cover image Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity

Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity

Dean Keith Simonton. Oxford University Press, USA, $59.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-19-512879-6

In Simonton's bold formulation, creative genius--the ability to produce highly original ideas with staying power--is based on a fundamentally Darwinian process that enhances the adaptive fitness of the individual and the human species. In a fascinating treatise leavened with candid descriptions by Einstein, Nietzsche, Mozart, Darwin, Poe, Linus Pauling and many others of their own creative processes, Simonton, a professor of psychology at UC-Davis, argues that creativity can be understood as a process akin to natural selection that leads to the survival of those ideas that prove their hardiness. If that sounds more like a quaint analogy than a real scientific theory, consider that, as Simonton explains, computer programs called ""genetic algorithms"" that are modeled on Darwinian principles and feature randomly generated strings of ones and zeroes that reproduce ""sexually"" (that is, each string exchanges a portion of its strand with a mate) are already solving real-world problems such as how to plan fiberoptic telecommunications networks, make forecasts in currency trading and improve oil exploration operations. Similar ""variation-selection"" programs have generated original art, solved equations and composed jazz melodies. Besides providing his own mathematical model of creative productivity, which will interest specialists, Simonton explores how cultural evolution and environmental influences stimulate the emergence of genius, as well as the links between mental illness and creativity. His dense and at times astonishing analysis of the creative process is likely to generate controversy but also has the potential to influence how we think about the human mind. (July)