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Avoiding Ignorance

This is a continuation of two types of ignorance.

You can’t deal with ignorance if you can’t recognize its presence. If you’re suffering from primary ignorance it means you probably failed to consider the possibility of being ignorant or you found ways not to see that you were ignorant.

You’re ignorant and unaware, which is worse than being ignorant and aware.

The best way to avoid this, suggests Joy and Zeckhauser, is to raise self-awareness.

Ask yourself regularly: “Might I be in a state of consequential ignorance here?”

They continue:

If the answer is yes, the next step should be to estimate base rates. That should also be the next step if the starting point is recognized ignorance.

Of all situations such as this, how often has a particular outcome happened. Of course, this is often totally subjective.

and its underpinnings are elusive. It is hard to know what the sample of relevant past experiences has been, how to draw inferences from the experience of others, etc. Nevertheless, it is far better to proceed to an answer, however tenuous, than to simply miss (primary ignorance) or slight (recognized ignorance) the issue. Unfortunately, the assessment of base rates is challenging and substantial biases are likely to enter.

When we don’t recognize ignorance the base rate is extremely underestimated. When we do recognize ignorance, we face “duelling biases; some will lead to underestimates of base rates and others to overestimates.”

Three biases come into play while estimating base rates: overconfidence, salience, and selection biases.

So we are overconfident in our estimates. We estimate things that are salient – that is, “states with which (we) have some experience or that are otherwise easily brought to mind.” And “there is a strong selection bias to recall or retell events that were surprising or of great consequence.”

Our key lesson is that as individuals proceed through life, they should always be on the lookout for ignorance. When they do recognize it, they should try to assess how likely they are to be surprised—in other words, attempt to compute the base rate. In discussing this assessment, we might also employ the term “catchall” from statistics, to cover the outcomes not specifically addressed.

It’s incredibly interesting to view literature through the lens of human decision making.

Crime and Punishment is particularly interesting as a study of primary ignorance. Raskolnikov deploys his impressive intelligence to plan the murder, believing, in his ignorance, that he has left nothing to chance. In a series of descriptions not for the squeamish or the faint-hearted, the murderer’s thoughts are laid bare as he plans the deed. We read about his skills in strategic inference and his powers of prediction about where and how he will corner his victim; his tactics at developing complementary skills (what is the precise manner in which he will carry the axe?; what strategies will help him avoid detection) are revealed.

But since Raskolnikov is making decisions under primary ignorance, his determined rationality is tightly “bounded.” He “construct[s] a simplified model of the real situation in order to deal with it; … behaves rationally with respect to this model, [but] such behavior is not even approximately optimal with respect to the real world” (Simon 1957). The second-guessing, fear, and delirium at the heart of Raskolnikov’s thinking as he struggles to gain a foothold in his inner world show the impact of a cascade of Consequential Amazing Development’s (CAD), none predicted, none even contemplated. Raskolnikov anticipated an outcome in which he would dispatch the pawnbroker and slip quietly out of her apartment. He could not have possibly predicted that her sister would show up, a characteristic CAD that challenges what Taleb (2012) calls our “illusion of predictability.”

Joy and Zeckhauser argue we can draw two conclusions.

First, we tend to downplay the role of unanticipated events, preferring instead to expect simple causal relationships and linear developments. Second, when we do encounter a CAD, we often counter with knee-jerk, impulsive decisions, the equivalent of Raskolnikov committing a second impetuous murder.

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References: Ignorance: Lessons from the Laboratory of Literature (Joy and Zeckhauser).

Never Heard of It

I’ve been thinking about this ever since someone sent me Lyza’s beautiful article Never Heard of It.

Not long before, I had started noticing a habit I had, a tendency to nod or make vague assentive noises when people around me talked about things I’d never heard of.

When I did this, my motivation wasn’t to claim knowledge I didn’t have as much as to deflect a need for outright admission of ignorance. I’d let the moment glide past and later scamper off to furtively study up.

I recognized this in myself, this fear of looking like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and I didn’t love it. At the same time, there was so much to keep on top of … that to be entirely informed about all of these things wasn’t feasible either, no matter the level of effort.

I decided that I wanted to come to terms with not knowing everything, to be able to say never heard of it and not feel panicky.

Her fear, probably one we all share at some level, wasn’t that she didn’t want to look like she didn’t know what she was doing but maybe that she actually didn’t know what she was doing.

And no one wants to draw attention to themselves by asking a ‘stupid’ question. Or pointing out they don’t know.

In group settings, this has lead to what psychologists call ‘pluralistic ignorance,’a psychological state characterized by the belief that one’s private thoughts are different from those of others. This causes huge problems in organizations.

Consider an example. You’re in a large meeting with the senior management of your organization to discuss an initiative that spans across the organization and involves everyone in the room. You hear words come out, someone may even ask you, do you follow? And yes, of course you follow — you don’t want to be the only person in the room without a clue.

“To admit to ignorance, uncertainty or ambivalence” writes Tim Kreider, “is to cede your place on the masthead, your slot on the program, and allow all the coveted eyeballs to turn instead to the next hack who’s more than happy to sell them all the answers.” No wonder we have such a hard time owning up when we don’t know something.

So you walk out of the room wondering what you just agreed to do. You have no idea. Your stress goes up, you run around asking others, and quickly discover they are just as confused as you are.

This project isn’t doomed, it’s just a lot more work now than it needs to be. You either guess at what was intended and take a leap of faith or you spend an endless amount of time and organizational energy chasing this down after the meeting.

Information is coming to us with greater velocity and magnitude. “I don’t know” might be the most powerful admission you can make in the internet era.

How To Avoid Getting Sick

This time of year brings out more than just the holiday spirit. It’s cold and flu season and not a day goes by where I don’t see someone sniffling or coughing.

Here are 7 simple tips to keep in mind that will help prevent cold and flu.

1. Wash your hands.
This is something you should be doing a lot. Most of what we do every day, involves touch. Consider my local coffee shop, at least two—and often three—people touch that cup before it even gets to me. I’m not a germaphobe, yet if you’re only going to do one thing, do this.

2. Don’t pick your nose, rub your eyes, or otherwise touch your face.
My mom told me ‘this is the way germs get in’ and she was right. Even with relatively clean hands, odds are there are some germs. One of the easiest ways to transmit virus is through your nose, mouth, and eyes. Keep your hands away. Oh and don’t bite your nails.

3. Avoid sick people.
Sick people often have sick germs. Stay away from these people. If you’re sick don’t go to work. Every office has that person who shows up to ‘tough-it-out’ and everyone secretly hates that they are at work.

4. Avoid the social jet-lag (i.e., sleep).
Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of catching a cold. When you feel like you’re starting to get sick do the world a favour and take the day off to rest.

5. Drink plenty of water.
Not juice, water. If you want juice, eat an orange.

6. Pass on the booze.
If your body is fighting a cold or the flu, why would you ask it to do even more. That’s like taking the busiest person you know and saying, hey can you do this too? Skip the booze for a few days if you think you’re fighting something.

7. Fast
Skip a meal. When you’re sick your body does this naturally through lack of appetite. But when you’re fighting something, you can choose to do it. This is what animals do when they’re fighting an illness or serious infection. Don’t skip the water.

Four Questions To Ask Yourself Before Opening Your Mouth


A friend passed along a copy of Yoga Wisdom at Work.

The book is a quick read. I took enough away from it to feel like it was time well spent.

One of the best parts of the book for me was on authentic conversations and the right speech.

Here are four questions to consider each time you speak.

1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
3. Is it kind?
4. Does it improve upon the silence?

These can be incorporated into the acronym THINK: True, Helpful, Improves upon the silence, Necessary, and Kind.

Here is the discussion on the three elements of truth that followed:

It is no coincidence that the first question is about truth. That is the standard of satya, the second yama. We see truth as having three facets:

1. Telling the truth as you know it.
2. Being willing to hear another’s truth as they know it.
3. Understanding that many things can be true at the same time.

At work, the third point is an important and often over-looked facet of a truth-telling where version of “What happened here?” and “Who did what?” are numerous and have significant ramifications. When things get derailed or problems arise, trying to untangle “who said what to whom and when” can create an energy-sapping blame game. In addition, claiming that your experience is the only “truth” is the antithesis of learning. The lessons of discovery that spring from understanding multiple points of view, each of which is experienced as true for the individual, get lost in defensiveness and recrimination.

Acknowledging that many things can be true at the same time enhances your ability to truly hear others, be curious about their point of view, and find common understanding that serves the whole.

As Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

THINK before you speak.

(image via blue mountain fitness)

The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are


“Friendships are the least institutionalized and most voluntary social relationship we have.”

In Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, Carlin Flora explores “the powerful and often unappreciated role that friends—past and present—play in determining our sense of self and the direction of our lives.”

What is Friendship?

Friendships are the least institutionalized and most voluntary social relationship we have. Our friends can cycle in and out of our hearts and calendars; they can be our “everything” or just a refreshing anomaly, a small pop of color in a busy social landscape. Amorphous in nature, friendship fills in the cracks left open by our personalities, or backgrounds, or temporary circumstances. Friends adapt to our needs and styles, and we to theirs. Perhaps we’ll never arrive at a precise definition, but descriptions of true friends can bring a jolt of recognition.

De Amicitia
Cicero, in somewhere around 44 BC, wrote De Amicitia, a beautiful piece on friendship. In it, he writes:

[H]ow can life be what Ennius calls “the life worth living,” if it does not repose on the mutual goodwill of a friend? What is sweeter than to have someone with whom you may dare discuss anything as if you were communing with yourself? How could your enjoyment in times of prosperity be so great if you did not have someone whose joy in them would be equal to your own?

Cicero defines friendship as “complete sympathy in all matters of importance, plus goodwill and affection.”

Montaigne was no stranger to friendship either. He penned a work on the subject “Of Friendship,” in 1580. Portraying his usually strong bond with Étienne de La Boétie.

Friendship as Love

The closest of friendships contain the mysterious spark of attraction and connection as well as drama, tension, envy, sacrifice, and love. For some, it’s the highest form of love there is.

Predicting Friendship Duration

The longer you are friends with someone, the more likely you’ll continue to be friends. Time spent as friends is the best predictor of friendship longevity.

Parenting and Creating a Sense of Entitlement
While The Secrets of Happy Families primarily concerns the present happiness of your family, long term implications need to be considered. Maximizing the short term at the cost of the long term needs to be considered. Often what’s great in the short term creates horrible outcomes. For instance, you could go shoot meth right now. You’d wreck your life, but it’d be a great few hours to start.

Some researchers believe that parents who were concerned more with being “liked” as a friend than with being respected as a leader caused the uptick in feelings of entitlement and narcissistic traits among today’s young people, compared to the youth of 1979.

What Does Friendship Mean to You?

If I ask you, “What does friendship mean to you?” you might say loyalty or compatibility, in the abstract. However, if I ask you why eight different people are your friends, I’ll bet you would describe their individual qualities, the circumstances in which you met, and the traits they tend to bring out in you— this one invites you to fun parties and that one challenges you to be a better person. In other words, asking people to define friendship in the first place is a bit like asking people to define flowers. Friends have baseline characteristics just as flowers are basically the blossoms of a plant, but beyond that they are unique and thrive under very different conditions.

As hard to grasp as it is, friendship brings with it a host of benefits to mood and health.

Solid friendships can help you shed pounds, sleep better, stop smoking, and even survive a major illness. They can also improve memory and problem-solving abilities, break down prejudices and ethnic rivalries, motivate people to achieve career dreams, and even repair a broken heart.

We are generally unaware that our friends influence everything “from our basic linguistic habits to our highest aspirations.” The converse is also true. Without friends it’s easier to spiral downward.

[H]aving few social ties is an equivalent mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even riskier than being obese or not exercising!

Evolution and Friends

Evolutionary psychologists theorize that friendship has roots in our early dependence on others for survival. Having a friend help you hunt, for instance, made it more likely that you and your family—and your hunting buddy and his family—would have food cooking over the fire.

Just because we don’t build fires and hunt in packs doesn’t mean we don’t need friends today.

Anthropologists have found compelling evidence of friendship throughout history and across cultures. Universally, we’re built to care deeply about select people outside of our kin group. It’s hard to construct a personal life history that doesn’t include important parts for one’s friends.

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg points out that “more people live alone now than at any time in history.” So the argument goes that if more people are living outside of traditional family structures friends become even more important.

More than for single people, friendships often help marriages.

Friends are also important for parents and those who are married or living with a romantic partner. Time with friends is actually our most pleasant time: We are most likely to experience positive feelings and least likely to experience negative ones when we are with friends compared to when we are with a spouse, child, coworker, relative, or anyone else. We’re not surprised when we hear people grumbling about how they have to attend a family holiday party, yet it would puzzle us to hear the same people complain about having to go to a celebration full of their friends.

Friends or Families?
Why do we prefer spending time with our friends over our families?

Some say it is because we pick our friends (God’s consolation prize) while we don’t pick our families. Insofar as we choose our spouses and decide to have children, we do have some say over our families. More likely, our time with our pals is more enjoyable because of our expectations. When we’re with friends, we bring sympathy and understanding and leave out some of the grievances we carry into interactions with family members. We tend to demand less from friends than we do from relatives or our romantic partners, and each friend provides us distinct benefits.

Busy Parents Should Stop Considering Friendships a Nonessential Luxury.

When working parents devote every scrap of free time to their children, their friendships are the first thing to slide. We know from research (and our own intuition quickly confirms this) that expecting one’s spouse to be everything is a recipe for disaster. Leaning on friends for intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and even just fun activities relieves the pressure of the overheated nuclear family. Busy moms and dads would do well to stop considering friends to be a nonessential luxury.

Time With Friends

The more friends want and enjoy our company, the more we tend to enjoy theirs, whereas lovers sometimes become more desirable the more they pull away from us.

Friends Make Work Better

If you can count at least three dear friends at the office, you are 96 percent more likely to be extremely satisfied with life in general.

As the role of friendship seems to expand in our culture, Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, offers a look at the often under-appreciated influence it has on “our personalities, habits, physical health, and even our chances of success in life.”

A History of Genius


“Geniuses … were believed to possess rare and special powers: the power to create, redeem, and destroy; the power to penetrate the fabric of the universe; the power to see into the future, or to see into our souls.”

The notion of what constitutes genius and what doesn’t is a focal point of culture.

In Divine Fury: A History of Genius, acclaimed historian Darrin M. McMahon traces the history of genius “from the ancient world to the present day.” Along the way, McMahon points us towards fascinating individuals who helped bring the idea of genius to life.

GENIUS. SAY THE WORD OUT LOUD. Even today, more than 2,000 years after its first recorded use by the Roman author Plautus, it continues to resonate with power and allure. The power to create. The power to divine the secrets of the universe. The power to destroy. With its hints of madness and eccentricity, sexual prowess and protean possibility, genius remains a mysterious force, bestowing on those who would assume it superhuman abilities and godlike powers. Genius, conferring privileged access to the hidden workings of the world. Genius, binding us still to the last vestiges of the divine.

Such lofty claims may seem excessive in an age when football coaches and rock stars are frequently described as “geniuses.” The luster of the word—once reserved for a pantheon of eminence, the truly highest of the high—has no doubt faded over time, the result of inflated claims and general overuse. The title of a BBC television documentary on the life of the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman sums up the situation: “No Ordinary Genius.”

Genius and Religion

A long-range history in ideas is particularly well-suited to teasing out genius’s intimate connection to the divine, a connection that few serious analysts of the subject have explored. On the one hand, natural and social scientists since the nineteenth century have attempted to unlock genius’s secrets, to understand its nature and develop its nurture, probing the conditions that might bring it about. But in their relentless efforts to identify the many attributes of genius—and then to quantify and compare them—these researchers have tended to dismiss genius’s religious reception and appeal as so much superstition.

A very different group of scholars, on the other hand, working in the fields of literary theory, art history, and criticism, has been inclined to reject the notion of genius altogether, toppling it from the privileged place it once held as an arbiter of aesthetic distinction. Genius and geniuses, they have argued, are myths that should be deconstructed and then dismissed, like so many ideological relics from the past. The impetus behind this work was certainly instructive— for the notion of genius, like many religious notions, has undoubtedly served a mythic role. But to simply write it off as an outmoded aesthetic ideal or a vestige from the days when history was concocted as the story of great men is to miss much that is interesting in this potent force.

Finally, a third group of scholars, far from dismissing the religious appeal of genius, has embraced it. Writing in the 1930s, the American popular historian Will Durant noted that “in an age that would level everything and reverence nothing,” the worship of genius was the “final religion,” demanding obeisance, not critique. “When genius stands in our presence,” Durant declared, “we can only bow down before it as an act of God, a continuance of creation.” More recently, if no less reverently, the well-known critic Harold Bloom has imagined geniuses as Kabbalistic representations of God. God. “We need genius, however envious or uncomfortable it makes many among us,” Bloom affirmed. “Our desire for the transcendental and the extraordinary seems part of our common heritage, and abandons us slowly, and never completely.” Bloom is right about the stubborn desire for transcendence; it will draw close attention in this book. But rather than reproduce the religion of genius, or treat it as a myth that merits only dismissal, the phenomenon must first be understood on its own terms and explained.


The word itself is Latin, and for the ancient Romans who first used it and then bequeathed the term to us, a genius was a guardian spirit, a god of one’s birth who accompanied individuals throughout life, connecting them to the divine. The Roman genius, without question, was very far from the modern “genius,” conceived as an individual of exceptional creativity and insight. The latter understanding of the word only gained currency in the eighteenth century …

The Making of a Genius

The making of a genius was a process akin to the “origination of a god,” a process of “deification” in which human beings invested others with mysterious powers and then bowed before them in awe. It followed that genius was invariably a “relationship” between the many and the one, a relationship that had come into being for specific historical reasons and that would, Lange-Eichbaum ventured, disappear in time. At the present moment, however, the relationship to genius was one of “semi-religious dogmatism.” Therein lay the problem. Charged with supernatural authority and invested with mystery and power, the notion of genius was dangerous.

The Darker side of Genius

To speak of Hitler as a genius may seem unsettling, even shocking. Revelations that the singer Michael Jackson did so several years ago provoked an international outcry. But whatever the warped musings of the late pop star, to describe Hitler as a genius here is not to condone his actions or character in any way, or even to comment on his abilities, such as they were. It is simply to call attention to the fact that the label was crucial to his rise to power and public cult.

We are less familiar with the darker side of genius today. We tend to focus on the heroic version that brings to mind the good genius of Einstein.

Historians, by and large, have abetted this triumph, showing themselves little inclined to think of genius in connection with a man like Hitler. Their reluctance is understandable. Yet if we wish to appreciate the role that genius has played in the modern world, we must recall the evil with the good, bearing in mind as we do so the uncomfortable thought that genius is ultimately the product of the hopes and longings of ordinary people. We are the ones who marvel and wonder, longing for the salvation genius might bring. We are the ones who pay homage and obeisance. In a very real sense, the creator of genius is us.

It starts in Classical Greece

It begins in classical Greece, when poets, philosophers, and statesmen first entertained the question of what makes the greatest men great, initiating a conversation that was continued by the Romans. What power did Socrates possess to make him the wisest of all men? What godlike force moved through Alexander or Julius Caesar as they leveled all before them? Why was the poet Homer able to sing like no other? What special something did these great-souled men possess? What special something possessed them?

Christians took up these and related questions in a centuries-long rumination that continued into the early modern period, adapting the language of the ancients to suit their own image of the God-man Christ and the prophets and saints who struggled to imitate his perfection. Possessed by the Holy Spirit, or lifted up by the heavenly angels, the great-souled man might aspire to be perfect as God was perfect. But how could he be sure that an angel was not a demon; that the holy ghost was not a specter, sent by Satan, to tempt him, the way Satan tempted Faust, offering the key to all knowledge in return for one’s soul? How could one be sure that those seized by higher powers were not mad, their souls stirred by dark humors and melancholy fits? Well into the Renaissance, when men like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci sought to render God’s beauty and reproduce the perfection of his creation, these remained vital questions.

It is worth listening closely to the answers. For although there is no single notion of genius that coheres magically over time, there are coherent ways of imagining how the highest beings might appear and what a beautiful mind might entail. Those early imaginings were present at the modern genius’s birth, and they lend insight into what the genius in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would become.

The modern genius was born in the eighteenth century—conceived, in keeping with long-standing prejudices, almost exclusively as a man. There were precedents for this birth, stretching all the way back to antiquity. But that the birth itself occurred in the bright place of deliverance we call “the Enlightenment” is clear.

There are two broad transformations that are key to McMahon’s understanding of the emergence of genius.

The first has to do with religious change, and, more specifically, with what has been described as the “withdrawal of God,” along with the disavowal and dismissal of a range of spiritual companions—spirits and angels, prophets, apostles, and saints—who had long served human beings as guardians and mediators to the divine. That dismissal was by no means uniformly accepted. But the scale was nonetheless significant and the consequences profound. For not only did it leave men and women alone in the world with their Creator; it did so at the very moment that the Creator was appearing to many to be more distant, more remote, more withdrawn, and less likely to intervene in human affairs than he had been (or so it seemed) in earlier times. To reach the realm of the sacred, to get to God— if indeed he even existed, as an emboldened minority was inclined to wonder—was more difficult than ever before. A vast space opened up, and there were no longer helpers on hand to guide human beings across the way. It was in that space that the modern genius was conceived and born.

Thus the genius bridged the gap between people and the gods.

Geniuses pulled back the curtain of existence to reveal a universe that was richer, deeper, more extraordinary and terrible than previously imagined. The baffling beauty of space-time was no different in this respect from the sublime majesty of Byron’s poetry, Beethoven’s symphonies, or Poincaré’s theorems, as radiant as an Edison light bulb or the explosion of the atomic bomb. Genius was a flash of light, but its brilliance served to illuminate the dark mystery that surrounded and set it apart.

Geniuses, then, were believed to possess rare and special powers: the power to create, redeem, and destroy; the power to penetrate the fabric of the universe; the power to see into the future, or to see into our souls.

The second transformation key to understanding the modern conception of genius is sociopolitical, and rests on a foundation of the belief in human equality.

Widely proclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic from the end of the seventeenth century, the view, as Thomas Jefferson put it famously in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal” could pass by the end of the eighteenth century as a self-evident truth. By the middle of the century that followed, it was being hailed by astute observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville as a “providential fact,” an unstoppable force that leveled all before it. And yet the assertion of equality was qualified and challenged from the start, with whole categories of human beings singled out as exceptions to the general rule. Historians have devoted close attention to these exceptions, showing how women, people of color, Jews, and others were systematically deprived of their rights in strategies of exclusion that aimed at denying some the inherent equality granted to others. But what have received less attention are the justifications used to elevate the few above the many, granting privileges and rights beyond the norm.

Jefferson himself spoke of a “natural aristocracy,” composed of individuals of talent, creativity, and intelligence, that might replace the old aristocracy of birth and blood, and many in nineteenth-century Europe would conceive of artists in a similar fashion, as beings endowed by nature with special abilities and so entitled to special privileges. Such assertions were often linked to corresponding claims of the natural inferiority of others, and together these notions formed part of a “shadow language of inequality” that accompanied the bright proclamation of the equality of all. Modern discussions of genius were most often conducted in this idiom, serving to justify new forms of hierarchy while registering a profound protest against doctrines of universal equality. Conceived as an extreme case of inherent superiority and natural difference, the genius was imagined as an exception of the most exalted or terrible kind, able to transcend or subvert the law, and to liberate or enslave accordingly.

Genius and Celebrity; The Modern Problem
Today we often confuse the notion of genius and celebrity.

[G]enius is seemingly everywhere today, hailed in our newspapers and glossy magazines, extolled in our television profiles and Internet chatter. Replete with publicists, hashtags, and “buzz,” genius is now consumed by a celebrity culture that draws few distinctions between a genius for fashion, a genius for business, and a genius for anything else. If the “problem of genius” of yesteryear was how to know and how to find it, “our genius problem” today is that it is impossible to avoid. Genius remains a relationship, but our relationship to it has changed. All might have their fifteen minutes of genius. All might be geniuses now.

[Yet] a world in which all might aspire to genius is a world in which the genius as a sacred exception can no longer exist. Einstein, the “genius of geniuses,” was the last of the titans. The age of the genius is gone. Should citizens of democracies mourn this passing or rejoice? Probably a bit of both. The genius is dead: long live the genius of humanity.

Divine Fury: A History of Genius is a wholly fascinating account of how the modern emergence of genius came to be.