals or modes of being. In fact, those very words and their conceptual contexts took millennia to develop. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t expect them or feel they are owed to you by the individuals that make up our civilized society.

High standards will save you, and transform your life. But if you expect them, demand them from the external world, you will become embittered and distanced from the environment. Or else you will fall into the trap of cynicism, and adjust your standards to match the brutality and thoughtlessness that exists all around.

Progress is achieved through aiming at an ideal, whilst meeting external conditions and your own psyche exactly where they are in the present moment. 

An honest acceptance of conditions is the necessary precondition to conforming them to a virtuous ideal.

Escaping Failure

Why do people tolerate conditions that to an outside observer appear torturous and unbearable?

Because it usually takes a long time for things to go from good to average to terrible. The loosening of standards, the growing rarity of success, all stack up so slowly that we often find ourselves in a living hell with no idea as to how we got there, and no clear memory of when it all changed.

Perhaps this is why quicksand exists in our minds as an archetypal fear. Quicksand is that which kills you so slowly that you don’t notice until your head is nearly below ground.

No wonder standards, principles, and consistent strategies are the weapons by which failure and stagnation can be fought off.

Motivation, inspiration, and passion are too weak and unreliable a resource to be used in continuous personal growth. They are nowhere to be found when you need them most, and often lead us into self-aggrandizements and prideful displays of self-perceived talent.

Inspiration is what may propel us to create principles sufficient to change the course of our life. But it in itself is not enough. Motivation may be enough to get us up off the couch the first time, but it likely won’t be there the second or the third, or the other inestimable times we might need motivation if we are to take consistent proper action.

Emotion is the water that turns the solid ground to quicksand. Principles and strategies are the rope which we have either spun ourselves, or has been offered by a mentor. But with no rope, we are doomed to sink.