Greatness

Greatness

Overview
Since the publication of Francis Galton
Francis Galton
Sir Francis Galton /ˈfrɑːnsɪs ˈgɔːltn̩/ FRS , cousin of Douglas Strutt Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath: anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician...

’s Hereditary Genius in 1869, and especially with the accelerated development of intelligence tests in the early 1900s, there has been a vast amount of social scientific research published relative to the question of ‘greatness’. Much of this research doesn’t actually use the term ‘great’ in describing itself, preferring terms such as ‘eminence’, ‘genius
Genius
Genius is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight....

’, ‘exceptional achievement’, etc.
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Quotations

The greatest man is he who chooses the right with the most invincible resolution; who resists the sorest temptation from within and without; who bears the heavest burdens cheerfully; who is calmest in storms, and most fearless under menaces and frowns; whose reliance on truth, on virtue, and on God is most unfaltering.

Seneca the Younger, p. 292.

Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the using of strength.

Henry Ward Beecher, p. 292.

True greatness does not consist so much in doing extraordinary things, as in conducting ordinary affairs with a noble demeanor and from a right motive. It is necessary and most profitable to remember the advice to Titus, " Showing all good fidelity in all things."

Elias Lyman Magoon, p. 292.

A solemn and religious regard to spiritual and eternal things is an indispensable element of all true greatness.

Daniel Webster, p. 292.

He who does the most good is the greatest man. Power, authority, dignity; honors, wealth, and station,— these are so far valuable as they put it into the hands of men to be more exemplary and more useful than they could be in an obscure and private life. But then these are means conducting to an end, and that end is goodness.

Bishop Jortin, p. 293.

A great man, I take it, is a man so inspired and permeated with the ideas of God and the Christly spirit as to be too magnanimous for vengeance, and too unselfish to seek his own ends.

David Thomas (born 1813)|David Thomas, p. 293.

He is truly great that is great in charity. He is truly great that is little in himself, and maketh no account of any height of honor. And he is truly learned that doeth the will of God, and forsaketh his own will.

Thomas à Kempis, p. 293.

It is, in a great measure, by raising up and endowing great minds that God secures the advance of human affairs, and the accomplishment of His own plans on earth.

Albert Barnes, p. 293.

There is but one method, and that is hard labor.

Sydney Smith, p. 293.
Encyclopedia
Since the publication of Francis Galton
Francis Galton
Sir Francis Galton /ˈfrɑːnsɪs ˈgɔːltn̩/ FRS , cousin of Douglas Strutt Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath: anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician...

’s Hereditary Genius in 1869, and especially with the accelerated development of intelligence tests in the early 1900s, there has been a vast amount of social scientific research published relative to the question of ‘greatness’. Much of this research doesn’t actually use the term ‘great’ in describing itself, preferring terms such as ‘eminence’, ‘genius
Genius
Genius is something or someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight....

’, ‘exceptional achievement’, etc. Historically the major intellectual battles over this topic have focused around the questions of ‘nature vs nurture’ or ‘person vs context’. Today the importance of both dimensions is accepted by all, but disagreements over the relative importance of each are still reflected in variations in research emphases.

Genetic approaches


The early research had a strong genetic emphasis and focused on intelligence as the driving force behind greatness.

Hereditary Genius – Galton (1869)


The earliest such research, Hereditary Genius by Francis Galton
Francis Galton
Sir Francis Galton /ˈfrɑːnsɪs ˈgɔːltn̩/ FRS , cousin of Douglas Strutt Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath: anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician...

 (1869), argued that people vary hugely in “natural ability” which is inherited biologically. Those at the very top end of the range, i.e., geniuses, become the leaders and great achievers of their generation. To prove this thesis Galton collected data showing that genius clusters in what he termed “Notable Family Lines”, such as those of Bernoulli
Bernoulli
The Bernoullis were a family of traders and scholars from Basel, Switzerland. The founder of the family, Leon Bernoulli, immigrated to Basel from Antwerp in Flanders in the 16th century, fleeing Spanish oppression....

, Cassini
Cassini
-People:* Family of Italo-French scientists:** Giovanni Domenico Cassini , also known as Jean-Dominique Cassini, Italian-French astronomer** Jacques Cassini , French astronomer, son of Giovanni Domenico...

, Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

, Herschel
Herschel
Herschel is a German surname with the possible meanings:*sorghum or millet for someone working with such cereals*deer for a hunter or as a sobriquet...

, and Jussieu
Jussieu
Jussieu can refer to:* Antoine Laurent de Jussieu , French botanist* Antoine de Jussieu , French naturalist, uncle of A. L. de Jussieu.* Bernard de Jussieu , French naturalist, uncle of A. L. de Jussieu....

 in science, or Bach
Bạch
Bạch is a Vietnamese surname. The name is transliterated as Bai in Chinese and Baek, in Korean.Bach is the anglicized variation of the surname Bạch.-Notable people with the surname Bạch:* Bạch Liêu...

 in music.

Galton then calculated the odds of eminent people having eminent relations, taking into account the closeness of the biological connection (e.g., son vs grandson), and the magnitude of achievement of the eminent parent. His findings were as anticipated: the more famous the parent (i.e., the greater level of presumed “natural ability”), the greater likelihood there would be illustrious relatives; and the closer the blood tie, the greater those odds.

Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses – Cox (1926)


Catharine Cox
Catharine Cox
Catharine Morris Cox Miles was an American psychologist known for her work on intelligence and genius.Born in San Jose, CA, to Lydia Shipley Bean and Charles Ellwood Cox....

’s book on The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses (1926), was similar to Galton’s in its orientation. Using the method that her mentor, Stanford Psychology Professor Lewis Terman
Lewis Terman
Lewis Madison Terman was an American psychologist, noted as a pioneer in educational psychology in the early 20th century at the Stanford University School of Education. He is best known as the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test...

, had developed for differentiating children in terms of intelligence, Cox coded records of childhood and adolescent achievements of 301 historic eminent leaders and creators to estimate what their IQs would have been on the basis of intellectual level of such achievements relative to the age at which they were accomplished. For example, John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

 reportedly studied Greek at 3, read Plato at 7, and learned calculus at 11. As such, what he was doing at 5, the average person couldn’t do until 9 years, 6 months of age, giving Mill an estimated IQ of 190.

Cox found that the perceived eminence of those with the highest IQs was higher than that of those attaining lower IQ estimates, and that those with higher IQs also exhibited more versatility in their achievements. For example, da Vinci, Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

, Descartes, Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

, Goethe, and others with IQs in the mid 160s or above were superior in their versatility to those attaining lower scores, such as George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, Palestrina
Palestrina
Palestrina is an ancient city and comune with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, c. 35 km east of Rome...

, or Philip Sheridan
Philip Sheridan
Philip Henry Sheridan was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War. His career was noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S...

.

While no one today doubts the role of genetics or intelligence in the attainment of greatness, both Cox and Galton have been criticized for failing to take account of the role of nurture, or more specifically socio-economic and educational advantage, in the achievements of these historical greats.

Cultural approach


There was one major anthropological study of genius, and it was triggered specifically by the author’s contentions with Galton’s work.

Configurations of Cultural Growth – Kroeber (1944)


Alfred Kroeber’s Configurations of Cultural Growth (1944) looked at many of the same historic greats as did Galton and Cox, but from a completely different orientation. As a cultural anthropologist, Kroeber maintained that, in Simonton's words, “culture takes primacy over the individual in any account of human (behavior), and that historic geniuses are no exception…”

To prove his thesis, Kroeber collected “long lists of notable figures from several nationalities and historic eras”, and then grouped them within a field and a shared cultural context, e.g., “Configuration for American Literature”. Then within these groupings he listed his notables in “strict chronological order”, identifying the most eminent figures by using capital letters for their surnames (eg EMERSON, LONGFELLOW, POE, WHITMAN, etc in above configuration).

Kroeber found that genius never appeared in isolation, but rather, in Simonton's words, that “one genius cluster(ed) with others of greater and lesser fame in adjacent generations”. He also found that there were historical “crests” and “troughs” in every field. These fluctuations in the appearance of genius were much too rapid to be explained by the simple mechanism of genetic inheritance along family lines.

Kroeber argued, in Simonton's words, that his “configurations” were due to “emulations”: “Geniuses cluster in history because the key figures of one generation emulate those in the immediately preceding generations… (until) it attains a high point of perfection that stymies further growth”. At this point the “tradition degenerates into empty imitation, as most creative minds move on to greener pastures”.

Recent research is consistent with these explanations; but many aspects of the developmental process from birth to the attainment of greatness remain unaccounted for by Kroeber’s anthropological approach.

Developmental approaches


Retrospective studies, involving extensive interviews with individuals who have attained eminence, or at least exceptional levels of achievement, have added much to our understanding of the developmental process. Two studies in particular stand out.

Scientific Elite – Zuckerman (1977)


Harriet Zuckerman
Harriet Zuckerman
Harriet Zuckerman is an American sociologist who specializes in the sociology of science. She is Senior Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and professor emerita of Columbia University.-Life:...

’s Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States, is based on many sources of research evidence, including a series of forty-one extended interviews with American winners of the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 for science.

Zuckerman reported her results around two main topics: How the Prize is Awarded, and Career Development of the Scientific Elite. Her findings on the first topic are briefly overviewed in the Wikipedia article regarding the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...



In relation to the question of the career development of the scientific elite
Zuckerman uses the phrase "accumulation of advantage" to describe her findings. In her words: “Scientists who show promise early in their careers (are) given greater opportunities in the way of research training and facilities. To the extent that these scientists are as competent as the rest or more so, they ultimately will do far better in terms of both role performance and reward… rewards (which) can be transformed into resources for further work.. (and hence over time) scientists who are initially advantaged gain even greater opportunities for further achievement and rewards.”

To see if ‘accumulation of advantage’ was operating in the career development of the scientific elite, Zuckerman compared the careers of future laureates with those of “members of the United States National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

 and the scientific rank and file” along a number of dimensions including socioeconomic origins, status of undergraduate and graduate education, the process of moving into the scientific elite, and first jobs and professorships.

She also interviewed forty-one Nobel laureates extensively about their "apprenticeships" to "master" scientists while they were doing their doctoral research, and other aspects of their career development related to the above topics.

Zuckerman concluded that evidence of "accumulative of advantage" was clearly present over the course of development, with result that her research “… cast(s) considerable doubt on the conclusion that marked differences in performance between the ultra-elite and other scientists reflect equally marked differences in their initial capacities to do scientific work”.

Developing Talent in Young People – Bloom et al (1985)


Benjamin Bloom
Benjamin Bloom
Benjamin Samuel Bloom was an American educational psychologist who made contributions to the classification of educational objectives and to the theory of mastery-learning...

 and five colleagues conducted extensive interviews with 120 “young men and women (as well as their parents and influential teachers)… who had reached the highest levels of accomplishment” in six fields – Olympic sprint swimmers, Top 10 rated professional tennis players, concert pianists, accomplished sculptors, exceptional mathematicians, and outstanding research neurologists.

They report many findings relevant to the “talent development process", including:
  • Development was tied throughout to the values, interests, resources, and personal investments of the family of origin. In most families “introduction to the field and initial… skill development occurred” because the “(p)arents (or other family members), in pursuing their own interests, created situations that intrigued, interested, or involved the child… The child’s interest was rewarded or encouraged…” and the parents then provided other ways to extend this interest.
  • The “work ethic
    Work ethic
    Work ethic is a set of values based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. An example would be the Protestant work ethic...

    ” is central to talent development. It is developed by “the home environment” and “…directly related to learning and participation in the chosen talent field”.
  • “Each group of parents strongly encouraged their children’s development in a particularly highly approved talent field (related to the parents’ own “special interests”) and gave much less support to other possible talent fields and activities.”
  • “Families and teachers were crucial at every point along the way to excellence… what families and teachers do at different times and how they do it clearly sets the stage for exceptional learning in each talent field”.
  • “Few… (of the) individuals (included in this study) were regarded as child prodigies”; and, as a result, this research “raises (serious) questions about earlier views of special gifts and innate abilities as necessary prerequisites of talent development”.

Recent approaches


A 1995 book by Hans Eysenck argues that a “personality trait” called Psychoticism is central to becoming a creative genius; and a more recent book by Bill Dorris (2009) looks at the influence of “everything from genetics to cultural crises”, including chance, over the course of development of those who attain greatness.

Genius = Steffen Robert Schilstra (1996- Atlanta Georgia)


Hans Eysenck
Hans Eysenck
Hans Jürgen Eysenck was a German-British psychologist who spent most of his career in Britain, best remembered for his work on intelligence and personality, though he worked in a wide range of areas...

's book, Genius: The Natural History of Creativity (1995), "construct(s)... a model of genius and creativity" whose "novelty lies in (its) attempt to make personality differences central to the argument".

In particular Eysenck is interested in a personality trait called “psychoticism … chief among (whose) cognitive features is a tendency to over-inclusiveness, i.e., an inclination not to limit one's associations to relevant ideas, memories, images, etc."

He considers a massive range of experimental psychological research in order to establish the underlying genetic, neuro-chemical mechanisms which may be operating to influence levels of creativity associated with fluctuations in “the tendency towards over-inclusiveness indicative of psychoticism..."

Eysenck's assessment of his overall argument is as follows: "There is no hint that the theory is more than a suggestion of how many disparate facts and hypotheses can be pulled together into a causal chain, explaining… the apogee of human endeavour - genius. If the theory has one point in its favour it is that every step can be tested experimentally, and that many steps have already received positive support from such testing."

The Arrival of The Fittest - Dorris (2009)


Bill Dorris' book, The Arrival of The Fittest: How The Great Become Great (2009), attempts to address a number of issues which remain unanswered in the work discussed so far. These include the role of chance over the course of development, the importance of the development of unique personal characteristics to achieving greatness, and the influence of changes in the wider worlds surrounding the person - from interpersonal to societal - on the course of an individual's development.

Dorris argues that those who attain ‘greatness’ are credited with solving a key generational problem in a field and/or society (e.g., Einstein resolving the conflict between Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 and Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell of Glenlair was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. His most prominent achievement was formulating classical electromagnetic theory. This united all previously unrelated observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory...

 in physics at the outset of the 20th century; or Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his...

 providing a voice for the outcasts of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 of the 1930s).

Dorris’ core argument is that those who become ‘great’ are those start out with sufficient genetic potential and then are able, over two or more decades, to obtain matches / fits with “The Right Kind of Problems” to extend the development of these genetic biases into what Dorris terms, “Key Characteristics”. These are the intellectual, personality, and self characteristics which eventually turn out to be required to solve a key generational problem in their field and/or society.

Dorris argues that there are four types of Matching Processes which occur over the course of such development. These refer to matches between the developmental needs of the person and the opportunities and resources essential to engaging in problem solving activities that stimulate further development of those aspects of intelligence, personality, and self which eventually become key characteristics.

Two of these matching processes are covered extensively in the existing research literature: Continuous Matching, and Cumulative Matching.

The other two of the matching processes described by Dorris are completely new to this book: Catalytic Matching and Chaotic Matching.

Dorris’ argument in relation to Catalytic Matching is that anyone who eventually becomes a ‘great’ will have experienced one or more sustained periods of exceptionally accelerated development of their key characteristics, accelerations which serve to massively differentiate them from their former peers both in terms of development and in terms of visibility within the field.

This acceleration occurs because the person becomes the focal point (star) of a self-reinforcing system of expertise and resources (catalytic system) which thrives off this person’s accelerated development and visibility.

Dorris' argument in relation to Chaotic Matching is that access to the resources and learning opportunities essential to the development of key characteristics of an eventual ‘great’ often occurs not due to the efforts / planning etc of the individual, but simply due to chance events in the interpersonal, institutional, societal worlds around the person, who – unlike perhaps millions of equally capable peers – becomes the beneficiary of these chance events, events which Dorris argues can change a person’s entire future in much the same way as, eg, a “lottery jackpot” or a “Titanic ticket”.

Dorris documents his theoretical arguments with extensive case studies of a wide range of individuals, including Izzy Montemayor, Einstein, Elvis, Monet, Mozart, da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, Watson and Crick
Watson and Crick
James D. Watson and Francis Crick were the two co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953. They used x-ray diffraction data collected by Rosalind Franklin and proposed the double helix or spiral staircase structure of the DNA molecule...

, basketball great Bill Russell
Bill Russell
William Felton "Bill" Russell is a retired American professional basketball player who played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association...

, Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong , nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana....

, Bill Gates
Bill Gates
William Henry "Bill" Gates III is an American business magnate, investor, philanthropist, and author. Gates is the former CEO and current chairman of Microsoft, the software company he founded with Paul Allen...

, Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

, Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised works. He frequently performed with the slogan This Machine Kills Fascists displayed on his...

, and Norma Jeane / Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s....

.