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FAQ: Genius and creativity

The following questions have been asked in reference to "The roots of creativity and genius":


Education is indeed targeted at problem solving
Question:
I think that the purpose of education is not to improve our problem solving ability, but to improve our ability to function in society. How can slapping a child who wants to eat a cake before dinner enhance its problem solving?
Answer:
Problem solving is understood here strictly in computational terms. Every task can be represented as a computational problem. All our life is based on computing "What to do next?". If you compare a child's brain to a computer, the act of slapping can be compared to adding a new rule "No cake before dinner". In the future, this rule can be changed to a more sophisticated form (e.g. "Foods of high glycemic index are not recommended before the main meal due to ...", etc.). This rule can be used in problem solving. For example, the most straightforward problem could be "Shall I eat this cake now?", and a more sophisticated problem could be "Which restaurant should I choose tonight?". In the latter case, the same rule would be evoked to solve the problem. Answering moral questions can also be represented in terms of problem solving. We function well in the society if our computing brain is good at solving puzzles relevant in social situations, and not only


Problem solving may involve a varying degree of creativity
Question:
What is the difference between problem solving and creativity? Those terms are used often but were never clearly defined
Answer:
Imagine a labyrinth. In problem solving, you know exactly where you want to get. You will apply rules stored in your memory to navigate through the labyrinth with an effort to reach the predetermined destination. In pure creativity, you do not know what you want to accomplish or where you want to get. You may just stray through the labyrinth in hope of finding something valuable. In real life, problem solving will involve a degree of creativity which is proportional to indeterminacy of the reasoning path (i.e. the degree of your derivation or application of inference rules being non-deterministic). If you have to answer the question: What is the value of 6x7?, you will deterministically retrieve a fact from your memory: 6x7=42. This is a pure recall (or fact-based problem solving). If you have to answer: What is the value of 16x17?, you will deterministically retrieve facts (e.g. 6x7 = 42). Then you will deterministically retrieve simple multiplication and addition rules to conclude that 160+70+42=272. This is rule-based problem solving. If you have to solve a differential equation, you will deterministically retrieve the rules and then you may start non-deterministically traversing the decision tree: you may have more than one path to traverse. Solving such non-deterministic problems requires creativity (i.e. tricks to efficiently move inside the labyrinth). This is creative problem solving. If you have to invent a new marketing slogan for your company, the degree of creativity will increase further. Your search space will be nearly infinite. Luckily, your associative brain will quickly find a couple of plausible associations and you may "create" the answer in seconds. Then you can further iterate over various branches of your search tree or try far-reaching "jumps" via association (see: Ideafisher and incremental reading). The power of knowledge in problem solving is that the more knowledge you have, the less creativity you need, but the more creativity you are able to apply


IQ of the greatest geniuses
Question:
What is Judit Polgar's IQ? How about other geniuses?
Answer:
Several sources indicate that Judit Polgar's IQ might be around 170, but IQ data are notoriously misquoted and misleading. See also: 

http://www.surfonby.com/iqtest/iqfacts.html 
http://home8.swipnet.se/~w-80790/Q&A/Q&A_2.htm


Multiple intelligences can be described with the computer metaphor as well (#5795)
Question:
You completely ignore Dr. Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences and put emphasis on only two types of intelligence: linguistic and logical
Answer:
The model of a brain storing facts and rules used in problem solving encompasses most of multiple intelligences. This goes far beyond the standard IQ which indeed has a linguistic and logical bias. The interest of educators should focus on intelligence enhanced by expertise (Definition 1). The variety of classes of expertise is large enough for the need to extract common factors that make training efficient. Spatial intelligence is to logical intelligence as geometry is to logic. It simply refers to a different substance (different facts and rules) without changing the rules of engagement: training enhances skills in all forms of human activity. Kinesthetic intelligence may have a strong genetic underpinnings but kinesthetic training will also develop a set of new rules encoded in the neural network of the motor system. The fact that these rules cannot be verbalized does not detract from the applicability of the computer metaphor and brain's programmability. Inter-personal intelligence, here referred to as social skills is a combination of an emotional profile of an individual (Emotional IQ) and social expertise (facts and rules of efficient social conduct). Musical expertise will combine "musical intelligence" or "talent" and a battery of procedural and declarative rules developed in the course of musical training, etc. The formula based on storing new facts and rules in memory via training is universal


Sex and race do not matter much for genius accomplishment
Question:
What is the link between sex, race and genius?
Answer:
IQ tests, personality tests, SAT scores, etc., inevitably show differences between race, ethnicity, family background, child care, sex, and even religious beliefs in the family. However, the prescription for accomplishing genius is the same (see: Genius Checklist). Consequently, the differences may be important to psychologists, evolutionary biologists, ethnographers, etc. To a young bright mind, the differences are of little concern and do not affect his or her strategy for creative life


Geniuses create for a living
Question:
What does Genius do for living?
Answer:
Creativity is naturally the most desirable way for geniuses to make their living. During the Great Depression, even the brightest minds found it difficult to get the most menial work. In Middle Ages, few could live of creativity. Today, even in lesser developed countries, geniuses can find great outlets for their creativity on the net. The claim "do not optimize for financial gain" must exclude cases where a genius suffers by not having anything to put on the dinner table. However, it is getting easier and easier with every passing day to forgo financial concerns for people who are well endowed intellectually. Creative jobs abound and may be found half-a-globe away. The earlier you manage to do a full-steam creative work for a living, the faster your will free your genius mind from numerous limitations of the present world


Children with Down Syndrome have lower IQ
Question:
What is the IQ of people affected with Down Syndrome?
Answer:
The distribution of IQ among Down Syndrome patients is similar in its bell shape to the normal population; however, the average is shifted by 50 points downward (in pure forms of Down Syndrome). A relative Down Syndrome genius can pass the borderline retarded range and match the low average IQ range. However, educators dealing with Down Syndrome kids stress that IQ is not a good measure of mental performance among these children


Brainstorming does not have to disrupt your schedule
Question:
How do you reconcile the proposition of socially-based brainstorming on one hand, with the asocial call to schedule-and-prioritize (including the use of e-mail instead of a phone, etc.)?
Answer:
Due to an ever increasing intellectual competition, future geniuses will probably have to drive their time-management skills to perfection. This will require careful scheduling, prioritization and minimum disruption. However, brainstorming may also be subject to planning. Its only limitation is the coincidence of needs. Simply put, it is harder to do synchronous planning for a group of individuals. Simple techniques used for scheduling a tennis match can be used for scheduling a brainstorming session. Technology can also come in handy, in a brainstorming group, individuals ready for intense net-meeting exchange can set up a readiness flag, and await the moment when their readiness coincides with others in the same group. Last but not least, "slow brainstorming" over e-mail is also extremely powerful


Being politically correct
Question:
Jobs simply sucked Wozniak's blood; 
VisiCalc was not the first spreadsheet
Edison was a thief of patents; 
Bill Gates is no genius; 
Evolution is just a theory; 
Anti-globalization supporters are idiots;
Brain is far more than an expert system; 
You should avoid using the word holocaust; 
Turing's homosexuality had no relevance; etc.
Answer:
Intentionally, this FAQ will avoid a debate on political correctness and/or matter of opinion. If you believe some historic facts have been misrepresented, they will be corrected or alternative links provided. Otherwise, all sideline stories should serve only as examples or illustrations that help prop the main theses of the article. The examples are not essential to the proof and as such will be left for other forums to be debated


Effective work does not have to imply losing the joy of life (just the opposite)
Question:
On one hand you insist that the reason must take rein over the weak body, but in another place you encourage music, art, movies, sports, and religion because they are enjoyable! This is contradictory
Answer:
As always, the key to resolving multicriterial optimization is balance of proportions. You need to balance learning with creative work. Specialist with general knowledge. Work and time for sleep or sports. Work and family, etc. Optimally, you should find maximum joy in things you must do rather than do things because they are enjoyable. However, you cannot hop over your physiological and psycho-emotional limitations. Let us consider an example: let us assume your day starts with a breakfast during which you watch yesterday's CBS News, and you follow that with repetitions in SuperMemo. Let us say your time allocation for both activities is 80 minutes. You may be tempted to go for maximum work (repetitions) and minimum relaxation (breakfast). However, you will quickly discover that there is an optimum allocation of resources that maximizes your output. If you rush through a 5 min. breakfast and interrupt watching the news in some interesting point, your enthusiasm for repetitions may be less and ultimately your learning results less impressive. If, on the other hand, you let the breakfast raise the glucose level in your blood, let the caffeine of your morning coffee kick in, and let an inspiring piece of science news get you hungry for new knowledge, 25 min. allocation for breakfast may appear more efficient overall. Enjoyability is your guidance here. This example shows that you may be unable to overcome such limitations as the speed of food absorption or even more malleable factors such as psychogenic motivation. You got to listen to your body carefully. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy simply states that psychophysiological needs have to be taken into account when managing your life and productivity. Doing things you love is one of the simplest tricks you can use to increase productivity without damaging your health. With time, it is likely that you will find more and more joy in your work, and the borders between work, play, and relaxation will blend


Polgar experiment should rather be understood as a case study
Question:
I do not think Polgar experiment was an scientific experiment. Can Laszlo Polgar reproduce his results? What are the control variables?
Answer:
Naturally, "Polgar experiment" does not meet strict laboratory science standards. It should rather be understood as a case study. Most of our knowledge of breeding genius is based on case studies. We can study IQ and its correlations but it is very difficult to measure human genius that goes far beyond dry IQ measurements. This is why it is difficult to design experiments, and this is why there is so much art mixed with science. Studying past and present geniuses is still one of the best ways of understanding great minds


Positive emotions do not have to be pleasant
Question:
Some negative emotions may have a positive effect. For example, feeling guilty after doing something wrong
Answer:
All emotions with a positive effect should be called positive. This does not have to imply they should be pleasurable. Feeling of guilt may result in a behavioral or attitudinal correction. It may be unpleasant but it is likely to produce a positive outcome. We will then classify guilt as a positive emotion. Naturally, an individual with a sturdy hierarchy of value and high self-discipline will rarely experience guilt or other punishing emotions. This is also why the attitude, philosophical outlook, and self-discipline are so important in developing a harmonious mind


A computer metaphor seems to be the simplest way of explaining the brain to non-technical people
Question:
Every child knows that the brain operates as a neural network not as a serial digital computer - your computer metaphor can lead to wrong conclusions!
Answer:
30 years ago, it would be very difficult to explain the way the brain works to an individual with little knowledge of neuroscience or computing sciences. Today, most people seem to understand the concepts of hardware and software. This opens a simple avenue towards explaining the brain to an average man in the street. The computer metaphor partly solves the problem of the representation of a genius brain in an average mind. A ball-and-stick model of the Solar System cannot be used to encompass all properties of the planets (e.g. their size), but it can excellently illustrate other properties (e.g. planetary configurations). Similarly, the computer metaphor of the brain cannot be used to illustrate memory formation (we all wish we could load memories like we load software), but it excellently illustrates brain's programmability and its limitations


Giftedness is not a precondition of genius
Question:
Dr Ellen Winner clearly states that not all children are gifted: "Gifted children are biologically different. If you doubt it, try to raise someone's 90 IQ to 150"
Answer:
Giftedness is strongly correlated with the rage to master and young man's early IQ. However, it only makes developing genius easier. It is not a precondition of genius. IQ scores are relative to the rest of the population and should not be used as a measure of the potential to achieve. This is also why there are not easily improved via training. The formula for genius includes knowledge, its use and emotional IQ. Many past geniuses such as Edison or Einstein would not have passed today's giftedness criteria. Others would have immediately fallen into ADHD category and be prescribed Ritalin (e.g. Tesla is a compelling case). Seemingly opposite views of Dr Winner and Dr Anders Ericsson of Florida State University are just two poles of the nature-vs.-nurture debate. Both are consistent with the theses presented in "The roots of genius and creativity"


Differences in personality underlie many correlations between sociopsychological variables
Question:
You write that destructive personality factors are highly correlated with each other, and that non-virgin girls are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide or drink alcohol. Do you think that being a non-virgin conditions these facts? Let's look at the logic: A -> B but it doesn't mean that B -> A. I think that in the case above it is quite the opposite, a girl practices teenage sex due to family problems, not the other way around
Answer:
Factors such as early pregnancy, alcoholism and suicide are strongly correlated. This statement does not predicate on the actual causality, which is always complex and subject to lengthy disputes among sociopsychologists. One cause must be stressed though: genetically determined neurohormonal profile of an individual. This is why personality factor plays such a decisive role in developing genius. Low serotonin individuals are more likely to suffer from depression, drug addition, bouts of violence, etc. This makes for a powerful factor that can underlie this and similar correlations


Delayed gratification skills develop slowly and are not a definite predictor of intellectual development  
Question:
Your statements on the importance of delayed gratification does not seem to apply to me. I was an awful child. If I wanted a toy I would lie on the street and scream as loud as I could until I got it. Today some people call me a genius. Am I an exception to the rule?
Answer:
Delayed gratification skills develop very slowly. In very young kids, they are almost non-existent. They are strongly correlated with intellectual development. Your ability to put up a fight for the toy might actually be an indicator of strongly developed motivational circuits. This could produce a welcome rage to master. Later, your rational brain probably took reign over these motivational circuits to help you persevere in whatever obstacles life throws at you. Yelling and screaming for a toy clearly isn't a reason for worry as long as it is gradually replaced with more efficient behavioral strategies


Geniuses can be found everywhere
Question:
In what professions can you find genius? Can a garbage collector be a genius?
Answer:
Geniuses are everywhere. Naturally they tend to gravitate towards science and other intellectually satisfying occupations. However, young geniuses in a number of countries are simply locked in a struggle for survival, which naturally limits their chances for full development. Some tend to withdraw from social life (cf. W. J. Sidis) and prefer to do lowly jobs to free their minds from the limits of the rat race. Others find excellent creative refuge in undemanding jobs and quiet offices. If you meet a shoeshine boy, housewife, patent clerk, or a shop assistant, do not jump to the conclusions!


Sheldon experiment is the state of the art in the area of understanding human needs
Question:
Sheldon experiment is flawed: The students answered in socially accepted ways. I can imagine they were afraid to admit to deriving satisfaction from money
Answer:
Sheldon experiment has been published in the reputable Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published by the American Psychological Association, which is the largest scientific and professional association representing psychology in the world. Flawed experimentation could not pass the impermeable peer-review barrier of this journal. Sheldon uses state of the art methodology in terms of theoretical background, data gathering, statistical analysis and the assessment of experimental limitations. Sheldon admits that students of psychology in the US and Korea are not representative to the entire population. He also admits that factor analysis on the same emotional components in reference to events spanning the lifetime might produce a different result. He builds on Maslow's theories and other sound theories of human needs, but props his argument up by a solid experiment on a relatively large sample (several hundred students). In conclusion, Sheldon's statements on what makes people happy can be considered the state of art in this field of psychology. The original article (including all tables and figures) is available from the American Psychological Association website: http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp802325.html


An idea does not have to be implemented to testify to creativity
Question:
Your usability criterion for creativity is questionable. The works of Babbage were proven workable today, but at his time they were useless. Does it mean Babbage was not creative? The same refers to the later discovered Turing's work on parallelism
Answer:
The presented definition of creativity includes the usability criterion. This refers to the idea, not to its implementation. Babbage's ideas were highly creative and the fact that he was not able to implement them does not detract from their usability.


All models are subject to misuse, which should not prevent modeling
Question:
I read Rod Brooks say (Brooks is director of the AI Lab at MIT): The fact that we use the technology as a metaphor for ourselves really locks us into the way we think. We think about human intelligence as these neurons with these electrical signals. When I was a kid the brain was a telephone switching network, then it became a digital computer, then it became a massively parallel digital computer. I'm sure there's a book out there now for kids that says the brain is the World Wide Web, and everything's cross-linked
Answer:
Models may lock us in the way we think, but their main purpose is just the opposite: to broaden our abstract reasoning. Until a better popular-scientific explanatory model is found, the computer metaphor makes wonders in explaining the brain, e.g. in reference to the concept of working out genius and creativity. Brooks spoke about the value of such a metaphor for building artificially intelligent systems, not for explaining the brain to non-technical folks


Great breakthroughs are often based on simple associations
Question:
You got your facts wrong by writing "it was not hard for Woz to envisage a simple computer: the keyboard would work like a typewriter. The messages would be displayed on a TV-like monitor". What Woz did for video display was revolutionary!
Answer:
This paragraph should by no means diminish Woz'es contribution. It is supposed to emphasize that geniuses can change the world in their lifetime, yet individual breakthroughs that lead to great theories and new inventions are all based on very simple associations. One of those simple associations was to combine a typewriter, TV and a processor. Woz has put a simple computer based on these principles as early as in 1970. Naturally, the whole string of minor-technical improvements coming from a knowledgeable and prolific mind, ultimately leads to multiple breakthroughs, new technologies, new trends, and whole new industries. Individual steps can be as simple as E=mc2, yet the speed and the variety of spluttering new creative associations makes genius minds change history


You should not lose sleep over unavoidable limitations
Question:
In his longevity books, brain expert Dr Restak lists an important factor of a healthy brain: accept unavoidable limitations. How does it square with your formula for genius? What if my brain does not live up to my dreams?

Dr. Restak's ten factors for healthy brain functioning are: 1) education, 2) curiosity, 3) energy, 4) keeping busy, 5) regular exercise, 6) acceptance of unavoidable limitations, 7) the need for diversity and novelty, 8) psychological continuity over the life span, 9) the maintenance of friends and social networks, and 10) the establishment and fostering of links with younger people

Answer:
In Negative and positive emotions, hints to optimism, patience and stoic philosophy encompass this important philosophical approach: accepting unavoidable internal and external limitations. This belongs to highly-effective techniques for eliminating stress. Whatever you cannot change should not leave any worrying mark on your mind. Unsolvable problems should not take up the processor time. All brains are inherently different in their ability to develop genius, but the main thesis of the article is that it does not affect the optimum strategy: lifelong learning. Whatever your starting point, the strategy is the same: go ahead. The only time mental limitations become highly relevant is when we identify a problem and techniques that could be used to address it. In other words, limitations become very relevant once they can be circumvented


Individual genius is not the best predictor of success in collective leadership
Question:
Your Bush Fallacy is erroneous. The fact is that Bush is indeed not doing well. He may have knowledge in other areas to compensate (e.g. social, political, etc.), but if it is so, it is not showing up. Instead he is making one diplomatic mistake after another. It seems to be the case of "at first I did not like him, but it was only because of prejudice. Now, with much more knowledge about him, I still do not like him...but for many other reasons!"
Answer:
The fallacy is not a pro-Bush argument in disguise. It is important to know that in teamwork, some qualities that make for an individual genius may actually be a hindrance. The greatest geniuses in history often showed substantial difficulty fitting into their surrounding and lacked teamwork skills. Tesla-Edison comparison was to amplify this point. Chess champions are notoriously erratic in social contacts (take Bobby Fischer as an excellent example). W. J. Sidis is probably the most dramatic case of all. The error many people make is to predict leadership qualities on the grounds of IQ or plain expertise. Bush's present and future record is irrelevant for this fallacy to hold true. Similar predictions were made in reference to a B-movie actor Ronald Reagan when he beat brainy Carter. Today, most Republicans would argue with satisfaction that predictions entirely missed the mark


Education as a formula for genius requires appropriate social and economical medium
Question:
Your statement that "a majority of population can reach today's standards of genius" is very encouraging for the opening. However, I feel that there is a large number of our global community whom the odds against achieving any standards is very slim under our present systems, policies and attitudes towards education, social inclusion and fairness for all. For example, in the most recent United Nations Human Development Report published recently, I found that of 17 Western countries surveyed, Ireland had the second highest rate of poverty (15.3%, or over half a million people). The only Western country that is worse than Ireland is the U.S. (16.5% living in poverty). Britain comes in 15th, the table is headed by Sweden with a rating of 6.8%. One major contributor to poverty is the high levels of functional illiteracy. Almost 23% of the Irish population is illiterate while in Britain the figure is 20%. And this is basic literacy tasks such as reading a bus time table. Another group of people in the poverty trap are those with physical disabilities unable to find employment due to discrimination by employers and companies failing to provide adequate facilities. The figure for unemployment among people with disabilities is 70% in Ireland. These sample figures are shameful and surely unacceptable in the Information Age. I suggest that creative imaginative thinking is required, starting from the bottom up. Outdated antiquated thinking must be placed in the annals of history and fresh all encompassing solutions be found. The bigger dilemma is for the people of the third world who must endure absolute poverty, children forced into slavery, armies, etc.
Answer:
You are absolutely right. This is exactly what worried Boris Sidis a century ago. The formula for genius via training naturally involves a number of preconditions that are difficult to meet for most of the population (peace, employment, access to education, access to health care, housing, access to the Internet, etc). For reasons of this site's focus, the article focuses on internal (or mental) barriers towards high intellectual achievement. There is no doubt that external barriers are by far more formidable. Superficially, we could conclude that nothing's changed since Boris Sidis's time. However, several powerful forces have come to play only recently that bode well for an acceleration of positive change. This century was a century of democracy with only six nations in the club in 1900. With the amazing liberation of Africa in the 1960s and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, self-determination and, in part, democracy have taken irreversible root. The other factor is the Internet. It will sprawl along the continents and contribute to educating the Israelis about the Palestinians and vice versa. In summer 2000, the first Internet cafe opened in Baghdad. China's Internet use is exploding. Forces of history take decades to mold the planet, but we live in times when it no longer takes a lifetime to see tangible progress. We are bombarded daily with signs of change which is overwhelmingly positive. The Long Boom article from Wired is a recommended reading in this context


IQ of 120 is enough for a Nobel Prize
Question:
I have an IQ of 120. That is not bad but ... do you really believe I can go on to genius achievement?
Answer:
Why not? Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman's IQ was 122. Yet he is considered one of the greatest physicists in the US history


Chess grandmasters use different areas of their brain to plan chess moves
Question:
Except for theorizing, introspection and anecdote, is there really a scientific evidence that great chess players "memorize" chess positions instead of just using their best intuition to make good guesses?
Answer:
Yes. Grandmasters do use heuristics ("intuition") to pick the best rules to apply to the current configuration of pieces. However, brain imaging shows that they use their frontal and parietal cortex more extensively than amateur players who rather use medial temporal cortex involved with new associations and working memory. In other words, brain scans indeed show that grandmasters' planning is more of a retrieval process than it is the case with amateurs who sweat through working analysis of possible move combinations


Can people be intelligent and not creative?
Question:
According to your definitions, can people be intelligent and not creative?
Answer:
Intelligence equated with the problem solving capacity (i.e. not plain IQ) will require a high degree of creative power. In other words, ability to quickly produce rich abstract associations is part of the problem solving power. The less creative you are, the less your intelligence. However, creativity is not the only component in problem solving. If you want to efficiently multiply multiple-digit numbers in your memory, there is no branching in the mental derivation. Consequently, ordinary IQ tests will be a poor measure of creativity. Here an attention-deficit personality will be less efficient in reaching the goal. In short, creativity is a vital but not the only component of intelligence


What makes a genius?
Question:
I want to know where the genius begins from person to person, inside the womb, genes involved, blood types, etc.
Answer:
Genius is too complex to list all contributing factors. Some of these are genetic, some are related to the personality, some are unknown yet, and some come from the environment and training. Naturally we have little impact on the genetic component. It is also very difficult to shape the personality. However, a conducive environment and years training can lift a seemingly average person to amazing levels of skill or expertise. See: Genius Checklist:  to see some factors that can be influenced to enhance genius


Knowledge of idioms is not a reliable predictor of a potential for intellectual growth
(Victor, Sunday, August 21, 2005 6:55 AM)
Question:
Should a 15-year-old 10th grade student be expected to, using his intuitive and analytical faculties, understand and interpret idiomatic expressions such as "every cloud has a silver lining" and "put a spoke in the wheel", without having ever heard them before, and without hearing them in a proper context? 

I only ask because, when I was 15 years old (I am now 23 y/o), my school had sent me to a youth counselor (for disciplinary reasons), and the counselor had asked me to interpret a list of idiomatic expressions, a few of which I had never heard before and had trouble understanding (I understand them all now, and, in retrospect, it seems a bit funny to me that I actually had difficulty understanding them at all). But I guess what I'm asking is, did my failure to understand them reflect a larger learning disability? Should I have known them? Is it normal that I had some difficulty with them?  Were my answers to such questions supposed to predict or determine my future intellectual ability? Does this actually even fall under "logical/analytical" thinking?  Is understanding such expressions a matter of simply reading more--a matter of broader exposure--or is it innate? Does difficulty understanding them simply reflect lack of reading (which can easily be remedied by more reading), or does it reflect inherent ability? Can one really understand "an axe to grind" without hearing it in a context, or must one learn it as a whole unit of vocabulary, as one might look up a word? 

Needless to say, I am very familiar with all of these idioms now--and I don't quite remember how and where I learned them. 

Even though I suspect I know the answers to such questions, I think I still need some validation. In the eight years that have elapsed since my sessions with that counselor, I never once gave any thought to them until the other night, when, out of the blue, they just popped into my head while I was reading. I am now in college, and this recalled memory has been mentally and intellectually paralyzing. It has caused me to ponder many unsettling questions. Even though I do great in school, I've never been one to place much stock in grades--I somehow always fear that my professors made a mistake. And no matter what I get on an exam or term paper, I always question my ability, and I am never satisfied. I am an enthusiastic math major, and now I find myself wondering if my efforts are all for naught all because of a few questions. It is these questions that have plunged me into a crisis of confidence as I begin to question everything about myself, and my mind tends to latch onto the more negative thoughts. Am I making too big a deal out of nothing? 

Answer:
Understanding idiomatic expression is a reflection of the amount of past contact with a quality language (esp. quality reading). To a retentive mind, less reading will be needed to capture the meaning of idioms, but reading, listening, conversation, etc. are always the primary sources of such knowledge. In other words, if a 15-year-old does not know these expressions, it speaks of the volume of previous reading, yet predicates little on the actual mental faculties or the potential for intellectual growth. After all, most idioms cannot be in any way decoded and understood without prior explanation or without context. 

To sum it up: yes, you do make too big a deal of it. If your mathematical skills have been noticed, you should not be inhibited in pursuing a career in the field. You have already, or you will polish your knowledge of idioms. Moreover, there are many science geniuses who continually neglect their prose reading. Most likely, some Nobel prize winners do not know some basic idioms either. Belief in your mental powers and your growth potential are essential for your further progress. Lack of it is a powerful inhibitor. For that reason, the faster you stop pondering over the issue, the better. 

Incidentally, every could has a silver lining is far more popular than put a spoke in the wheel (e.g. 100 times higher Google count). In other words, they should be applied to quite different levels of linguistic proficiency. Both seem quite hard to test on a 15-year-old. Knowledge of these expressions might be an optimistic indicator for a youngster. However, lack of this idiomatic insight says very little of the individual at this age.


Does 1969 matter?
(Chris K., Monday, October 23, 2000 11:24 PM)
Question:
You seem to value efficiency. That's the whole point of SuperMemo. That's the selling point of SuperMemo. I don't see how learning trivia presented in your articles contribute to efficiency. What's the importance of memorizing the fact that the Internet started in 1969?
Answer:
Using the same reasoning you might insist that memorizing 7x7=49 is equally trivial. Yet the multiplication table makes it easier to go through algebra. And other branches of mathematics. And engineering. And ultimately, 7x7 helps you in your rocket science pursuits. 1969 is just a hook-point in the history of technology. If similar reference points were to be considered unimportant, you would have to give up the entire technology timeline. This way you would lose the ability to project the technological development into the future. You would weaken your predictive power. Consequently, you will not be able to see the directions and trends with prophetic clarity. In the new economy, your position would be severely weakened, esp. if you plan to stay on the cutting edge. It is no coincidence that all technological visionaries frequently quote cases from the history of technology. They use it as the groundwork for building their own visions. Why do kids learn history? If dates were trivia, they might put Homo erectus after the pyramids, or Newton ahead of Copernicus. That would make it harder to discount Atlantis or understand relativity. Kids learn history so as not to repeat it. They learn it to build a better future


Chess grandmasters use different areas of their brain to plan chess moves
Question:
Except for theorizing, introspection and anecdote, is there really a scientific evidence that great chess players "memorize" chess positions instead of just using their best intuition to make good guesses?
Answer:
Yes. Grandmasters do use heuristics ("intuition") to pick the best rules to apply to the current configuration of pieces. However, brain imaging shows that they use their frontal and parietal cortex more extensively than amateur players who rather use medial temporal cortex involved with new associations and working memory. In other words, brain scans indeed show that grandmasters' planning is more of a retrieval process than it is the case with amateurs who sweat through working analysis of possible move combinations


SuperMemo can be used for generating and organizing new ideas (#17778)
(Mark Zebitz , Denmark, Saturday, June 21, 2003 9:43 AM)
Question:
Is it possible to use SuperMemo as an Idea-generator?
Answer:
Yes. A little known and a scantly publicized value of incremental reading is its power to combine unrelated pieces of information in the learn&review process. As the creative process is strongly rooted in remote associations, incremental reading can make a powerful contribution to forming new ideas. This will work less effectively if you try to come up with a new advertising slogan. This may not work at all if you are a composer. However, incremental reading may be an excellent tool in building scientific models. On one hand it will help you build upon your own ideas, on the other, it can be used to resolve contradictions in large bodies of data. 

To use SuperMemo as an idea generator use the following steps: 

  1. learn the basics of incremental reading
  2. describe your present knowledge and ideas in SuperMemo in as much detail as possible 
  3. import related pieces of knowledge that will serve as a knowledge framework or supplementary inspiration 
  4. process this material using the tools of incremental reading 
  5. each time you hit upon a new idea, describe it in detail (try to document the reasoning path, associations and the dates to be able to backtrack on the creative process) 
  6. if you produce more material than you can process, use randomized review (e.g. Randomize Repetitions), subset review (Search and Review) and subset postpone (Search and Postpone)

Classical brainstorming scoring techniques can be replaced with the use of A-Factors that determine the priority of individual pieces of information in incremental reading. You can also use the forgetting index to prioritize generated cloze deletions.

Remember to capitalize on your own physiology. You need to understand the mental states favoring the creative process. You may get excellent results after your morning coffee. The exactly same procedure applied when you are drowsy may produce nothing. See: Genius and Creativity. Sadly, a creative personality and excellent command of incremental reading are two important sine qua nons of success that may make this advice hard to follow


You can learn mathematics and problem solving with SuperMemo (#27294)
(SRD, WedAug11,2004 10:32 pm)
Question:
Mathematics is a field where the methods optimal for learning are well-known, and provide a basis for generalizing to other fields. You say that mathematics is an exception because of its deductive character. To learn mathematics, repetitive practice is essential. But the practice is in solving problems, not reciting answers.
Answer:
MATHEMATICS IS NOT AN EXCEPTION: Amongst areas of application for SuperMemo, mathematics is not exactly an exception. It is rather used as an example of a domain where inferential knowledge dominates over factual knowledge. In the continuous spectrum of applicability that runs from (1) fields that leave less room for SuperMemo (non-neural learning, procedural learning, etc.) to (2) fields where SuperMemo shines (learning languages, medical sciences, etc.), mathematics lies somewhere in the middle. SuperMemo will be helpful for a mathematician, but it will not be as mission-critical as it is for a medical student. What makes mathematics special is its power of abstraction. We can use it to model reasoning, problem solving, creativity, etc. We can also model the learning process that leads to developing a mind armed with powerful problem solving capability. 

MODELING A MATHEMATICIAN: We can use a simplified model of a "mathematician" that shows where SuperMemo is not applicable. Imagine an individual whose sole job in life is solving instances of Towers of Hanoi fed to his room along some helping of food. His job is entirely algorithmic. He will use 3 algorithmic rules to solve instances of the problem. He will not need SuperMemo to keep the rules in memory because he will apply them hundreds of times per day. All facts that he needs to keep in his memory are instantaneous descriptions of the problem currently being solved. Working memory is all he needs to keep facts. Our mathematician does not need SuperMemo for neither facts nor rules. However, once the job of the mathematician becomes more complex, once he needs more rules, once there are rules classified as "you-never-know-might-be-needed", once the number of recognition patterns increases, once the derivation trees need to be stored long-term in memory for backtracking (be it brain or paper), the room for spaced repetition increases. Last but not least, mathematicians do not solely live by problem solving. They need to remember faces and names. Then need to understand basic rules for staying fit and healthy. They need to understand the politics of the department, which in turn will demand some psychology, sociology, or economics. They will often seek inspiration in fact-rich history of mathematics. They will want to understand their place and context in the community, nation, planet and the universe. Even if their field is purely inferential and they reuse a simple set of rules on a daily basis, there is still a world of things they would like to understand and remember. 

LEARNING BY DOING IS COSTLY: Everyone knows that solving instances of problems is a very powerful way of learning to use the rules in practise. Nothing ensures correct rule pattern matching better than detecting the pattern in a set of camouflaged conditions where the rule is applicable. That comes from the definition of neural networks. However, pattern instantiation and problem solving are costly in terms of time. You will definitely want to test and apply most critical rules that determine your success in the field. However, retaining a formula in SuperMemo may cost you as little as 1 minute per lifetime. Using the same formula in a practical application may take far more. Deriving the formula on your own may take a day or a week or a year. It is not practical to test, let alone derive, all rules you consider valuable. This is the matter of benefit-to-cost ratio. At times, you will take the risk of failing to match the pattern, for the simple sake of saving time. You will counterbalance the risk of failing a match on one rule, by arming your mind with more rules applicable to the same situation, or applicable in an entirely different field. Example: Few people actually use quadratic equations in practise. Yet few would forgo this primary school knowledge if all it took to retain it was 1-3 minutes of their lives. Few will find it necessary to practise solving quadratic equations to ensure the applicability of the formulas. Yet fewer would be able to afford time for practicing. The net result: most people would simply memorize the formulas and proceed to more applicable areas of knowledge. Learning by doing is powerful. Yet it is expensive. If you divide your day into portions devoted to learning and portions devoted to doing (i.e. production or creativity), you may in time discover that SuperMemo provides a very good return on investment in your learning slot, while "learning by doing" should best be reserved for your "production" slot, i.e. where you apply the power of knowledge in practise for generating value. 

REASON IT OUT: It is true that memorizing answers to problems is rarely sensible. Primarily, we would like to remember the rules (e.g. mathematical formulas). It is the rules that underlie the inferential power of the mind. However, there are many ways in which you can boost your mathematical powers through memorization. You may want to learn facts, rules, derivations and in rare instances, also literal solutions. Here is the list with short examples: 

There are neural networks you cannot easily reach, there are memory states that are not easy to evoke, there is pattern matching that requires instantiation (learning by example), there are expert behaviors that are difficult to formalize; however, SuperMemo, introspection and learning by trial-and-error should be your powerful allies in understanding the basis of mental processes underlying problem solving and creativity


The stress of self-discipline can be overcome.
(Darien Chen, Thursday, November 17, 2011 18:24 PM)
Question:
It is rather unambiguous that self discipline is necessary for maximal utility and contribution of value from learning. However, another advice you give is to minimize stress.
Is self discipline inherently stressful? Delaying gratification, productivity, efficiency, and whatnot: aren't these taxing on the body? What is your advice on surmounting this? This has been bothering me
Answer:
Self-discipline can be stressful. One of the tricks you can employ is to gradually impose harder and harder conditions on your performance. It is always better to start slow and easy. Millions of people fail their New Year resolutions because they aim too high and start too hard. They opt for a difference between Dec 31 and Jan 1 that is simply just too large to bear in the long run. If you decide today that you will learn Spanish 10 min. per day and every day, you are more likely to succeed for a while. If you survive a week, you could make it 12 min and be boosted by the results of the first week and your success in persisting in your own resolutions. After 2-3 weeks, you will be tempted to add another resolution, e.g. 10 min. of evening exercise, or a morning jogging around the block, etc. You can  keep expanding the list each time you know all your weaknesses and strenghts in executing the previous list of resolutions. If you fail, you will know you asked for too much. You can start again with more modest goals. Your biology and psychology cannot be ignored. You cannot jump over certain biological obstacles. It may take years to reach your maximum potential. You will need to figure out many things about your health, your sleep, your psychology, your rhythms, your ability to combat disruptions, your ability to take it on the chin, etc. With knowledge and experience, the stress factor will be replaced with the happy sense of producitivity. The key is to progress gradually and never stop learning (incl. learning about yourself)