Emotional Genius

May 3rd, 2011

I often felt inferior around my father-in-law, a brilliant professor with a Cal Tech degree, who was in on the ground floor of the emergence of computers at UCLA. He was a member of the esteemed Rand Corporation Think Tank and is credited with contributing to the design of the computerized signals on freeway ramps. When I earned my doctorate in religion I figured he might take note of my advanced degree when he wrote the names on the Christmas envelopes. I was secretly hoping that year he would address me as ‘Reverend Doctor’ or ‘Doctor’ and not just ‘Reverend’ so I might catch up with him a bit. Nope, it remained ‘Reverend’ until he died. I thought I had never made it to that next prized intellectual tier in his eyes and I always wondered why.

I finally learned long after his death that he held the ‘Reverend’ status in much higher esteem than any academic credential. That was many years back when clergy were considered the most admired professionals in the culture. Things have changed. We managed to drop below the pharmacists a couple of years ago. My guess is the smart professor knew there was a realm of life that could match or surpass the contents of the academic mind and that would be the emotion-centered faculties he so revered but his professional dealings would not allow for much if any emotion. He obviously had compassion enough to want to prevent motorists from killing others while attempting to merge with traffic on freeway ramps, but he knew there was more where that came from.

I came across a book a few years ago titled Fire in the Crucible: the Alchemy of Creative Genius by John Briggs. I didn’t have to go any further than to read the opening sentence on the dust jacket before buying it. The brief blurb stated “Geniuses are not necessarily smarter or more talented than other people. But they give their attention to subtle nuances, contradictory feelings and perceptions that others experience and ignore. By focusing on sensory nuances, geniuses create themselves. They may even change the structure of their own brains.”

I figured there could be such characters as brain-altered ‘dumb geniuses’ sniffing around on the planet and I could become one of them if I got lucky. Briggs suggests that we don’t have to be very bright and clever to be geniuses but we do have to be persistent. Hey, I can be pretty unrelenting and disciplined. I’ve written three morning pages without missing a day since May 10, 2001. I’m not necessarily proud of that achievement because it’s just one more activity that helps fill a retired ADHD pastor’s day. The other time-filler-upper addiction was getting up before dawn and jogging two to three miles six days a week for 35 years. I kept an eye out for undiscovered nuances and eventually found about fifteen bucks in change on the streets that others had ignored. I gave it up when I came to the conclusion I really didn’t like to jog and it was no way to try to make a living.

While running around and wearing out park paths and sidewalks in my neighborhood, I’ve reflected often on the 1960s Arcology designs advanced by Paolo Soleri, a commercial architect and futurist. The giant carless, ecologically-sound mega cities are designed to accommodate tens of thousands of inhabitants. The unique designs were often felt to be too bizarre for the likes of most citizens when the plans were revealed in academic venues across the country decades ago. However, in recent years several countries have begun to pay attention to his work. It struck me the reactions from those who saw the designs and dismissed them were the people Briggs wrote about; those who might tromp over “subtle nuances, contradictory feelings and perceptions” that sleuths like this emotionally-oriented preacher might stumble across and detect.

I’ve come to the conclusion we need to rely a bit more on our mid-brain faculties, functions comprised of our profound primal emotions, rather than primarily depending upon our forebrain emissions, functions given to reason and intellect in our audacious fact-finding ventures. Maybe rather than so many Think Tanks, we need a “Feel Tank,” where we can be in touch with the subtleties of human emotions and interactions—all the fear, longing, rage, lust, and hope that other brilliant minds overlooked, assuming such things would merely cloud their thinking.

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