Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

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Over this past Labor Day weekend, I found myself reading excerpts from distinguished professor of psychology and management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) seminal book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People (HarperCollins, 1996).

He writes:

“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”

Mihaly describes ten traits often contradictory in nature, that are frequently present in creative people. In Creativity, Mihaly outlines these:

1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.

They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm.

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.

“It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance.”

3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, and perseverance.

“Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not. Vasari wrote in 1550 that when Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello was working out the laws of visual perspective, he would walk back and forth all night, muttering to himself: “What a beautiful thing is this perspective!” while his wife called him back to bed with no success.”

4.Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.

Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.

We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

It is remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be arrogant or supercilious, only to encounter self-deprecation and shyness instead.

7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.

When tests of masculinity and femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.

It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.

9.Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility. Here is how the historian Natalie Davis puts it:

“I think it is very important to find a way to be detached from what you write, so that you can’t be so identified with your work that you can’t accept criticism and response, and that is the danger of having as much affect as I do. But I am aware of that and of when I think it is particularly important to detach oneself from the work, and that is something where age really does help.”

10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

“Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”

Paradoxical or not, what I have learned most is that there is no formula for individual creation. As Mihay says, “creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.” So, more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.

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Sarcasm is “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt.” While many authors assert that sarcasm involves irony, or employs ambivalence, one author in particular has distinguished sarcasm from irony.

The word comes from the Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmos) which is taken from the word σαρκάζειν meaning “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer”.

It is first recorded in English in 1579, in an annotation to The Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser: 

Tom piper, an ironicall Sarcasmus, spoken in derision of these rude wits, whych …

However, the word sarcastic, meaning “Characterized by or involving sarcasm; given to the use of sarcasm; bitterly cutting or caustic,” doesn’t appear until 1695.

Dictionary.com describes the use of irony thus:

In sarcasm, ridicule or mockery is used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously, for destructive purposes. It may be used in an indirect manner, and have the form of irony, as in “What a fine musician you turned out to be!,” “It’s like you’re a whole different person now…,” and “Oh… Well then thanks for all the first aid over the years!” or it may be used in the form of a direct statement, “You couldn’t play one piece correctly if you had two assistants.” The distinctive quality of sarcasm is present in the spoken word and manifested chiefly by vocal intonation …

Distinguishing sarcasm from, and referring to the use of irony in sarcasm, Bousfield writes that sarcasm is:

The use of strategies which, on the surface appear to be appropriate to the situation, but are meant to be taken as meaning the opposite in terms offace management. That is, the utterance which appears, on the surface, to maintain or enhance the face of the recipient actually attacks and damages the face of the recipient. … sarcasm is an insincere form of politeness which is used to offend one’s interlocuter.

Hostile, critical comments may be expressed in an ironic way, such as saying “don’t work too hard” to a lazy worker. The use of irony introduces an element of humor which may make the criticism seem more polite and less aggressive. Sarcasm can frequently be unnoticed in print form, oftentimes requiring the intonation or tone of voice to indicate the quip.

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Understanding the subtlety of this usage requires second-order interpretation of the speaker’s or writer’s intentions; different parts of the brain must work together to understand sarcasm. This sophisticated understanding can be lacking in some people with certain forms of brain damage, dementia and autism (although not always), and this perception has been located by MRI in the right parahippocampal gyrus. Research has shown that people with damage in the prefrontal cortex have difficulty understanding non-verbal aspects of language like tone, Richard Delmonico, a neuropsychologist at the University of California, Davis, told an interviewer. Such research could help doctors distinguish between different types of neurodegenerative diseases, such as frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to David Salmon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

In William Brant’s Critique of Sarcastic Reason, sarcasm is hypothesized to develop as a cognitive and emotional tool that adolescents use in order to test the borders of politeness and truth in conversation. Sarcasm recognition and expression both require the development of understanding forms of language, especially if sarcasm occurs without a cue or signal (e.g., a sarcastic tone or rolling the eyes). Sarcasm is argued to be more sophisticated than lying because lying is expressed as early as the age of three, but sarcastic expressions take place much later during development (Brant, 2012). According to Brant (2012, 145-6), sarcasm is

(a) form of expression of language often including the assertion of a statement that is disbelieved by the expresser (e.g., where the sentential meaning is disbelieved by the expresser), although the intended meaning is different from the sentence meaning. The recognition of sarcasm without the accompaniment of a cue develops around the beginning of adolescence or later. Sarcasm involves the expression of an insulting remark that requires the interpreter to understand the negative emotional connotation of the expresser within the context of the situation at hand. Irony, contrarily, does not include derision, unless it is sarcastic irony. The problems with these definitions and the reason why this dissertation does not thoroughly investigate the distinction between irony and sarcasm involves the ideas that: (1) people can pretend to be insulted when they are not or pretend not to be insulted when they are seriously offended; (2) an individual may feel ridiculed directly after the comment and then find it humorous or neutral thereafter; and (3) the individual may not feel insulted until years after the comment was expressed and considered.

Cultural perspectives on sarcasm vary widely with more than a few cultures and linguistic groups finding it offensive to varying degrees. Thomas Carlyle despised it: “Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it”. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, recognized in it a cry of pain: Sarcasm, he said, was “usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” RFC 1855, a collection of guidelines for Internet communications, includes a warning to be especially careful with it as it “may not travel well.” A professional translator has advised that international business executives “should generally avoid sarcasm in intercultural business conversations and written communications” because of the difficulties in translating sarcasm.