Carl Zimmer: We’re learning ways to perturb the brain and I’m just wondering do you
think someday that people will be sort of enhancing kind of “natural” creativity
to get people to be more like what we think of as geniuses or is that just not possible?
乔伊 赫希 ：我喜欢相信能有一种能把所有人的内在天赋都激发出来的方式
Joy Hirsch: I love the idea of the vision that there’s a way to bring out the genius
in all of us. And I wish that there was a way that in our educational system that we
could develop ways to promote creativity. We do actually. We’re pretty good at it
but we could be better. That we could teach people to take risk in education. We could
value more the person that takes the path that is not the common path. I think we as
a society are pretty good at that but we could be a lot better. And I think that that’s
one of the values of studying or thinking about genius. It’s a way for us to think
about, “Gee, let’s get better at this creative business. Let’s find that creative
spirit in all of us. Let’s move forward faster.”
Carl Zimmer: I think sometimes people think about the brain as kind of a shortcut to all
these sorts of problems, you know. If we could just understand the brain then we can just
go right in there and just fix things directly whereas it is easy to forget that, you know,
education itself alters the brain.
Joy Hirsch: Exactly. I think that we have to think about brains in the context of our
society. One of the things about genius I think it’s not just an individual or just
a brain. It’s about opportunity. It’s about somebody who is given the pathway to
actually make a contribution. Think of our musicians that most of us would consider geniuses
– Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. These are people that were put in positions that allowed them
to be creative. The creative spirit comes with many thing other than just a brain I
think. It comes with opportunity. It comes with resources. It comes with attitude. Again
I like the idea of not thinking of it as something that targets an individual and separates them
but something that joins us together as a quality that belongs to all of us.
Carl Zimmer: Well because it is true that when people talk about geniuses they are other.
They’re almost freakish.
Joy Hirsch: Exactly.
Carl Zimmer: They’re like what is it like to be that person. I can’t even imagine.
There’s a fetish to it.
Joy Hirsch: Exactly and I think that that attitude really deters people from taking
the risk. I mean it’s a double edged sword. The genius term is often associated with the
person that really changes the way we think. It could be something that didn’t exist
before that changes the course of our progress in some fundamental way. And so that person
by his or her nature stands out and is different. And yet all of us are different in our creative
sphere and that by incorporating the creative person into the mainstream it might be a way
to encourage more creativity.
Carl Zimmer: In a way, you know, you’ve been talking a lot about the things that neuroscientists
can’t tell us about genius. We want easy answers and we think oh, the easy answers
are all in the brain. And you’re kind of warning us like well, we neuroscientists we
don’t know all that much. The brain’s a complicated thing and it’s a social thing
too. So I mean what do you think that neuroscientists can do to help us understand genius better?
I mean what are the kinds of studies that you think would be like the best ones to do
to make us understand genius as you think of it?
Joy Hirsch: I think that in general the study of individual differences is a really interesting
direction to take. Differences in say there’s some people that have extraordinary memory
and we can design experiments to look at the neurocircuitry that’s associated with memory
strategies. And we learned something about what makes one person better at memorizing
things than another. There are differences in how well we do mathematics and how well
we can put things together. And understanding the rules for those differences is important.
For example, one of the things that neuroscientists have taught us recently is that the parts
of the brain are all so richly interconnected and the extent to which they are connected
has a great deal to do with function.
Carl Zimmer: So we’re talking about say a patch of your cortex over here and another
patch over here and there are like cables joining them together.
Joy Hirsch: Indeed. And how well those connections actually work is thought to contribute a great
deal to our individual differences.
Carl Zimmer: Is it that some people have more connections than others? Or bigger connections
or what are those underlying differences?
Joy Hirsch: Well it’s all of the above. In some cases the connections are actually
more richly enervated. There are simply more of them. In other cases they go to slightly
different places. In other cases they’re just stronger connections which means there’s
less noise in the brain. I mean all of those hypotheses are viable options. There’s evidence
for all of them and they contribute to considerable differences between performances of one person
Carl Zimmer: So if we start to get down to these real kind of biological components of
creativity, of innovation and of ultimately what we might call genius, I’m wondering
can we start to kind of figure out like are geniuses just born or are they made? Can we
figure out like what the differences are? You know, was Einstein just a blank slate
when he was born and he just happened to have a really good math teacher in first grade.
I mean what – how do those connections – what do we know about how those connections develop
in children, in teenagers, in adults and how the genes play a role in all that.
Joy Hirsch: That really is the $64,000 question and it is the question that we would like
to answer. How does the brain do it and how do we help the brain do it better? I think
that your question really raises another really important point and that is how much bigger
our questions are than our science and our methodology. We need a genius to figure this
one out because we need to be able to answer those kinds of questions faster. We need to answer them better and we need to apply them to our lives.