On Genius

Could genius be a function of the physical
appetite structures of the limbic brain?

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Photo courtesy of Elan Sun Star

A genius is one who goes beyond definition and well beyond how others around him or her conceptualize, perceiving significant facts and relationships which later turn out to be valid.

That rather conventional statement is descriptive, but doesn’t immediately tell us how the genius got that way.

Sometimes it’s a matter of stumbling into a knack, as described in my book, Beyond Teaching And Learning. This happens even when the original knack is forgotten which got that genius started. Sometimes on the smallest thing, or on one thing or another, our genius in most cases got on a roll, stayed on a roll, when he fell off he got quickly back on that roll, and stayed on that roll until so much of what he was doing had fallen into being part of that roll that others began recognizing him as a genius. (Or her.)

In such a case, the genius is one who finds a good horse and rides it farther and better than others can, even if that horse was at first merely a colt.

The parable of the talents comes also to mind as being apt in this context, as reportedly told by Jesus. [In the story, a rich man unevenly distributed talents — a type of money or coin — to three of his servants, to tend and build toward greater wealth. One spent it all, wasting it. One received the most — ten talents — but hid them under a bushel instead of putting them to good use. These first two servants were summarily dismissed. The third servant, hailed as the “good and faithful steward,” had put his talent to good use, multiplied it and came back with more than he started with.]

We can compare types of genius throughout our history. These range from the idiot-savant “Rainman” type, a narrow splinter kind of genius, through the popular notion of a lopsided tortured fractional genius like Mozart or Van Gogh, to the comprehensive holistic genius such as Bach or Bacon, who is really good at nearly everything.

Studies suggest that for the most part — and contrary to the popular notion — people who are really good at one thing tend also to be good at many other things.

How do some people soar miles beyond anyone else? Is it something about them, or is it some little trick or knack of thinking or looking or operation that they somehow stumbled into and got started on?

If it was in them, it usually wasn’t a matter of somehow-innate superior intelligence. (Indeed, fractionalized Rainmen may find it hard to button their own shirts.) We all know highly intelligent and even well-informed people who definitely are not geniuses! What distinguishes genius from these?

Limbic staying power.

It is the “fire in the belly” that theater people and professional athletes often speak about. True giftedness seems to be mainly a function of the physical appetite structures of the limbic brain.

In fact, the times of physical appetite change — adolescence and middle age — are the times also in which we lose most of our really gifted people into being merely intelligent and well-informed.

Fasting is an avenue in many different disciplines toward attaining extraordinary mental and/or intellectual effects.

An association between intellectual sharpening and physical hunger makes sense in bio-evolutionary survival terms — in more rigorous times, all of us were descended from those who got sharper when hunting was poor.

Also, though I’m unaware of any formal study on this, there’s a highly apparent incidence of appetite disorders among many of the gifted, which you may rather easily notice upon attending any substantially sized Mensa group meeting.

In other words, the unusual level of drive and persistence so often needed to override the usual discouragements originates in unusual conditions in the physical appetite structures of the brain. The counterpart to this in fractionated rainmen is their slipping past inhibiting higher(?) mental functions which, in their case, simply are missing. In either instance, we see someone manifesting unusual abilities by somehow getting past the usual inhibiting factors.

Lots of people find knacks of one kind or another, but only a few have not only gotten on that roll but stayed there and returned to there until that roll became a grand revolution… Fire in the belly… as persistent as appetite drives themselves.

What kind of genius? What kind of knack? There is some room in which to find them — the undiscovered country which lies within and around every one of us:

We live in a richly holographic universe, everything affecting everything else, everything relating to everything else. Despite all that is now known in our civilization, we are only a few steps, or a few observations, away from centuries-worth of new science and new civilization, no matter what direction we turn to look.

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